[by Vincent Getz, New York]
WARREN SPAHN FINISHED his third of six consecutive 20-win seasons in 1958 and led the league in innings pitched. So it was not a surprise to see the wiry, screwball-hurling workhorse climb the mound for the top of the 10th, manager Fred Haney opting to stick with his starter. The Milwaukee Braves were counting on Spahn to get them through three more outs, hoping to take the win, and the Series, in the bottom of the inning. If that failed, and the Yankees took the lead, at least they would have the chance to tie it up. With slugging third baseman Eddie Mathews scheduled to come up third in the home half, and possibly right fielder Hank Aaron after that, both in the thunderous primes of their careers, Haney’s strategy was sound.
Spahn is unquestionably one of the best pitchers to have played the game, finishing his career with an astounding 363 wins – 6th all-time and tops for a lefty – tossing 63 shutouts and a couple of no-hitters along the way. He was tough, and not just on the field. He had barely started his career when he was drafted into the Army in 1943. He was stationed in Europe for three years, earning a Bronze Star for bravery and a Purple Heart, and saw combat in the Battle of the Bulge. And there he was on the mound, in Game 6 of the World Series, in extra innings.
It wasn’t his best performance so far, but he managed to stymie the Yanks throughout much of the game, scattering five singles and a solo home run over nine frames. But did the reigning Cy Young winner have enough left in the tank to finish off Game 6 and the New York Yankees? He didn’t.
This was the second time in the Series the Yankees had their backs against the wall and it was unfamiliar territory. Thanks in part to Spahn’s 10-inning complete game in the opener and a 13-run spanking in Game 2, the Braves had leapt out to a three games to one lead, the first time that such a lead had been foisted upon the Bombers since 1942…eleven World Series appearances ago. But the Yanks stayed alive in Game 5 thanks to a stellar pitching performance by Bob Turley, who scripted a complete game shutout.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Whitey Ford, starter in Game 6, didn’t get the memo. He struck out the leadoff man in the 2nd, but then surrendered three singles in a row followed by a walk, prompting manager Casey Stengel to yank him. With Ford done for the game, the Yankees relied on relatively unknown journeymen relievers Art Ditmar and Ryne Duren to span the gap against Spahn. They did.
Spahn finished his warm-ups. He’d have to face Hank Bauer, owner of that solo homer, and Mickey Mantle, owner of 42 homers, in the 10th. But, first, Gil McDougald, Yankees middle infielder for all of the 1950’s, stepped to the plate.
He launched a deep fly ball to left field that gave the Yankees the lead. They would go on to score another, taking a two-run lead into the bottom of the 10th. Plan B for Haney and the Braves.
It wasn’t enough. Mathews struck out. Aaron managed a base hit to left that scored a run. But the previous game’s hero, Bob Turley, entered the game to shut it down and got Frank Torre (Joe’s brother) for the final out. Yankees win. The Yankees win.
They faced a daunting task that postseason having to overcome a 3-1 deficit, but fought back to force a Game 7. Tonight, the Yankees face a similar Game 6 test in the American League Championship Series. With the season on the line for a second game in a row, Joe Girardi will hand the ball to a solid Phil Hughes, proud owner of 18 victories this season. It could be a lot worse. If they make it to Game 7, and Cliff Lee, it will be. But they can take a cue from the ’58 Yanks and their victory over Warren Spahn.
P.S. The Yankees won Game 7, and the World Series – their 18th. After Don Larsen left the game in the 3rd inning, Bob Turley would again answer the call. With the game tied 2-2 in the 8th, the Yankees would score four. Turley would still be on the mound for the final out.