1961 was one of the finest seasons in Yankees' history, but the passage of time often creates a false reality.
Recently, the host of a sports show discussed the 1961 World Series. It was concluded that beating the Reds was almost a cakewalk. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The World Series opened in New York on Wednesday, October 4. It would be Yankees' 25-game winner Whitey Ford, facing Reds' lefty Jim O'Toole in a battle of aces, but the Yankees had a major problem.
Yankees' manager Ralph Houk wasn't sure if Mickey Mantle would be in the starting lineup. According to reports, Mickey was suffering from a virus that preceded minor surgery on a hip abscess.
The game started with Mantle on the bench and both Ford and O'Toole living up to their advanced billing.
Neither team scored until Yankees' catcher Elston Howard, leading off the fourth inning, sliced a drive to right field for a home run.
Ford pitched a two-hit shutout.
The next day the Reds evened the Series as Joey Jay defeated Ralph Terry, 6-2.
Mickey Mantle once again did not play and the Reds were going back home with a split. In the series' first two games, the Yankees had scored only four runs.
Difficult Game Three
Game Three exemplified how difficult it was for the Yankees. Bill Stafford (14-9, 2.68) faced Bob Purkey (16-12, 3.73) with Mickey Mantle in the lineup.
Purkey out-pitched Stafford, who was taken out in favor of Bud Daley after pitching six and two-thirds innings. At the end of seven innings, the Reds were in front, 2-1.
The Yankees' vaunted offense, the offense that had set a new major league team record of 240 home runs in a season, the offense that was led by the "M & M" boys, the offense that averaged more than five runs a game, was being stopped.
Purkey retired the first two Yankees in the eighth. The Reds were now within four outs of grabbing a 2-1 World Series lead. Daley was the scheduled batter.
Ralph Houk sent up left handed power hitter Johnny Blanchard to pinch hit. He promptly tied the game with a home run to right field.
The 1961 Yankees' best relief pitcher was Luis Arroyo. No one knew what a closer was in 1961.
Teams had starters, relievers, and mop-up men, but no closers.
Ralph Houk brought in Arroyo to pitch the eighth inning with the heart of the Reds' batting order coming up. Luis struck out Frank Robinson, got Gordy Coleman on a foul out to the catcher, and retired Wally Post on a grounder to Boyer at third.
Bob Purkey stayed in the game to pitch the ninth inning.
The Yankees struck quickly.
Roger Maris led off by hitting a long home run to put the Yankees ahead for the first time.
Purkey retired Mantle, Berra, and Howard, but the game was lost.
After Arroyo struck out Freese leading off the bottom of the ninth, Leo Cardenas hit a long double off the top of the scoreboard to put the potential tying run into scoring position.
The little roly-poly left-handed screwballer retired pinch hitters Dick Gernert and Gus Bell to end the game.
This was not a cakewalk.
In the fourth game, Ford again faced O'Toole. They matched zeros for the first three innings.
The Yankees scored a run in the fourth, another in fifth, and finally opened it up a little with two runs in the sixth, but Ford had to leave the game with an ankle injury.
He would probably be finished for the series.
Jim Coates completed the shutout as the Yankees won 7-0, to take a commanding lead in games, 3-1.
Ralph Terry was the Yankees' starter for Game Five.
Racked by injuries, the starting outfield was Maris in center field, Blanchard in right field, and Hector Lopez in left.
Mantle had been forced out of the fourth game when blood from his abscessed hip stained his uniform. Mickey would not play again in the series. Yogi Berra was also out, as was Ford.
The Yankees needed only one more to win the championship, but it suddenly was far from a sure thing.
Ralph Terry continued to pitch poorly, but the offense came through.
The Yankees jumped on Joey Jay for five runs in the first, led by Blanchard's home run and Lopez's triple. Pretty good fill-ins.
The Yankees extended the lead to 6-0 on Maris' RBI double in the second, but in the bottom of the third, the Reds got to Terry.
Frank Robinson hit a three-run home run, which motivated Ralph Houk to bring in Bud Daley.
The Yankees' acquisition from their Kansas City friends finished the game, allowing the Reds no earned runs over six and two-thirds innings as the Yankees offense continued to pound away.
The final score was 13-5.
The Yankees won a World Series they had to win. Imagine if the 1961 New York Yankees had not won the World Series.
It was a hard-fought battle against a tough opponent. Not too many who lived through it would call it a cakewalk.
Drebinger, John. "Ford of Yanks to Face O'Toole of Reds in Opener of World Series Today; Mantle's Status is Still in Doubt." New York Times . 4 October 1961, p.53.