Royals' Game 1 win on level with '58 Braves
KANSAS CITY -- Armed with confidence and anxiety, I climbed aboard an American Airlines DC-6 the last day of September in 1958 and flew to Milwaukee for my first World Series.
It was a delightful afternoon the next day at old County Stadium as the Braves and Warren Spahn stunned the Yankees, 4-3, in 10 innings.
Maybe it was because that was the first World Series game I'd worked as a young baseball writer, or maybe it was because I marveled at the gritty effort of the Braves and Spahn. Or just being there in person.
As the years have rolled by, I always regarded that Game 1 as the best I'd ever covered. For openers.
It had all the ingredients -- the Braves, who'd won the 1957 Series over the Yankees, coming back from a 3-2 deficit in the eighth inning and Spahn escaping trouble in the 10th to win. And yes, the future Hall of Famer, pitching all 10 innings.
As I sat in Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night -- it's now my 51st World Series -- I kept thinking back to the first, on Oct. 1, 1958.
Frankly, the first games of most World Series are a blur. It's just the beginning, excitement and drama builds over the best-of-seven tournament. There's nothing better than a close seventh game with the championship on the line.
To me, that's what a great World Series is all about. Like the Reds, after an excruciating 7-6 loss in 12 innings in Game 6, coming back to defeat Boston, 4-3, the next night at Fenway Park in maybe the greatest World Series ever played in 1975.
The first game? Boston won 6-0, a very forgettable opener. Who remembers that?
Yet as this match between the determined Royals and the Mets evolves, I'll be surprised if any of the games equals Tuesday night's 5-4, 14-inning epic won by the Royals thanks to gritty pitching by Chris Young and Eric Hosmer redeeming himself by bringing home the winning run with a clutch sacrifice fly in the 14th. Earlier, Hosmer had committed a costly error.
Much like the Braves in '58, the Royals twice overcame New York leads, especially the Alex Gordon ninth-inning homer, sending the game into extra frames and the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
And there was Alcides Escobar blasting an inside-the-park home run on Matt Harvey's first pitch, and Royals starter Edinson Volquez going to the mound not knowing his 63-year-old father had died hours earlier.
Yes, this is a Game 1 for the ages -- maybe the best ever. For me, it must take a seat next to 1958.
That was when World Series games were played solely in the afternoon.
Before that game, I stood around the Yankees' dugout as manager Casey Stengel held court. There weren't the large numbers of media then.
I remember him saying, "Those Braves shouldn't have beaten us last year. We have a lot prove and our fellows know they can do it."
Stengel was marvelous, always entertaining, maybe comical at times, but sifting through his rhetoric, he always had a message.
Stengel called on Whitey Ford, a 14-game winner, to start Game 1. Reporters kept asking why Ford and not Bullet Bob Turley, who'd had a better regular season with a 21-7 record and had five postseason wins on his resume.
Spahn, 37 then, had won 22 games, leading the Braves to their second-straight National League pennant.
"A pitcher needs two pitches -- one they're looking for, and one to cross 'em up," Spahn kept saying. "That's what I got."
Moose Skowron put the Yanks up 1-0 with a homer in the top of the fourth inning, but the Braves wiped that out in a hurry. It was Spahn, a good hitter, who singled in Del Crandall with the second run that vaulted Milwaukee up 2-1 in the bottom half of the inning.
But much like the Royals-Mets opener, the Yankees rallied to take a 3-2 lead on Hank Bauer's two-run homer in the fifth.
And in the eighth, comparing this to Gordon's blast, Milwaukee tied it when Eddie Mathews walked, Hank Aaron doubled and Mathews scored on Wes Covington's sacrifice fly to Mickey Mantle in deep left-center.
Spahn remained in the game, but Casey went to his bullpen, calling on Ryne Duren.
Aaron fanned to start the 10th, Joe Adcock followed with a scorching single to center.
I can vividly remember the nearly 50,000 County Stadium fans, including actor Jeff Chandler sitting just under the press box, on their feet with two out now and Crandall singling up the middle, Adcock stopping at second.
And Billy Bruton, who later became a friend when he lived in Wilmington, Del., was sent in to pinch-hit. Bruton lined a single to right-center off Duren and it was over. A walk-off win.
Over the years, especially during Hall of Fame induction weekends, I talked with Spahn about that game and World Series.
Spahn, who died in 2003 at 82, won 363 games. He couldn't believe that in today's games starters seldom complete games.
In that 1958 Series, Spahn came back to win Game 4, pitching a 3-0 two-hit shutout as the Braves went up 3-1.
The Yanks rebounded with three straight victories to become only the second team in Major League history to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win a best-of-seven World Series. The first was the 1925 Pittsburgh Pirates.
"We just ran out of gas at the end," Spahn said. "We thought we had it when we were up 3-1, but it didn't happen."
It's unheard of today, but Spahn returned to pitch -- and lose -- Game 6 after just two days' rest. Overall in the Series, he worked 28 2/3 innings, allowed just seven earned runs for a 2.38 ERA. Spahn also collected four hits and drove in two runs.
It should also be mentioned each of the champion Yankees received World Series bonus checks for $8,759.10; the Braves got $5,896.08. By comparison, the winning Giants received $388,605.94 last year, the Royals $230,699.73.
And oh, yes. Winning one of the greatest Game 1s in Series history wasn't good enough for the 1958 Braves.
Wonder if Tuesday night's electrifying effort will be enough for the Royals?