Through five long months and 140 games the Baltimore Orioles played like champions. Sometimes they led the American League, sometimes they fell behind. Always they scrambled, a young team shaking off its mistakes by playing over its head. Because they played that way, and because it was the kind of a season and the kind of a league in which anyone might win, a nation of baseball fans fell in love with them and began to believe the Orioles might really fly to a pennant. Last weekend the Yankees shot them down.
In the most important series of the year the Yankees won the first game behind Whitey Ford, and the 4-2 score was not as close as it sounds. They won the second game 5-3 by hitting the ball harder and taking advantage of every break. And on Sunday in a double-header the Yankees played the most aggressive baseball they have played all season, stretching base hits, forcing the Orioles into hurried mistakes. They won that third game 7-3, and they won the fourth 2-0 on Ralph Terry's superb two-hitter and, when it was all over, the Yankees led the league by four games with only a double handful to play. The Orioles, who came into Yankee Stadium tied for first place, went home to think about next year.
The Orioles did not collapse; they were beaten by a better ball club. This is not a good Yankee team compared to those of the past. The fielding has been erratic, the base-running unspectacular; over the season the Yankees have had neither the brilliant pitching of the Orioles nor the speed and defensive talent of the White Sox. At the plate they are inconsistent. But apparently you cannot beat the Yankees in a big series, even today.
Although the Orioles did not fold under the pressure, they bent slightly and that was all the Yankees needed. Where the Orioles made an occasional mistake (below), the Yankees made none. When Paul Richards was slow to make a decisive move, Casey Stengel was quick, which only proves that Richards is still a genius, junior grade, with a few more things to learn. And always the Yankees could call upon that reservoir of experience and steadiness which comes only from having been down the same rough road so many times before. They also were able to call on that old Yankee invention, the home run.
Because of the home run, no team playing the Yankees ever feels comfortable, even with a three-run lead in the ninth inning. It was true when Ruth and Gehrig were around and it is true today; almost unnoticed, this 1960 club has become the most prolific home-run hitting Yankee team of all time. Before the season is over, the Yankees are almost certain to break their American League record of 190, which came in 1956, Mickey Mantle's 52-homer year.
No one will hit 52 this time, but a lot of people have contributed to the total: Roger Maris 39, Mantle 35, Moose Skowron 25, Yogi Berra 15, Tony Kubek and Cletis Boyer 13 apiece, Hector Lopez 9. It is the home run that has kept the Yankees in the 1960 pennant race and it was the home run that broke Baltimore's back last Friday night in the first game of the series.
The Friday crowd, which eventually was to grow to 49,217, the largest to watch a single night game in the American League all year, was slow to arrive but as it built up, so, too, did the tension that hung over the huge old Stadium in The Bronx. It enveloped the young Orioles, who had never faced a situation quite like this before, and it even slipped inside the classically calm exterior of the Yankees. Both teams were quiet. Very quiet.
Richards held a short pregame meeting in the visiting clubhouse. There was no pep talk. "That's the one thing we don't need," he said. "The problem now is to keep them loose. I warned them again to watch out for Ford's pickoff move, and the pitchers and catchers went down the Yankee roster. That's all. Lord, we've been through this all season; there's no reason to do anything different now."
Over in the Yankee clubhouse, Stengel riddled interminably with his lineup cards until he hit upon the right combination, then went out to sit on the bench and entertain the writers with stories, some of them new.
Just when it seemed that everyone present would clutch his throat from the pressure, stagger wildly around in small circles and fall kicking to the ground, the Yankee organization, like the British Empire upon which it is patterned, came nobly through. Out of the public-address system boomed the pear-shaped tones of Bob Shepherd, the stadium P.A. man.