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Larsen brings word 'perfect' to Series

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 22, 1999


By the fifth inning, some of the fans were beginning to think "no-hitter."

Mickey Mantle only added to the prospect by making a spectacular fifth-inning catch of Gil Hodges' drive deep into the left-centerfield alley. It came minutes after he had gotten the first of the Yankees' five hits off Brooklyn pitcher Sal Maglie, a two-out, bases-empty home run in the bottom of the fourth.

By the sixth inning, the Yankees doubled their lead to 2-0. And they, too, were thinking "no-hitter." None of them would speak to Don Larsen. None would even sit near the pitcher.

Larsen, a right-hander, had staggered to records of 7-12 with the 1953 St. Louis Browns and 3-21 with Baltimore the next year before being shipped to the Yankees in the first part of what would become an 18-player trade. He went 9-2 in 1955. But he was having trouble until he adopted an unorthodox no-windup delivery late in the next season after a conversation with Red Sox coach Del Baker. "I was tipping off my pitches," Larsen said. "No matter what I threw, Baker knew in advance what was coming."

Not this time. It was Oct. 8, 1956, Game5 of the World Series. One by one, the Dodgers strode to the plate, failed to get a hit (or even draw a walk or benefit from an error) and returned to the dugout.

Larsen wasn't just pitching a no-hitter, the first in the 307-game history of the World Series. He was working on a perfect game. That hadn't happened in a major-league game since April30, 1922.

Mantle's catch was the second big play to preserve perfection. In the second inning, Jackie Robinson's sharp grounder ricocheted off third baseman Andy Carey's glove. Shortstop Gil McDougald fielded it. His throw barely beat Robinson to first.

Right after Mantle's play, Brooklyn's Sandy Amoros hit one just foul into the rightfield seats, before making an out.

In the eighth inning, Hodges hit another shot toward Carey at third. He lunged and caught the ball inches off the ground -- and just to make sure (in case an umpire said the ball had touched the ground), Carey threw to first.

Now it was the top of the ninth and the Yankee Stadium crowd of 64,519 was roaring. Carl Furillo led off. He hit a fly ball to his Yankees counterpart in rightfield, Hank Bauer.

Roy Campanella was next. The Dodgers catcher hit a grounder to second baseman Billy Martin for the second out.

Maglie was due up. Dale Mitchell, an excellent pinch-hitter, batted for him.

Larsen ran the count to 1-and-2. Mitchell fouled off a pitch. Larsen threw a fastball. Mitchell started to swing, then held up.

Umpire Babe Pinelli, behind the plate for the last time in his career before retiring, called it strike three.

Mitchell wheeled to protest in vain that the pitch was outside. Catcher Yogi Berra raced out and flung himself onto Larsen. They were joined moments later by the rest of the Yankees. "He only shook me off twice," Berra said later, "but each time he finally signaled for the original pitch. He was great!"

The locker room was in chaos, Larsen's cubicle a mass of bodies. Maglie, Robinson and Dodgers president Walter O'Malley got close enough to Larsen to congratulate him. Pinelli did as well. "You were wonderful, just wonderful," he told the Yankees pitcher. Commissioner Ford Frick made a futile attempt to get through. He had manager Casey Stengel relay his best wishes.


-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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