Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Fifth Game of the '56 Season (60 Years Ago): Yankees Move Into First For Good

It was a wild one at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, April 21, 1956. The Yankees blew an early 8-0 lead against the Red Sox, then had to come from behind, trailing 10-9, to snatch their fourth victory in five games. This early in the season, the standings didn't necessarily mean anythingcertainly not with 149 games still to playbut their victory combined with the White Sox' loss put the Yankees into first place by half a game. Although there would be one day in May when they had to share top billing, the New York Yankees were never not first in the American League the remainder of the 1956 season.


The Yankees started the season by winning two of three in Washington and taking the first of a three-game set against the Boston Red Sox in their first home series of the year. The Chicago White Sox, along with the Milwaukee Braves in the National League, were the only undefeated teams going into just the fifth day of the schedule, both with 3-0 records, while the Yankees were 3-1. Whitey Ford had just pitched a five-hit complete game in the Yankees' first home game, with Mickey Mantle hitting his 3rd home run of the year and driving in four runs to pace the Bronx Bombers to a 7-1 victory over Boston.

Wasting no time in their determination to beat up on the Red Sox, the Yankees also made very clear to right-hander George Susce that he was not a "Yankee Killer" despite his success against them as a rookie the previous year. Susce pitched in five games against the Yankees in his first big-league season in 1955, all but the last in relief, giving up just 2 earned runs on 14 hits in 19.1 innings for an anti-Yankee ERA of 0.93. His one decision against the Yankees came in his only start against them, an 8-1 complete-game victory in the last game of the season. 

If Susce thought he might build on that making his first start in the 1956 campaign, the Yankees rudely reminded him why they were the Bronx Bombers. Yogi Berra doubled to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the last of the first, then scored on Joe Collins's single. In the second, Hank Bauer hit a 2-run home run, Mantle hit a 2-run home run, the Yankees now led 6-0, and Susce retired to the showers having pitched just one-and-a-third innings. The Yankees scored a pair of unearned runs in the third and Bob Turley, who was 17-13 in his first year in New York in 1955, had a comfortable, two-grand-slams-ahead 8-0 lead.

They were still coasting with an 8-0 lead in the fifth when Turley gave up a two-run homer to Faye Throneberry and a solo blast to Mickey Vernon. The Yankees made it 9-3 in the sixth, and then the Red Sox unloaded for 4 in the seventh and 3 in the eighth on home runs by Jimmy Piersall and backup catcher Pete Daley off reliever Jim Konstanty to improbably take a 10-9 lead.

That lasted … not at all. Berra immediately tied the score by leading off the Yankee eighth with a home run, and before the inning was over the Yankees henpecked the Red Sox for four more runs to make the final score, New York 14, Boston 10.

With the White Sox crushed by the Kansas City Athletics, 15-1, the Yankees were now in first place by half-a-game over both clubs. In their first five games, the Yankees had scored 43 runs. The Red Sox, with 31 runs, were the closest major league team in terms of offensive productivity. The Yankees had hit 8 home runs and were batting .303 as a team.

And as many were projecting, Mickey Mantle looked like he might have a truly outstanding season. He was batting .444 with a league-leading 4 home runs and 11 runs batted inall in just five games. And Yogi Berra was pretty impressive, too, hitting .467 with 2 home runs and 9 RBIs.

But of course, it was still far too early in the season to draw any conclusions. The Yankees still had 149 games to go, including all 22 against both of their would-be competitors for the pennantthe Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox. Still, Casey Stengel ... he who had endless things to say ... sure wasn't complaining about how things so far were going.

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