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Sunday, October 9, 2016

Don Larsen's Perfect Game: Recalling the Pitching Gem On Its 60th Anniversary

Yesterday marked the 60th anniversary of one of baseball’s most cherished feats. On October 8th, 1956, New York Yankees starting pitcher Don Larsen threw the first and only perfect game in the history of the World Series (and playoffs). Not only is it one of the major gold standards in the sport, it also still captivates fans as much today as it did six decades ago.

The right-hander’s perfect came in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium against the Brooklyn Dodgers, giving the Bronx Bombers a 3-2 Series lead. They ultimately took the championship two days later in the 7th and deciding game. Here are some interesting facts about Larsen and his perfect game.

-Larsen beat tough veteran hurler Sal Maglie, 2-0. The Dodgers pitcher was no slouch himself, as he permitted just five hits and pitched a complete game in taking the hard-luck loss.

-Yankees center fielder Mickey Mantle accounted for the first run by hitting a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Right fielder Hank Bauer drove in third baseman Andy Carey with an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to cap the scoring.

-Although Larsen had a great regular season in 1956 (11-5 with a 3.26 ERA in 38 games), the 26-year-old had previously endured much rockier times. In his first two seasons (1953-54), which were spent with the St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles, he was a combined 10-33 with a 4.27 ERA and a 176/153 strikeout/walk ratio.

-In 1954, Larsen had one of the most futile seasons to ever go on record for a pitcher. In 29 games with the Orioles, he was a ghastly 3-21 with a 4.37 ERA. Naturally, two of his three victories were against the Yankees.

-The perfect game ended what had been a horrendous start to Larsen’s World Series career. In his first two games, spanning 5.2 innings and two Series, he had permitted six walks and nine runs. He had started Game 2 of the 1956 Series but was knocked out after allowing four runs and four walks after just 1.2 innings.

-The perfect game came against a lineup that wasn’t exactly a tomato can. The Dodgers boasted four hitters who went on to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame- Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Pee Wee Reese. A fifth, Gil Hodges, has just missed out in previous appearances on ballots.

-Larsen struck out the first two batters (Jim Gilliam and Reese) looking.

-Maglie struck out his final three batters of the game swinging.

-Only one Dodgers batter (Reese in the first inning) was able to get as many as three balls in any one count during the game.

-The final out of the game came when Larsen caught pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell looking for his seventh punch out of the day. He was an unusual hitter for such an ending, as the left-handed swinger had one of the most discerning eyes in baseball history, resulting in just 119 strikeouts in 4,358 regular season major league plate appearances. It was also the only time he struck out in 32 career postseason trips to the dish.

-The game was the final time home plate umpire’s Babe Pinelli’s called a game. Although he umpired in the field during the remainder of the Series, he retired after Game 7, following 22 years as an arbiter and another 16 spent as a professional player.

-Making Larsen’s laser focus even more impressive is the fact that his then-wife Vivian filed for divorce prior to the game.

-Future legendary Yankees manager Joe Torre attended the game, watching as a 16-year-old from the left field bleachers.

-The final two games of the Series were both shutouts, as the Dodgers took Game 6 1-0 and the Yankees won the clincher in a 9-0 laugher.

-Larsen pitched for another 10 years in the majors after his perfect game. However, it was with the Yankees and six other teams, and he only once won as many as 10 games in a season again.

-Larsen’s next appearance on a mound came on April 20, 1957, against the Boston Red Sox. His start lasted just 1.1 innings, as five hits, a walk and four runs knocked him out (which was won by the Yankees, 10-7).

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