SI Vault
Roger Kahn
September 20, 1954
Casey Stengel's proud Yankees, playing at a clip that has won them five World Championships, went into Cleveland this week and met a better team—the 1954 Cleveland Indians, who did not "choke up"
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September 20, 1954

The Twilight Of The Gods

Casey Stengel's proud Yankees, playing at a clip that has won them five World Championships, went into Cleveland this week and met a better team—the 1954 Cleveland Indians, who did not "choke up"

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"Attention, please!" boomed the impersonal voice of the loudspeaker at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, breaking in on the second game of the Indians' Sunday double-header with the New York Yankees. "Today's paid attendance is 84,587, the most that ever saw a regular season major league game." The crowd applauded but quieted down when the speaker boomed again. "Attention, please. Today's attendance, including passes, is 86,563, the most that ever saw a major league game." This time the crowd was permitted to cheer its own magnificence without interruption.

This impressive compliment fully digested, the largest crowd that ever gathered to watch a baseball game went back to the fascinated contemplation of what had brought most of them to Municipal Stadium in the first place—the Cleveland Indians' effective demonstration that they are a better team than the five-time World Champion New York Yankees. As drama, it might very well have been entitled The Twilight of the Gods. While a band played brassily in left field, the Yankees followed Thor and Wotan into eclipse.

The inevitable end of the champions did not dull the spectacle. The Yankees died hard, and Cleveland watched with deep-grained satisfaction. Yankee Manager Casey Stengel chose one of his best, 25-year-old Left-hander Whitey Ford, to pitch the first game. Cleveland's Al Lopez reached into his deep bin of pitchers—richest in baseball—and picked Right-hander Bob Lemon, winner of 21 games this year. For a while, until Ford wrenched his shoulder with a side-arm throw, it was a pitchers' game: 1-1 in the sixth. Then Casey Stengel called on Allie Reynolds, 37, once the possessor of the most effective fast ball in the league.


Al Rosen, third baseman for the Indians, stepped to the plate. He was a college boy when Allie Reynolds was a major leaguer. With two men on base, he hit a slider into right center field. The ball skipped past Mickey Mantle for a two-base hit and two runs scored. After that, Bob Lemon never gave the Yankees a chance. At the end of the first game the score was 3-1 for the Indians, and the Yankees were 7� games out of first place.

Stengel had lost with his best. For the second game he turned to an old Yankee castoff—Tommy Byrne, the 34-year-old left-hander who had been hurriedly called in from Seattle only 10 days before. Against him Al Lopez sent Gus Wynn (20-11 for the season). Wynn throws every known pitch, including a wildly breaking knuckle ball, and in the first inning Yogi Berra, the Yankee catcher, hit one of them into the upper right-field stands for a two-run homer.

The Yankees held on until the fifth. Then the Indians caught up with Tommy Byrne. Wynn singled, Rookie Al Smith singled and hard-hitting Bobby Avila, the league's likely batting champion, singled again. Home came Wynn, barely safe under a high throw from the outfield. "Just missed him," said a Yankee on the bench.

"He threw it bad," muttered Casey Stengel, sensing catastrophe. "Too high to be cut off."

Stengel was right, as usual. Another hit, a double by Wally Westlake, sent two more Indians home. After that, the Indians left it to Gus Wynn, and in the fading light he almost seemed to toy with the World Champions. After the first inning, the Yankees got only one hit, and that was a bunt.

Casey Stengel was not through. He called on Enos Slaughter, the old Cardinal, to pinch-hit in the ninth. Slaughter let a knuckle ball sweep by for the third strike. Now came Mickey Mantle, the 22-year-old picked to replace the great Joe DiMaggio. Mantle struck out, for the 100th time this season.

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