The former New York Yankees pitcher had a career record of 81-91. One season he led the American League in losses with 21. He never won more than 11 games in any one season. Yet of all the men ever to start a World Series game, it was Don Larsen who would author the most incredible stories in the history of the Fall Classic by throwing a perfect game.
Larsen started Game Two of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, but couldn’t get out of the second inning as the Yankees squandered an early 6-0 lead, losing 13-8. No one knew that just three days later, Larsen would weave his October magic.
Monday, October 8, was a beautiful day at Yankee Stadium as the teams prepared for the pivotal fifth game as the series was tied two games each. When Larsen came to his locker, he noticed a baseball in one of his spikes. That meant he was starting that day. Teammate Hank Bauer said that Larsen took a big gulp when he saw the ball.
Using a no windup delivery, Larsen had it going from the get-go. Of course, he did a couple of breaks go his way. In the second inning, Jackie Robinson hit a shot that hit off third baseman Andy Carey right to shortstop Gil McDougald, who threw Robinson out at first. In the fifth, Gil Hodges hit a shot to deep left-center, but center fielder Mickey Mantle ran it down to make a nice backhanded catch.
The Yankees gave Larsen a little offensive support starting in the fourth when Mantle hit a solo home run off Brooklyn starter Sal Maglie. They would add another run in the sixth when Bauer singled home, Carey.
Larsen would retire the Dodgers in order in the seventh and eighth. Now he was three outs away from something that hadn’t happened in 34 years, and never in the World Series: a perfect game.
First up was Carl Furillo; he flew out to his counterpart Bauer in right. Next up was Roy Campanella, who bounced out to second baseman Billy Martin. Now only one man stood between Larsen and a date with history: Dale Mitchell.
Mitchell was acquired from Cleveland in August as the Dodgers were looking for a left-handed off the bench. He fell behind Larsen 1-2. On his 97th pitch of the game, Larsen fired a fastball that Mitchell took. Home plate umpire Babe Pinelli, in his last World Series, called it strike three despite Mitchell’s protestations. Yogi Berra, who called a great game as Larsen’s catcher, ran to his pitcher and leaped into his arms as the Yankees poured out of their dugout to mob Larsen.
After his career ended, Larsen would come back to New York regularly to attend Old Timer’s Day, where he would receive a rousing ovation when being introduced. Larsen’s passing on New Year’s Day at age 90 now makes baseball a little less bright, a little less fun, a little less…well, perfect.