STRIKE-OUT NO. 12
Finally it was the turn of Yogi Berra, the 29-year-old gnome around whom the Yankees of 1955 can hope to rebuild. A home run would have tied the score, and Yogi had hit 20 this season. But Gus Wynn had given up his home run for the day. The Yankee catcher swung mightily and became his twelfth strike-out victim.
Some of Wynn's fellow Indians hugged him as he walked from the pitcher's mound. Others turned and shouted "Choke-ups!" in the direction of the Yankee bench.
No one had taunted the Yankees in this manner for years, but the Indians had full right to their moment. For three years in a row they have finished second to the Yankees. They have heard, for the three years, the intolerable chant that they were the ones who choked up in the pennant stretch. This spring, the Indians' captain, Al Rosen, took up the "choke-up" charge in an exasperated declaration: "We don't lose to the Yankees because we choke up. We lose to the Yankees because they're a better team."
But the fans of Cleveland, some of whom had come from hundreds of miles, were gentle. There was little booing of the dying gods. Most of them knew—the Yankees knew, that the 1954 Yankees were finishing one of their best seasons. At week's end, and with 11 more games to play, the World Champions had won 95 games. In most seasons that many victories would have won the American League pennant (see box). But this time even the Yankees seemed to sense that time had run out on them. They tried to joke about it before the double-header.
In the morning, as buses and trains and planes poured fans into Cleveland, the Yankees ate breakfast at the Hotel Cleveland.
"Did you come to bury us?" Jerry Coleman, an alert infielder, asked a visiting writer from New York.
"The slowly dying Yankees," Charlie Silvera, substitute catcher, read aloud from a local newspaper. "The slowly dying Yankees," he repeated. "Very funny."
"I defy anyone," Manager Casey Stengel barked, "to say this team ain't worth a quarter. I don't want to blow up another club because the race is still going, you can be sure, and we get paid to win, not blow up other clubs, but Cleveland has played tree-mendous and we been trying to catch 'em, so how can you say our team ain't worth a quarter?"
Around the batting cage before the game the Indians matched the Yankee edginess with nonchalance. "It's not rough," said Bobby Avila. "All year we play, now we play. We play okay."