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Duke Snider of the Dodgers wrung applause from the crowds in a marvelously adept, versatile performance. He played center field audaciously and with sometimes nearly unbelievable skill. He dived headlong to catch Yankee line drives, his body one moment stretched and taut against the green background of the center-field sod, then suddenly tumbling, the ball held securely in his glove. And, in center stage at the plate, he provided a moment of high drama in the second game with a three-run homer which presaged victory for Don Bessent. On the base paths, he ran with a certain sagacious recklessness, twice trying for an extra base and making it, once against the slingshot-fast, very accurate throwing arm of Mickey Mantle.
Gil Hodges, who had been deep in a batting slump throughout the season, responded to the Series like an actor who is poor in rehearsal, magnificent on the stage for opening night. He supplied the Dodgers with a surprisingly sure touch at bat, hitting steadily and producing a home run in the first game and two doubles in the second which were the driving force behind the drumfire Brooklyn attack that melted away a long Yankee lead with startling speed.
Sal Maglie had the sure, deft technique of the real old pro, underplaying his part with a careful precision which made the power of his performance the more dramatic. He trod carefully along the edge of disaster for nine long innings in the first game, peering bale-fully at a long procession of Yankee batters, throwing the ball precisely and carefully and always in the marginal area of small return for the hitter. He spun the drama of his part out until it was nearly intolerable.
And the quiet man in the background was the manager of the Dodgers, Walter Alston. Alston, who partakes of none of the heroic style of Casey Stengel, slipped only once from his character. Then he referred to Pinch-hitter Rube Walker as "that feller," and quickly corrected himself to say, "The fellow I'm talking about is Rube Walker. I'm beginning to talk like Casey." But he wasn't. Like the other old pros, he remained strictly and proudly in character.
The man's name was Donald Larsen, 26, a big fellow, 6 feet 4, handsome, single, out of San Diego. The St. Petersburg police had him in tow because he'd run his car into a utility pole at 5 a.m. He had, he said, fallen asleep at the wheel. Sportswriters snickered.
This was last spring, in training in Florida, and this Larsen was a pitcher for the New York Yankees. Not a particularly good pitcher either: 3-21 with the Orioles in 1954, sent down to the minors for a spell in 1955. And now he was in trouble. He wouldn't be around too long, the wise ones predicted.
Larsen paid a $15 speeding fine and the cost of the damage to the pole. Then, to everyone's surprise, Casey Stengel said flatly he'd take no disciplinary action. The fuss quieted down. Larsen stayed with the Yanks, but he was still nothing special, and when Stengel named him to pitch the second game of the World Series there was some surprise. Larsen turned wild behind a 6-0 lead, and the Yankees collapsed and lost. The wise men said, "I told you so."
But once again Stengel, who does not spare his players the rough side of his tongue when he feels they need it, spared Larsen. "He wasn't throwing over there in Brooklyn," Casey said. "He was just pushing the ball. Maybe he was thinking too much about those fences. He can pitch a lot better than that. You'll see."
So, on Monday, Donald Larsen went out to pitch in the fifth game of the World Series, on a brilliant, clear day, a little on the chilly side, about 60° in the sun. He and his rival, the colorful old Sal Maglie, pitched impeccably. Maglie retired the first 11 batters, but then Mickey Mantle outfoxed him, hit a home run, and Maglie's no-hitter was gone. The spotlight swung to Larsen, for the scoreboard still showed no hits, no runs, no errors for Brooklyn. It was six innings and then seven, and suddenly—in view of the overpowering way Larsen was getting the first and second strikes in on almost every batter—the possibility of not just a no-hitter' but a perfect game became as real as the taste of a hot dog.