Through five long months and 140 games the Baltimore Orioles played like champions. Sometimes they led the American League, sometimes they fell behind. Always they scrambled, a young team shaking off its mistakes by playing over its head. Because they played that way, and because it was the kind of a season and the kind of a league in which anyone might win, a nation of baseball fans fell in love with them and began to believe the Orioles might really fly to a pennant. Last weekend the Yankees shot them down.
In the most important series of the year the Yankees won the first game behind Whitey Ford, and the 4-2 score was not as close as it sounds. They won the second game 5-3 by hitting the ball harder and taking advantage of every break. And on Sunday in a double-header the Yankees played the most aggressive baseball they have played all season, stretching base hits, forcing the Orioles into hurried mistakes. They won that third game 7-3, and they won the fourth 2-0 on Ralph Terry's superb two-hitter and, when it was all over, the Yankees led the league by four games with only a double handful to play. The Orioles, who came into Yankee Stadium tied for first place, went home to think about next year.
The Orioles did not collapse; they were beaten by a better ball club. This is not a good Yankee team compared to those of the past. The fielding has been erratic, the base-running unspectacular; over the season the Yankees have had neither the brilliant pitching of the Orioles nor the speed and defensive talent of the White Sox. At the plate they are inconsistent. But apparently you cannot beat the Yankees in a big series, even today.
Although the Orioles did not fold under the pressure, they bent slightly and that was all the Yankees needed. Where the Orioles made an occasional mistake (below), the Yankees made none. When Paul Richards was slow to make a decisive move, Casey Stengel was quick, which only proves that Richards is still a genius, junior grade, with a few more things to learn. And always the Yankees could call upon that reservoir of experience and steadiness which comes only from having been down the same rough road so many times before. They also were able to call on that old Yankee invention, the home run.
Because of the home run, no team playing the Yankees ever feels comfortable, even with a three-run lead in the ninth inning. It was true when Ruth and Gehrig were around and it is true today; almost unnoticed, this 1960 club has become the most prolific home-run hitting Yankee team of all time. Before the season is over, the Yankees are almost certain to break their American League record of 190, which came in 1956, Mickey Mantle's 52-homer year.
No one will hit 52 this time, but a lot of people have contributed to the total: Roger Maris 39, Mantle 35, Moose Skowron 25, Yogi Berra 15, Tony Kubek and Cletis Boyer 13 apiece, Hector Lopez 9. It is the home run that has kept the Yankees in the 1960 pennant race and it was the home run that broke Baltimore's back last Friday night in the first game of the series.
The Friday crowd, which eventually was to grow to 49,217, the largest to watch a single night game in the American League all year, was slow to arrive but as it built up, so, too, did the tension that hung over the huge old Stadium in The Bronx. It enveloped the young Orioles, who had never faced a situation quite like this before, and it even slipped inside the classically calm exterior of the Yankees. Both teams were quiet. Very quiet.
Richards held a short pregame meeting in the visiting clubhouse. There was no pep talk. "That's the one thing we don't need," he said. "The problem now is to keep them loose. I warned them again to watch out for Ford's pickoff move, and the pitchers and catchers went down the Yankee roster. That's all. Lord, we've been through this all season; there's no reason to do anything different now."
Over in the Yankee clubhouse, Stengel riddled interminably with his lineup cards until he hit upon the right combination, then went out to sit on the bench and entertain the writers with stories, some of them new.
Just when it seemed that everyone present would clutch his throat from the pressure, stagger wildly around in small circles and fall kicking to the ground, the Yankee organization, like the British Empire upon which it is patterned, came nobly through. Out of the public-address system boomed the pear-shaped tones of Bob Shepherd, the stadium P.A. man.
"The Yankee ground crew...which holds the major league record of 42.3 seconds...for covering the field...will now attempt to break that record." While neighbor looked at neighbor in disbelief—and Baltimore's Steve Barber, who was trying to warm up, looked around in disgust—the record-setting ground crew leaped into violent action. One record setter, a little too violent, fell down; before he could regain his feet, the huge cylinder that holds the tarpaulin had rolled halfway up his leg. For a moment it was touch and go whether his co-workers would keep rolling in pursuit of the record and leave their friend's imprint forever-more upon the Yankee infield, or back off. Yankee-haters will be surprised to learn they did the humane thing. Back went the cylinder, out came the fallen and away went any chance for a record. The time was not announced.
"I didn't think a record could count unless it was really raining," said one fan.
"I didn't even know there was a record," said another.
For three innings Barber and Ford pitched scoreless baseball, a pair of very good left-handers separated by 10 years of age and—what eventually turned out to be more important—10 years of big league experience. In the fourth, Barber offered Hector Lopez what Nellie Fox likes to call "the ever-popular hanging curve ball," and Lopez hit it high in the air, down the right-field line, off Jackie Brandt's wildly outstretched glove—and into the crowd for a home run. It was only the ninth home run of the year for Lopez but his fifth in eight games. Sooner or later all the Yankees get the bug.
No. 39 for Maris
In the fifth, Bobby Richardson singled and Maris hit a Barber slider deep into the lower right-field stands, near the Yankee bullpen. Only five of Maris' home runs have been hit off left-handed pitching but there was little question about this one. Brandt started back, digging hard, then slowed and jogged to the low fence, watching the ball catch up with him, pass over his head and, finally, disappear into the eager arms of the crowd.
