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On This Day In History | 1956

October 8, 2012

Larsen deals (from Perfect by Lew Paper)

When it was over, I was so happy, I felt like crying.  I wanted to win this one for Casey [Stengel].  After what I did in Brooklyn, he could have forgotten about me and who would blame him?  But he gave me another chance and I’m grateful.

| Larsen, in the locker room after the game |

On this day 56 years ago Don Larsen pitched the greatest game in World Series history.  With the series locked in a 2-2 stalemate, the right-hander strode to the mound with the pivotal game 5 resting on his shoulders.  In his previous start in game 2 of the series, the Dodgers knocked him out after just 1.2 innings after registering a hit, 4 walks, and 4 unearned runs on his watch.  The Yankees went on to lose the game 13-8, falling behind 0-2 in the series.  But, after back-to-back Yankee victories, anchored by great pitching from Whitey Ford and Tom Sturdivant, Larsen had a chance at redemption.

In the top of the 1st Larsen struck out Jim Gilliam looking, went to a full count with Pee Wee Reese (his only 3-ball count of the game) before striking him out looking, then induced a lineout from Duke Snider.  In the 2nd Larsen nearly lost his bid for perfection when Jackie Robinson scorched a liner off of third-baseman Andy Carey’s glove, directly to shortstop Gil McDougald who threw out the speedy Robinson.  Larsen followed the scare by retiring Gil Hodges without event before throwing just 7 pitches in the 3rd, 6 of them for strikes, as he made it through the order unscathed.  In the 4th he threw a single pitch to both Gilliam and Reese, who both grounded out, then struck out Snider looking.  The Bombers finally gave their starter some breathing room in the bottom of the 4th when Mickey Mantle crushed a ball deep down the right field line for a solo home run.

Tension mounted in the 5th as Robinson hit a deep flyball to right field which Hank Bauer tracked down, followed by a long flyball to centerfield off the bat of Hodges.  An uneventful top of the 6th followed as Larsen retired the bottom of the Brooklyn lineup with 2 popups and a strikeout.  In the bottom of the frame Bauer added to the Yankee lead with a run-scoring single that plated Carey, giving Larsen a 2-0 cushion.  In the top of the 7th the righty threw just 8 pitches to the top of the order, then made his way threw the heart of the order in the 8th, holding his breath for a moment as Hodges lined out to Carey at 3rd base.

In the 9th Larsen sat down Carl Furillo on a flyball and Roy Campenella on a groundout, leaving pinch hitter Dale Mitchell the only thing standing between him and perfection.  Larson struck out the lefty on 5 pitches to accomplish just the 6th perfect game in Major League history, and the only one in the 107 year history of the World Series.  More importantly, the 2-0 victory gave the Yankees a 1 game edge against their crosstown rivals in a series that would eventually see the Bombers prevail in 7 games.

Whenever I watch old film of the game I am struck by Larsen’s demeanor the moment he strikes out Mitchell.  His head goes down and he walks off the mound, as though he had just ended the 4th inning instead of creating one of the most transcendent moments in baseball history.  Yogi Berra is hopping up and down like he just discovered “a nickle ain’t worth a dime anymore,” but Larsen seems content to just walk back to the clubhouse and take a shower.  I admire that.

Don Larsen is a footloose fellow of whom Casey Stengel once said, “He can be one of baseball’s great pitchers any time he puts his mind to it.”  Larsen had his mind on his work today.  He pitched the first no-hit game in world series history. Not only that, but he also fired the first perfect game- no batter reaching first base-to be posted in the major leagues in thirty-four years.  This nerve-tingling performance, embellished with a Mickey Mantle home run, gained a 2-0 triumph for the Yankees over the Dodgers and Sal Maglie at the Stadium. It enabled Casey Stengel’s Yankees to post their third straight victory for a 3-2 lead in the series.

| John Drebinger, The New York Times, 10/8/1956 |

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