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Maz's ninth-inning homer gives Pirates Game 7 Series win

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 3, 1999


The grainy black-and-white movie shows leftfielder Yogi Berra slowing to a halt, looking up at Forbes Field's ivy-covered wall, waiting for the ball to bounce back to him, waiting to hold Bill Mazeroski to a double. Maybe even to a single.

The ball never bounced back.

By the time it landed just beyond the left-centerfield wall in a vacant lot adjoining Schenley Park, the Pittsburgh Pirates were baseball's 1960 champions, 10-9 winners over the New York Yankees in the seventh game of the first World Series to be decided by a home run.

"I can't believe it," Berra said. Teammate Dale Long chimed in: "I'll never believe it."

The home run came on Ralph Terry's second pitch in the ninth. Mazeroski all but flew around the bases, cap in hand, arms waving, celebrating the Pirates' first world championship in 35 years.

The victory helped dim some Pirates fans' memories of the previous New York-Pittsburgh World Series, a four-game sweep by baseball's best team ever, the 1927 Yankees.

And one could say Mazeroski's home run also was a thank you of sorts for manager Danny Murtaugh, who introduced Mazeroski to his wife, the former Milene Nicholson, one of the Pirates' front-office employees.

It was fitting the Pirates won on a homer. The Yankees out-homered them 10-4 and outscored them 55-27.

New York's powerful bats pounded Pittsburgh into submission in three of the first six games by scores of 16-3, 10-0 and 12-0. But margin means nothing, only the number of victories, and the Pirates scratched out 6-4, 3-2 and 5-2 wins preceding Game7.

Pittsburgh took a 4-0 lead in the give-and-take seventh game on Rocky Nelson's two-run homer in the first inning and Bill Virdon's two-run single in the second. Moose Skowron homered for the Yanks in the fifth, and New York added four runs in the sixth, three on a Berra homer. When the Yanks scored twice in the eighth to lead 7-4, they appeared on the verge of winning their 19th World Series and manager Casey Stengel's eighth.

But the biggest events can turn on the tiniest things, in this case a pebble and a momentary lapse.

With Gino Cimoli on first for the Pirates in the eighth, Virdon hit what appeared to be a routine double-play grounder at Tony Kubek. But the ball hit a pebble and took a high hop, striking the Yankees shortstop in the throat. It sent him sprawling -- and to the hospital with a bruised larynx.

Virdon was safe at first.

The Pirates exploited the opportunity. Dick Groat hit a run-scoring single and, two outs later, Roberto Clemente hit a weak grounder toward Skowron, playing deep behind first base. But pitcher Jim Coates didn't cover first. Skowron had to hold the ball. Clemente was safe, Virdon scored, Groat went to third -- and the next batter, Hal Smith, slammed a home run over the leftfield wall.

Terry got the final out in the eighth. The Yankees tied it at 9 with two runs in the ninth, then Terry served up the gopher ball to Mazeroski.

Mazeroski said it was a high fastball. Terry, asked to confirm that, replied morosely: "I don't know what the pitch was. All I know is it was the wrong one."

Andy Jerpe, 14, of Pittsburgh retrieved the ball and brought it to the Pirates' locker room to present it to Mazeroski. Mazeroski autographed it and returned it to the boy, saying: "You keep it, son. The memory is good enough for me."


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

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