NEW YORK – The creeping shadows cast by the copper facade of the triple-decked stadium engulfed the field of play, as well as the hopes of the Brooklyn faithful. On the afternoon of October 8, 1956, the world’s biggest stage saw not only a win for the men in pinstripes, but also a perfect game hurled by the most improbable of heroes.
By in large a mediocre pitcher throughout his career, New York Yankee right-hander Don Larsen stymied the Brooklyn attack that afternoon. Allowing no runs, no hits and no walks, with 97 pitches he became the first player ever to toss a no-hitter in World Series play. It almost seemed a mere bonus that his team was the victor in the important fifth game of the series.
Larsen baffled Brooklyn hitters with the no-windup delivery he had adopted from pitcher Bob Turley late in the 1956 season. Dodger shortstop, Pee Wee Reese, was the only player who took Larsen to a 3-2 count. Though, one pitch later, Reese became the second of his strikeout victims.
Two close-calls almost ended the pitcher’s bid with history. The first came in the second inning, when Dodger second baseman Jackie Robinson hit a line drive that caromed off Yankee third baseman Andy Carey’s glove. Fortunately, the ball bounced straight to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw out Robinson in a close play at first. The second occurred in the fifth inning, when a line-drive hit into left-centerfield by Gil Hodges was speared by Yankee centerfielder Mickey Mantle. Making one of the finest defensive plays of his career, it was Mantle who also came up big with the Yankee attack, hitting a homerun in the fourth inning to help Larsen’s cause that same afternoon.
With the capacity crowd of 64,519 dead silent with anticipation, a nervous Larsen took the mound for the top of the ninth inning. Working with his pin-point control, he retired both Carl Furillo on a fly ball and Roy Campanella on a ground-out. With one out away from baseball immortality, Larsen faced Dale Mitchell, a .311 career hitter pinch hitting for Dodger pitcher Sal Maglie. Larsen quickly got ahead in the count at 1-2. The righty’s final pitch left Mitchell futilely half-checking his swing, as umpire Babe Pinelli called a third strike. Seemingly dumfounded by what he had done, Larsen trotted slowly off the mound, as if in a daze – until Yankee catcher Yogi Berra ran to him and leaped into his arms, creating an unforgettable scene of celebration that to this day, is repeated at the end of every World Series.
Asked whether this was the best game he had ever seen Larsen pitch, Yankee manager Casey Stengel replied, ‘so far’.