Monday, July 27, 2015

60 Years Ago (1955)--White Sox Catch Up to the Yankees

After reliever Billy Pierce struck out Jerry Coleman in the bottom of the 9th at Yankee Stadium on July 28 with the bases loaded, the tying run at third, the winning run at second, and his team up by 3-2, the Yankees' lead that had been five games at the All-Star break, and as many as 6½ games going into July Fourth, was gone. The White Sox had pulled into a first-place tie with the Yankees. If the Dodgers were in no danger in the National League, there was now a full-fledged pennant race in the American League. This is the 14th article in a series on the 1955 season.

White Sox Catch Up to theYankees in 1955 Pennant Race

The Yankees went back to the baseball wars sluggish following the three-day All-Star break. On a western swing that took them to Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Kansas City they had lost 8 of 12 games. The Indians, playing at home, had won 8 of 12 to close to within a game of the Yankees on July 24.

The White Sox, starting the second half of the season in third place, 6 games behind, but playing at home, cut that down to a game-and-half with six straight wins (including two doubleheader sweeps) against the Orioles and Senators—both bad teams—in their first four days back in action. Temporarily knocked back by consecutive losses, they beat the Yankees twice at home and then the Red Sox to reach the top of the AL standings, along with New York, on July 22nd. Boston, however, won two of the next three games in their series.

So now the White Sox were off to take on the Yankees again . . . in New York . . . having won 10 of 14 since the break . . . down one game in the standings . . . tied with the Indians.

Starting pitching was one of the Chisox' strengths singled out in SI's 1955 pre-season preview, although Robert Creamer identified the staff's depth—"once you get past the big men"—as "thin." The key "rookie hope," wrote Creamer, was Dick Donovan, "a veteran minor leaguer," who in fact was having quite the rookie season. Well, technically he wasn't a rookie, having pitched 62 innings in the big leagues for the Braves and the Tigers over parts of four seasons prior to this one. Anyway, Donovan's 10-2 record and 2.38 ERA at the break was good enough to get him named to the AL All-Star team. 

Donovan was the first Chicago pitcher to take the mound when the White Sox showed up at Yankee Stadium on July 26 for a three-game series. He was now 13-3 on the year, but had won his last seven starts, including winning all three of his starts against the Yankees since June. After limiting the Yankees to 9 hits and 4 runs in 17 innings in his first two victories, the Yankees roughed him up a tad in their last meeting, scoring 5 runs on 9 hits off him in 6.1 innings just six days before at Comiskey Park—a game the White Sox won anyway, 8-6. It was Donovan's 13th win, and this was his first start since that game.

This time, Donovan was superb. He pitched a complete game, giving up only one run, but Yankee starter Tommy Byrne (8-2 coming into the start) was nearly unhittable, although he did have his usual control issues, walking five while striking out three. Yogi Berra smacked Donovan for his 17th home run of the year in the sixth inning . . . and that was all the scoring to be had that day.

The White Sox were now two games back, though still in second place, but might have been forgiven after such a tough loss for thinking that maybe the Yankees were about to take off again, especially since they would be facing Eddie Lopat (who may have been 4-7 and was in his last year but had quite the reputation of big-game pitcher in recent years to fall back on) and Bob Turley.

Pitching for Chicago against Lopat was Harry Byrd, whose most notable black ink in baseball record books was leading the AL in losses when he went down in defeat 20 times for the 1953 Athletics. Notwithstanding his winning 5-4 record coming into the game, Byrd had neither Lopat's credentials and his  4.47 ERA at the time was almost exactly a full run higher than Eddie's 3.49 earned runs per nine innings. It was Lopat, however, who failed to survive the third inning, henpecked by five singles—including four in a row to knock him out of the game—that gave Chicago a lead they would not surrender, and Byrd who pitched into the eighth inning for the win. They now trailed by one.

Even so, Connie Johnson, who started the season in the minor leagues but who had pitched well in five starts (2-1) since being called to Chicago at the beginning of July, against Turley (one of the Yankees' aces with an 11-8 record at the time) for the final game of the series seemed a mismatch to New York's advantage. This time an unearned run in the first and a two-run home run by Walt Dropo in the third gave the White Sox a 3-0 lead that Johnson held until the ninth. 

Dropo, whose 33 home runs, league-leading 144 RBIs, and .322 batting average with Boston in 1950 not only made him AL Rookie of the Year but seemed to presage a great career, never lived up to expectations and had become a journeyman player, being traded by the Red Sox to the Tigers and now to the White Sox. SI's pre-season analysis considered his acquisition an important one for the Chisox chances since he had a power bat that the speed-based White Sox desperately needed. This was his 14th home run of the season, and Dropo wound up leading the team with 19.

Anyway, back to the game, the White Sox leading 3-0 on the back of Dropo's blast. A single by Berra and Mantle's 22nd home run to start the last of the ninth was a reminder of just how dangerous the Yankees could be. After the next batter reached on an error, manager Marty Marion brought in his best pitcher—Billy Pierce—to get the final two outs. It took some work, but after two walks (one intentional after a sac bunt) that loaded the bases, Pierce finally did. And the White Sox were back in a practical tie for first place, although statistically they were .002 percentage points in front.

With a 59-38 record, it was 97 games down for Chicago with 57 to go; for the Yankees at 60-39, 'twas 99 down and 55 to go; and the 59-40 Indians were only one game behind, also with 55 to go.

As for Dick Donovan, two days later he wound up hospitalized when his appendix flared. He did not make another start until August 21, but picked up where he left off, with a complete-game victory against the Tigers giving up just two runs, only one earned, to run his record to 14-4. Whether the appendicitis had taken too much of a physical toll, or perhaps he came back too soon, Donovan pitched poorly in losing his next five starts before shutting out Kansas City in his final start of the year. It was Chicago's next-to-last game of the season, by which time their third place destiny was sealed.

1 comment:

  1. i was looking for an account of the game at Yankee stadium, I believe, in 100-degree weather, in which the Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the ninth while pinch-hitting for their last catcher and Hank Bauer had to go in and catch. Maybe it was later on? Not sure.