Friday, October 14, 2005
Vic Raschi Dies
Vic Raschi, nicknamed "The Springfield Rifle" for his place of birth and trademark pitch, a blazing eye-high fastball, was a fairly effective pitcher for the Yankees in the late 40s and early 50s. He has the distinction of having appeared in six World Series and coming out of every one with a ring (and bonus share), a pretty neat trick.
Raschi's best World Series was also the best of the decade: the Yankees' 1952 victory in seven games over the Brooklyn Dodgers. As Bill James as observed, it's often overlooked by the middle three, 1954 when Willie Mays made "The Catch," 1955 when the Brooklyn Dodgers finally reached "next year" and 1956 when Don Larsen achieved perfection. However, in terms of exciting, close games the 1952 Series is hard to top. It went the full seven and all but one of the games was decided by two runs or less.
The Series opened at Ebbets Field with Yankees' ace Allie Reynolds (20-8, 2.06) facing Dodgers' #1 Joe Black (15-4, 2.15). Jackie Robinson opened the scoring with a second inning home run but Black quickly gave the lead back with a third inning shot off the bat of Gil McDougald. The game remained tied until the sixth when, with two outs, a Pee Wee Reese single and Duke Snider home run put the Dodgers up by a pair of runs. The Yankees rallied for a run in the eighth however, on the back of pinch-hitter Gene Wooding's triple and Yogi Berra's sac fly. However, new Yankees' pitcher Ray Scarborough gave the run back in the Dodgers' half of the eighth and Black set the Yankees down in order, finishing up his complete game and securing the Dodgers' victory.
Game Two was the Series' only stinker as the Yankees exploded for five runs in the sixth inning and Raschi topped Black's performance throwing a complete game of his own but allowing just one run on three hits. Game Three shifted to Yankee Stadium and shifted back to drama. The Yankees opened the scoring with a mini-rally when pitching Eddie Lopat singled in Hank Bauer, but the Dodgers evened things up in the third when Carl Furillo doubled, a Reese bunt single moved him to third and Robinson drove him in with a sac fly. The Dodgers got another run in the fifth when Reese (who if you've not noticed by now, had a scorching series, hitting .345 with four runs scored, four driven in and a homer) singled home Billy Cox. In the eighth the Dodgers' added to their lead with back-to-back singles by Robinson and Roy Campanella and a sac fly by Andy Pafko. The Yankees cut the gap to one in the bottom of the eighth however on a Yogi Berra home run. Once again the Yankees couldn't keep the gap to one as the Dodgers scored score two in the top of the ninth. The Yankees got a pinch-hit home from Johnny Mize in the bottom of the ninth but it was not enough and they fell two-games-to-one behind the Brooklynites.
The Yankees bounced back in Game Four as aces Black and Reynolds once again faced off. This time Reynolds had the upper hand, throwing a shutout while striking out ten and allowing just four hits. Reynolds was aided when Pafko was caught stealing home after the Yankees called a pitch out on a suicide squeeze attempt. Some reports say Billy Martin had stolen the Dodgers' squeeze sign and relayed it to catcher Berra. Black didn't pitch badly in his own right; he gave up a home run to Mize in the fourth and left in the eighth for a pinch-hitter down a run. Mantle tripled and scored on an error by Reese and Reynolds put the Dodgers away the ninth to tie the series.
Game Five was the best of the series, and probably one of the great World Series games of all time. The Dodgers grabbed an early lead off Ewell Blackwell (great name, by the way) and scored three more in the fifth on a Reese sac fly and a Duke Snider two-run home run. Down four, the Yankees rallied to score five in their half of the fifth, capped by Mize's three-run home run, his third in three games. Mize's three home runs in fifteen series at-bats nearly equaled the four he hit in one hundred thirty-seven regular season trips to the plate. With Johnny Sain in, the Yankees couldn't hold lead as a Snider drove in his third run of the game to tie it at five. The game remained tied all the way into the eleventh when Snider finally broke the tie with a RBI double, his fourth RBI of the game. Incredibly, in the Yankees' half of the eleventh Mize again launched what looked like a sure home run but Furillo made a leaping catch and kept the ball in the park. Berra then struck out swinging and the Dodgers returned to
With their backs against the wall, the Yankees turned to Raschi while the Dodgers countered with Billy Loes. The game was tied until the sixth when Snider homered (his third of the series) putting the Dodgers up a run and just nine outs away from a World Championship. However, as Berra led off the seventh with a home run and with two outs Raschi drove in the go-ahead run. The Yankees added an insurance run in the eighth when Mantle homered which would prove crucial when Snider hit his second home run of the game and fourth of the series. After a George Shuba double, Yankees' manager Casey Stengel pulled Raschi for Reynolds, coming in one day's rest. He quashed the rally in the eighth and put the Dodgers down in order in the ninth, earning the save.
The series came down to Game Seven, Stengel went with Eddie Lopat who had given up five runs in eight and a third innings in Game Three while Dodgers' manager Charlie Dressen countered with Joe Black on two days' rest. The Yankees struck first, scoring a run in the fourth but the Dodgers answered back with a run in their half, prompting Stengel to bring in Reynolds who was now pitching in his third game in four days. Gene Wooding homered in the top of the fifth but the Dodgers' answered back with a Reese RBI single. Mickey Mantle homered in the sixth to reclaim the lead for the Yankees and drove in an insurance run in the seventh. With the Yankees now the same nine outs away from a title that Brooklyn had been the day before, the Dodgers staged a rally as Raschi entered the game but was ineffective, loading the bases with just one out. Stengel then called on Bob Kuzava to come into the game and face Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson. I suppose a modern equivalent would be if Phil Garner called upon Russ Springer to face Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds in Game Seven of this year's NLCS. However, Kuzava got Snider to pop out to McDougald at third. With two outs, Robinson hit a pop-up near the mound which froze the Yankee infield. Billy Martin came charging in from second base and made the catch, video of which can be seen here, at the bottom of the page. The Dodgers got a man on in the eighth on McDougald's fourth error of the series but Kuzava pitched around it and after a scoreless ninth the Yankees were again Champions.
Despite his struggles in Game Seven, Raschi was the Yankees' most effective pitcher behind Reynolds and probably also the second best pitcher in the series. Reynolds and Raschi combined to pitch nearly sixty percent of the Yankees' World Series innings while giving up just seven runs. The Yankees needed every inning the pair threw, it was Raschi's best playoff performance ever, and he couldn't have picked a better year to do it.