I invite my godson, Joe, to a Los Angeles Angels game, the first of a three game series with the Toronto Blue Jays. I am a Red Sox fan but it is evident this year, 2015, they are going nowhere so I transfer my loyalties to the Angels, a team I have come to like, living in Long Beach, California. But I also know that the Blue Jays have vastly improved since the beginning of the baseball season and will be no easy team to defeat, especially with their ace pitcher, David Price, starting.
So the game begins with Hector Santiago of the Angels retiring the first Toronto batter on strikes, and I begin to think that this may be an interesting pitcher’s duel. But after that Santiago proceeds to walk three batters in a row. He can’t manage to get a third strike on any of them as they each foul off several pitches. Then the next batter lifts a pop fly to the infield and now it looks like Santiago may get out of the inning unscathed. Russell Martin, the Blue Jay catcher. is now up, and once more he like the other batters swings at a pitch and misses but when there are two strikes he starts fouling pitches off and the count goes full to 3 and 2. He fouls off another pitch and on the next pitch he walks with bases loaded letting in a run. There has yet to be a hit in the inning: A strike out, a pop fly to the infield and four walks.
I look over at Joe and say: “This reminds me of a game I saw with my dad and brothers sometime in the ‘50’s when the Red Sox were playing the Yankees in New York at Yankee Stadium. Things might get ugly here like they did there.” I remember the first inning of that game so well. It’s traced indelibly in my mind. The Red Sox pitchers walked batter after batter, gave up hits to batters, but failed to get three outs.
CRAAAACK!! The Blue Jay batter hits a ball to left field with Shane Victorino coming in on the ball as it is beginning to sink in front of him, dives forward with the ball landing in his glove but as he hits the ground the ball bounces out. The umpire shows the safe sign indicating the ball has not been caught and suddenly another two runs come in. I later find out that this is Victorino’s first error in a year and a half. Now the Blue Jays are leading 3 to 0 without getting one hit. Santiago can’t seem to control his fast ball but finally finds the strike zone and the next batter smacks it to right field for a single. So it is now 3 to 0 with bases loaded, one error on the Angels and one hit for the Blue Jays. Somehow Santiago escapes giving up any more runs by getting the last batter on a routine fly ball to the outfield. But the Blue Jays go on to pound the Angels and win 9 to 2.
So I ask my godson, tech experts that all kids his age are, if he can locate online the inning by inning plays of the game the Yankees had with the Red Sox when the Yankees got 8 runs in the bottom of the first inning. How many games would have a score like that? Sure enough, he found that particular game and sent me the box score with the inning play by play: The game was played on Sunday, August 15, 1954 with the Red Sox losing 14 to 9. I was 9 years old at the time.
Prior to the game, Red Barber, the Yankee announcer of old, was interviewing fans–where we were seated in the bleachers–for the sports station, which was then Channel 11. My older brother, at the time 12 years old, who knew zilch about baseball, had no stage fright, so when he saw Red with a mike in his hand promptly went over and was actually on T.V. attempting to answer questions like how many home runs did Babe Ruth hit in his lifetime (714). My brother didn’t know any of the answers, so he looked over in my direction, guessing I would. I did. Interview completed, he sashayed over to my father, younger brother and me, and in an unabashed manner inquired: “Did you see me on television?”
“Start the game,” I’m thinking, because in the eyes of a child the wait before the game is endless. I sat, restless, wishing this one would. Finally, Bob Grim, the New York pitcher, finished his warm-ups with his teammates taking their positions. 25,000 avid Yankee fans and one died-in-the-wool Red Sox fan, inasmuch as my family hardly shared my devotion, rose for the National Anthem. The scratchy recording ran its course, and the last notes faded to perfunctory applause. As we turned to our seats, the home plate umpire motioned to Grim to start the game as Jimmy Piersall, the Sox lead-off hitter walks up to the batter’s box. I want to see everything as my body is filled with excitement. Jimmy hits a single but Ted Williams, prized above all others, grounds into a double play. Billy Goodman, the next player up, grounds out to short to end the Red Sox half of the inning,
The box score my godson sent me yielded the following account of the Yankees’ half of the inning: Rizzuto walks; Collins flies out to center field; Mantle walks; Berra walks and now, without a hit, the Yankees have bases loaded. Noren walks scoring Rizzuto (1-0); Slaughter singles scoring Mantle (2-0); Carey singles scoring Berra and Noren (4-0). Brewer, the Sox starter, is now out of the ball game replaced by Hurd. A passed ball by the Red Sox catcher allows Slaughter to score (5-0); Hurd walks Coleman and then pitches to Grim, the Yankee pitcher, who hits a single scoring Carey (6-0); Rizzuto fouls out; Collins hits a single off of Hurd scoring Coleman (7-0). Hurd is now replaced by Brown. Mantle hits a single scoring Grim (8-0). Berra strikes out, and guess what, the inning is finally over. It took three pitchers to record three outs. With the inning ending as it did, and with Berra’s uniform number being 8, I am thinking the baseball gods must have planned it all this way. eight runs on five hits: The New Yorkers always had a knack for taking advantage of the misplays made by other teams; in this case several free passes or walks issued to Yankee batters.
I have a vague memory of having to sit through this torture wondering if the bottom half of the first inning would ever end. When it finally did, I sighed, recognizing that the game was already over after only one inning of play. The Yankees went on to take an 11 to 0 lead before the Red Sox scored. Although the Red Sox were finished at the end of the first, they actually fought back and scored 9 runs, though my idol Ted Williams had a hitless game. Four days later, on August 19th, my youngest brother was born. The New York Giants who were my second favorite team after the Red Sox, went on to win the World Series that year by sweeping the favored Cleveland Indians, 4-0. I had the pleasure of seeing live on television the incredible catch that Willie Mays (another favorite of mine) made on Vic Wertz’s drive to deep center field in the Polo Grounds, a catch that I believe may have been one of the greatest of all time.
In 1978, I had just moved to California. That August the Red Sox blew a big lead they held over the Yankees and were forced into a playoff game against them at Fenway Park for the American League East Division title. The Red Sox were winning 2-0, when suddenly Bucky Dent of the Yankees hit a 3 run homer in the 7th inning, putting the Yankees in the lead. They went on to win the game 5-4. After Dent’s homer, the silence in Fenway was deafening. To add insult to injury, Bucky Dent was not known for his power and that home run was only the 5th he’d hit that season. Dent’s home run not only put a dent on Red Sox hopes but also led to another Yankee World Series. Everyone knows what happened when the Red Sox played the Mets in 1986. The Red Sox looked like they were going to win the World Series in the 6th game until once more the baseball gods intervened. Bill Buckner, Red Sox first baseman, could not field Mookie Wilson’s ground ball. This error forced the Series into a 7th game which the Mets won.
Fifty years after the first inning fiasco of unfond memory–2004, a baseball season all Red Sox fans remember. With the Yankees ahead in the American League Play-off Series for the Pennant 3-0, the Red Sox went on to win the next four games in a row–a first in baseball history–to capture the Pennant. I sat glued to the television in disbelief those last four games. The Curse of the Bambino that had hung over the Red Sox team finally had been broken. The Sox then went on to beat the Colorado Rockies four games in succession to sweep the World Series. I had the good fortune to be alive to see it all. To this day I am not sure whether those 50 years took more or less time than the bottom of the first inning at the game I, a 9 year child, saw with my family on August 15th, 1954.