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It was just the kind of challenge the Yankees used to rise to, the kind of series they used to win. This time they lost. They lost because the Indians outhit them, outpitched them, forced the fight to them, put pressure on them, made the breaks and took advantage of the breaks.
They lost because of things like Bobby Avila's bunt. This is how that play came about.
In the Tuesday night game the Yankees had a 1-0 lead going into the top of the third inning. With one out Don Larsen—who was on trial for his major league existence—walked his opposing pitcher, Bob Lemon.
Al Smith worked a walk too and suddenly Larsen was in trouble. Two men were on base with only one out, and Avila, Al Rosen, Ralph Kiner and the rest of the meat-and-muscle part of the Indians' batting order coming up. The potential tying run was on second, wanting only a base hit to be realized.
"I knew he was going to bunt," Smith said. "There wasn't any sign on, but when you play with a guy you get to know what he's going to do."
"I was bunting for a hit," Avila said. A sacrifice bunt would have been pointless. With two out the potential tying run, now on third base, would still require a base hit to be realized. And with first base open after the sacrifice Rosen, the next batter, would be walked intentionally to let the Yankees pitch to Kiner, a dangerous hitter but not so dangerous in Casey Stengel's mind as Rosen.
But a bunt hit, on the other hand, would move the lead runner to third base without sacrificing an out, and he would then be able to score on an outfield fly. The bases would be loaded and the Yanks would have to pitch to the clutch hitter, Rosen, who was a good bet to hit that outfield fly.
So Avila promptly bunted for a hit.
"I do this, oh, several times a year," he said. "I don't push bunts very often, you know, toward first, unless it is a sacrifice. I hit them toward third. If I do it right, the ball angles toward the foul line so that it is a hard chance for the third baseman. It's either a base hit or a foul ball, and either way I don't make out."