Sunday, October 12, 2008

October 13, 1960 - Game Seven

It was an momentous end to a magical season. In 1960, the little Bucs that could won the National League pennant by a comfortable seven games over the Milwaukee Braves of Hammerin' Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, and Eddie Matthews fame.

They won 95 games and overcame a September broken wrist by captain Dick Groat, who was superbly replaced by Ducky Schofield. Groat would lead the league in batting (.325) and be awarded the 1960 NL MVP.

The Pirates had eight NL All-Stars, paced by pitchers Vernon Law, Bob Friend, and ElRoy Face, and players like Roberto Clemente, Bob Skinner, Bill Mazeroski, Smokey Burgess and Groat.

Bill Virdon didn't get an all-star nod, but played the spacious meadow that was Forbes Field's center field like a maestro. Dick Stuart and Don Hoak filled the corners for the starting eight. Harvey Haddix provided a third dependable arm, and the whole shebang was orchestrated by manager Danny Murtaugh.

But a snowball in...well, they weren't given much of a shot against the mighty 1960 Yankees of Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, and Casey Stengel. During the 1950's, the Yankees won six World Series ('50, 51, '52, '53, '56, '58) and eight American League pennants.

The Bucs were coming off a decade where they were better known as the Rickey-Dinks, baseball's laughable losers. They had dropped 90 games or more seven times in those years, and 100 or more three times. But there's a reason why they play the games.

The Bucs started with a split of the first two matches at Forbes Field, winning the opener 6-4 and getting pummeled in the next game, 16-3. The Bronx Bombers pushed their advantage when they got home, shooting the Pirates down 10-0. The rout was on, right?

Wrong. The Deacon, Vern Law, and the Kitten, Harvey Haddix, had the Yankees eating out of their hands, taking the next two at Yankee Stadium, 3-2 and 5-2. On to triumph in the Steel City, hey? Hold your horses, cowboy.

Whitey Ford shut down Pittsburgh, 12-0. Hey, nothing to get the juices flowing like a game seven, and this would end up as one of the greatest finales ever played in World Series history.

Vernon Law, making his third start of the Series, held the powerful Yankees' attack at bay through four innings, giving up just a two-out single to Hector Lopez and another to the Mick. The Pirates flew out of the box, lighting up Bob Turley.

They scored twice in the first, when a two-out walk to the Hound, Bob Skinner, was followed by a Rocky Nelson homer, a "no doubt about it" shot to right. Pittsburgh tacked on another pair in the second. Shake, Rattle and Roll Smokey Burgess singled, the Tiger, Don Hoak, walked, and the bases were juiced after Billy Maz, trying to sacrifice, ended up with a gift bunt single.

Law bounced back to the hill for a DP while Burgess crossed the plate, and the Quail, Bill Virdon, singled home Hoak. It was looking good for the Bucs, especially with their Yankee-killer, the Deacon, on the mound.

Johnny Blanchard touched him up for a fifth inning long ball, and then the wheels came off in the sixth. Bobby Richardson got it rolling with a single, and then Tony Kubek walked. Murtaugh called on the Baron of the Bullpen, Roy Face, to quench the fire.

Face already had saved the Pirates first three wins, but his legendary forkball, an early version of the splitter, failed him utterly that autumn afternoon. The Oklahoma Golden Boy singled in a run, and Yogi Berra took Face yard to right. The 36,683 fans collectively gasped as the early lead went by the boards. New York was up 5-4 now, but baby, don't fret, because you ain't seen nothin' yet.

ElRoy settled down in the seventh, and got Roger Maris and Mantle quickly to start the eighth. But disaster was just around the corner. A two-out walk to Yogi opened the floodgates. Moose Skowron and Blanchard singled, followed by a Clete Boyer double, and the Pirates were down 7-4 with six outs to go. OK, now you can worry.

But not for long. Gino "That's My Boy" Cimoli, batting for Face, led off with a single against Bobby Shantz (who would pitch for the Pirates in 1961). Then Virdon bounced a sure DP ball to slick-fielding SS Tony Kubek, but the baseball gods (and Forbes Field's infamous Sankrete infield) conspired to have the ball take a carom that caught Kubek in the throat, putting the Quail on first and Kubek in the trainer's room.

Groat singled in Cimoli, and Jim Coates got the call from the bullpen. Skinner laid down a successful bunt, and Nelson flew out to short right. But two-out lighting was about to strike. The Great One singled home a tally, and catcher Hal Smith, in the game because Burgess was lifted earlier for pinchrunner Joe Christopher, blasted a three-run shot over the left field wall. Still, don't head for the car quite yet.

The Bucs were up 9-7 with an inning to go, but the fat lady wasn't singing. She knew that the Series drama needed a fitting finishing act.

The Yankees were a great team, and great teams don't lay down. Murtaugh chose Bob Friend to come in to close the game. But Friend was greeted by singles off the bats of Richardson and pinch hitter Dale Long, an ex-Buc. There was no grin on the puss of the Smilin' Irishman Murtaugh when he went to the mound to put the hook in Friend and bring on the Kitten.

He coaxed Maris to foul out to the catcher, but Mantle singled in Richardson to make it first and third, one out, 9-8, Pittsburgh. Berra rolled one to first base, and as Nelson beat him to the bag, Gil McDougal, in to run for Long, scored to tie the game.

Ralph Terry, who got the final out of the eighth, came out to pitch. Bill Mazeroski was hitting lead-off, with Dick Stuart on deck to pinch hit for Haddix and Virdon in the hole. But the fat lady was ready now, and Maz was about to become an icon of Pittsburgh sports lore.

With a count of one ball and no strikes, the Pirates second baseman mashed Terry's pitch over the left field scoreboard's Longine clock as a dumfounded Berra turned and watched it soar towards Schenley Park. It was the first game-ending walk off home run in Series history, and still the only one to win a game seven. It launched Billy Maz towards his eventual and well-deserved spot in Cooperstown.

You surely know the rest of the tale. The Yankees got the records and the Pirates got the rings. So raise your glass high to toast Maz and his boys of summer, and celebrate the greatest day in Pittsburgh Pirate history - October 13, 1960.

1 comment:

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

This is a great recap. Love the use of so many of The Gunner's nicknames. Thank God for The Alabaster Plaster!