The bored and the unemployed wandered out to Yankee Stadium on a Wednesday afternoon to watch the best team in the American League take on the worst team. Just 9,013 people looked on as the New York Yankees rallied from a 5-run deficit to beat the Detroit Tigers, 9-8 in a game that took 3:08 to play, or about 2:30 in 2006 terms.
Tigers manager Fred Hutchinson started veteran lefty Hal Newhouser. Although he was just 32, Newhouser was in his 15th season in the big leagues and had won back-to-back MVP awards in 1944 and 1945, the only pitcher to do so. Yankees manager Casey Stengel, whose team had won four consecutive World Series, started lefty Eddie Lopat. But there would many more pitchers who turn up in this game.
The Tigers got three hits and two runs off of Lopat in the first to jump on top. But the Yankees scored single runs in the second and third to tie the game. But in the top of the fifth, the first four Tigers reached, scoring a run and Lopat left with the bases loaded in favor of Ray Scarborough. Scarborough didn't get out of the inning until four more Tigers score, three of them on a double by second baseman Gerry Priddy. The Tigers led 7-2.
The Yankees got two men on in the bottom of the fifth. Gil McDougald brought them home when right fielder Bob Nieman played his fly ball into a triple. McDougald came home to score when Mickey Mantle beat out a grounder to shortstop Harvey Kuenn. That made the scored Detroit 7, New York 5.
Bill Miller came in to pitch for the Yankees in the sixth and walked two batters and was yanked in favor of Tom Gorman. Don Lund doubled home a run to put Detroit up 8-5, but the Yankees bullpen would stop the bleeding and it was up to the Tigers pen to save the game. They weren't up to the task.
Hutchinson brought in Dave Madison to pitch the sixth. Pinch-hitter Irv Noren, batting for Gorman, singled and first baseman Joe Collins, who came in as part of a double switch to play first in place of Don Bollweg, then homered into the right field bullpen to pull the Yankees to within a run at 8-7.
Allen got through the seventh unscathed as did Yankee reliever Bob Kuzava. In the bottom of the eighth, left fielder Gene Woodling singled and pinch hitter Yogi Berra, batting for Charlie Silvera, reached on a force play that should have been a double play, but Kuenn (a rookie in 1953) threw away the relay and Berra moved up to second. Stengel then opted to use pitcher Johnny Sain to pinch hit for Kuzava and he responded with a single to tie the game. Sain batted .250 in 1953 and .245 in his career.
Allie Reynolds, the 23rd player of the game for the Yankees, came in to pitch the ninth (the Yankees had used 25 players two days before, which was the record at the time). Reynolds set down the Tigers in order to preserve the tie. in the bottom of the ninth, against reliever Bill Wight, Billy Martin got things started when he reached on an error by Priddy. McDougald sacrificed him over. Hutchinson brought in Ray Herbert to pitch. His first task was to intentionally walk Mantle. This was followed by a run of the mill walk to Hank Bauer. Woodling followed with a line drive over Kuenn to score Martin with the winning run.
Lopat's bad outing on this day was unusual for him in 1953. He finished the season with the AL's lowest ERA at 2.42. Lopat won 16 games and lost just 4. Stengel liked to mix and match his starters and he used 13 different ones during 1953. He must have known what he was doing as the Yankees had the lowest ERA in the AL at 3.20. Miller was the only pitcher with an ERA of over 4.00 and he pitched just 34 innings. Whitey Ford led the staff with 207 innings. Bob Lemon of Cleveland led the AL with 286 2/3 IP.
The Yankees offense was great, although injuries kept any one player from standing out. Woodling led the AL in OBP at .429. Mantle hit 21 home runs in just 127 games. Berra led the team with 27 home runs. The Yankees won the AL by 8 1/2 games over Cleveland with a 99-52 record. And they would go on to win a still unmatched fifth straight World Series, defeating the Dodgers in six games.
As for Detroit, the Tigers were able to climb up to sixth place at 60-94, 40 1/2 games behind the Yankees, one game ahead of Philadelphia and six ahead of St. Louis. Hutchinson had a long year with his pitching staff, which had the worst ERA in the league at 5.25. Newhouser pitched in seven games with an ERA of over 7 and was released in July. Newhouser would return to play for Cleveland in 1954 and put up a 7-2 record in 46 2/3 innings of mostly relief pitching.
Kuenn would win the Rookie of the Year award, batting .308. Kuenn got every vote but one in the balloting. (Tom Umphlett got the lone dissenting vote.) The Tigers signed a "bonus baby" out of Baltimore named Al Kaline and he made his major league debut on June 25. Kaline would play for the Tigers until he retired at the end of the 1974 season. The Tigers had another 18-year old on the team in Reno Bertoia and a 17-year old in Bob Miller (the one whose career ended with the 1962 Mets). The Tigers would get back over the .500 mark in 1955 but Hutchinson had been let go by then and Bucky Harris was in charge.
Sources: New York Times, Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference.com