As the ball carried high and far, the Yankee dugout erupted in excitement. "Attaboy, Rog!" the most sophisticated players in the major leagues shouted, and "Yea" and "Attababy."
"It was one of the warmest things I've seen all year," said Bob Cerv, the Yankee outfielder. "We all know how tough it's been for Rog, and I guess we all decided right then, all at once, that we wanted him to know how much we were for him."
The team went to Baltimore by train. Maris had hit and lost a homer there on July 17, when rain stopped a game in the fifth inning before it was official. He had hit no other homers in the Orioles' large park. If he were going to catch Ruth in 154 games, he would have to hit two there in two days.
He hit none the first night, dragging through a double-header. Now, in addition to hoots from the stands, he was getting hoots by mail (two dozen letters) and wire (six telegrams). "A lot of people in this country must think it's a crime to have anyone break Ruth's record," he said.
The second night, in the Yankees' 154th game, Mantle, who had long since left center stage, vanished into the wings with a cold. Before the game his eyes were glazed and he was coughing and spitting phlegm. He wasn't well enough to play, and game 154 was left to Maris alone.
No one who saw game 154, who beheld Maris's response to the challenge, is likely soon to forget it. His play was as brave and as moving and as thrilling as a baseball player's can be. There were more reporters and photographers around him now than ever before. Newsmen swelled the Yankee party, which normally numbers 45, to 71. And this was the town where Babe Ruth was born, and the crowd had not come to cheer Maris.
The first time up, Maris shot a line drive to Earl Robinson in rightfield. He had overpowered Milt Pappas's pitch, but he had not gotten under the ball quite enough. Perhaps an eighth of an inch on the bat was all that kept the drive from sailing higher and farther.
In the third inning Maris took a ball, a breaking pitch inside, swung and missed, took another ball and then hit number 59, a 390-foot line drive that all but broke a seat in the bleachers. Three more at bats, and one home run to tie.
When he came up again, Dick Hall was pitching. Maris took two strikes and cracked a liner, deep but foul, to right. Then he struck out. When Maris came to bat again in the seventh inning the players in the Yankee bullpen, behind the fence in right center, rose and walked to the fence. "Come on, Roger, baby, hit it to me," shouted Jim Coates. "If I have to go 15 rows into the stands, I'll catch that number 60 for you."
"You know," said Whitey Ford, "I'm really nervous."