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Robert Creamer
October 13, 1958
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October 13, 1958

The Test Of The Champs

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A Constant chill breeze blew across the infield of County Stadium in Milwaukee during the first game of the 1958 World Series, and a steady aura of tension arose from it. Now, it must be pointed out that the Milwaukee Braves' remarkable Warren Spahn was pitching against the New York Yankees' Whitey Ford in this opening game, and that the tension did not embrace Spahn. The night before, he and his equally remarkable roommate, Lew Burdette, clowned offstage as Leo Durocher conducted interviews on a TV show, then ambled easily on camera to be interviewed themselves. Carefree as a brace of puppy dogs, they grinned at each other, at the audience, at Durocher. To Leo's inane question, "What do you think of tomorrow's game?" Spahn replied blandly, "I don't know. I haven't pitched it yet." That's Spahnie.

Though not so relaxed a man as Spahn, Whitey Ford seldom appears nervous, either on or off a baseball field. But in this first game he seemed far more intense than usual. He was very impressive, but he seemed to be trying almost too hard and, when three successive Braves hit first pitches to score two runs in the fourth, after two were out, the feeling persisted that this was all a mistake that could have been avoided if only Whitey would relax a little.

In contrast, Spahn pitched sloppily in the beginning, yet escaped relatively unscathed, mostly because of some faulty Yankee base running. Hank Bauer was picked off first base by Spahn, and Yogi Berra, trying to go from first to third on a base hit to left, ran in a careless semicircle and was nipped as he bellywhopped head first into the bag. Bauer and Berra, alive on base, might well have had Spahn sagging on the ropes. Bauer and Berra, out, let Spahn escape trouble.

Even so, when Bauer homered in the fifth to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead, it seemed merely a matter of time before Spahn would be completely routed. As it turned out, the homer marked New York's high water mark against the left-hander. He had been hit hard, had given up six hits and three runs and had been lucky to get off that cheaply. But, starting right after the Bauer home run, in his next 14⅔ innings, including his shutout in Yankee Stadium, Spahn was to allow just four more Yankee hits and no runs at all.

The Yankees, faced with this rejuvenated Spahn, lost the game in the eighth. Ford walked Ed Mathews to open the inning. Then Henry Aaron timed a slow curve and lined it to right, off the fence under Hank Bauer's mistimed leap. Mathews went to third, Aaron to second and Ford came out of the game. (Afterward, asked if he felt Aaron had hit the ball hard, Ford grinned sardonically. "Hard?" he said. "Just because he hit the ball to the fence in the teeth of the wind, you think he hit it hard?" Then, seriously, "I thought it was gone. I thought it was a home run.")

Casey Stengel scuttled out to the mound, to the loud derisive roar of the Milwaukee crowd, relieved Ford and brought in his myopic relief pitcher, Ryne Duren. Duren excited the crowd with his startling fast ball, struck out Joe Adcock and then gave up an important long fly to Wes Covington.

This, to many, was the key moment of the Series. Covington is a feared clutch hitter, and grandstand managers decided it would be wiser to walk him, as long as first base was open. But Stengel, not wanting to pressure the sometimes wild Duren with a bases-loaded situation, had him pitch to Covington. His fly ball—justification for the grandstand strategists—brought in Mathews with the tying run.

The Yankees went down listlessly before Spahn; the Braves fought against the overpowering Duren fast ball. Spahn himself, greeted at the plate by Yogi Berra's wry "Don't get hit, Warren. This guy is apt to throw one right through you," ducked one pitch and then pulled a fast ball to right for the first hit off Duren. An inning later, in the last of the 10th, Bill Bruton—who was in the hospital having a knee operation during the last World Series—lined a Duren pitch to deep right center to drive in the game-winning run.

Ford had failed, Duren had failed, the Yankees had failed, and Casey Stengel, feeling the importance of the defeat, was plunged in gloom.

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