The final Yankee run came on a walk to Lopez, Clete Boyer's single into center and a ground ball back to Barber, who made the courageous mistake of trying for an inning-ending double play, which missed. The Orioles finally scored with two out in the ninth, forcing Stengel to take Ford out and bring in Bobby Shantz. The big hit was a bases-loaded single by Jim Busby, but then Shantz struck out Marv Breeding on three pitches. The Yankees led, in the series and in the duel for the pennant, one game to none.
"I brought another left-hander in to pitch to their right-handers," said Stengel in the dressing room later, scratching his white hair, "because I didn't want to see those left-hand hitters, particularly that Gentile, come in there."
Despite the Yankee home runs, the Orioles gave all the credit to Ford. He has beaten them 26 times since they came into the league in 1954, and even in what has been a bad year for Whitey, he has been tough on Baltimore.
"I don't know what he throws those other teams," said Walt Dropo, "but the way he pitches against us, I don't see how he ever loses."
That same night the White Sox lost to Detroit 4-3 on an eighth-inning home run by Harry Chiti and fell four games behind the Yankees in the loss column. This not only made Stengel rejoice but gave a slight measure of comfort to Richards as well. "I may not be as happy as Stengel today," he said in the clubhouse before Saturday's game, "but maybe I feel a little better than Al Lopez."
"It was good to get that first one," Stengel said, waiting for Saturday's game to begin, "because now they can't get them all so I guess that puts us in a better spot, especially if we can get some of those home runs."
The Yankees got their home runs again. It was a good ball game, a very good ball game, and it took the Yankees a long time to put Chuck Estrada down. As a matter of fact, it took three hours and one minute, and Estrada, first pitcher in the American League to win 17 games, never went completely down, just far enough.
In the first inning, with Lopez on base, Mantle hit a ball deep into the upper right-field stands, a real triple-decker, for a 2-0 lead.
In the third, the Orioles loaded the bases with none out, but Bob Turley then set down Gene Wood-ling, Jim Gentile and Brooks Robinson, 1—2—3. Turley was in trouble again in the fourth but wiggled out, getting Estrada to hit into a double play. In the fifth, Woodling walked, Gentile singled, and Robinson singled Woodling home. Later Richards could only shake his head. "If the same three guys who got us the run in the fifth had hit like that in the third, we'd have had 16 runs." Even without 16 runs, the Orioles tied the score in the sixth when Gus Triandos socked one into the left-field seats.
Then Berra hit one into the right-field seats and the Yankees led 3-2. Then Gentile hit one upstairs to keep Mantle's ball company and the score was tied. By this time Turley was long gone, so was Shantz, so was Bill Stafford, and Jim Coates was soon to go, as Stengel maneuvered his pitchers, taking them out at the first sign of weakness, hitting for them when there was a chance to score a run.
For the Orioles, however, Estrada was still around and perhaps this was Richards' only error. In the eighth Berra hit a hard bounding ball down to first base which took a bad hop and glanced off Gentile's arm, going out into center field. Yogi hustled it into a double. Skowron was walked, intentionally. Estrada, tiring visibly, walked Pinch-hitter John Blanchard, unintentionally, to load the bases. Then Bobby Richardson hit a line drive back to Estrada; it bounced off the pitcher's glove, out into right field and two Yankee runs scored. That was the ball game, and the Yankees led two games to none.
"It was an odd game to watch," said Stengel. "Everybody was hitting the ball over the buildings. I started to hit for Richardson, but I needed him to play second base."
"They outplayed us and they out-hit us," said Richards. "That's all there is to it. Tomorrow it looks like we have to draw to the inside straight."
Tomorrow was Sunday, and while rain fell on almost 55,000 fans, and delayed the start of the double-header nearly an hour, Richards sat in his office, talking to visitors. "I guess it's up to Fisher and Pappas," he said. "Who's pitching for them?"
Somebody told him Art Ditmar and Ralph Terry. "That's right," said Richards. "Terry. I'd almost forgotten they had him."
The Yankees won the first game easily behind the pitching of Ditmar and Jim Coates and with the benefit of a four-run third inning. Tony Kubek started it with a home run; and while no other Yankees hit home runs that long afternoon, Yankee doubles and triples fell around the Orioles like raindrops. Jack Fisher, who had won his last six games and pitched three consecutive shutouts in that stretch, couldn't get a man out in the third inning and was followed by Hoyt Wilhelm, Jerry Walker and Billy Hoeft. The Yankees piled up 12 hits and ran the Orioles ragged. Ron Hansen, the fine young shortstop, made a bad cut-off of a throw from the outfield when, if he had let the ball go through, Hector Lopez might well have been caught going into third base. Woodling misplayed a Richardson hit into a triple.
The last game of the series, the one which really sent the Orioles back home very ill—and maybe dead—was the most professionally accomplished of all. Terry had a no-hitter through seven innings; his opponent, Milt Pappas, gave up only five. But in the fourth inning a pop-fly double by Richardson fell in short right field between three converging Orioles to set up a Yankee run. Terry bunted Richardson to third and Kubek scored him with a sacrifice fly. The other Yankee run came in the eighth when Pappas loaded the bases with one out, and Berra, now a pinch hitter, hit another sacrifice fly. Terry didn't need that second run. He didn't put an Oriole on base until the seventh, when Robinson walked. The first Baltimore hit was a single by Hansen which bounced over third base in the eighth inning; the second and last was a single into left center by Jackie Brandt in the ninth with two out.
There were still two weeks to go and maybe the Yankees weren't in just yet, but they were awfully close. They hadn't bombed the Orioles out of sight, as they might have in the old days, but in those four games the Yankees finally managed to prove something they had been unable to prove in 140 earlier games spread across a season. They were, once again, the best team in the American League. The Orioles could wait until next year.