When the reporters left, Mantle walked over to Maris. "Mick, it's driving me nuts, I'm telling you," Maris said.
"And I'm telling you, you got to get used to it," Mantle said. Houk then joined Mantle, and the manager talked to Maris for a long time.
The next night Maris hit No. 57, the one Al Kaline retrieved, and a day later, after missing a home run by a foot when he tripled off the fence in right, he won the game for the Yankees in the 12th inning with No. 58, a drive into the upper deck in right center field.
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 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' 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 right field. He had overpowered Milt Pappas' 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.