The ball was flying all over Briggs Stadium on a Saturday night in June as the hometown Tigers increased their lead in the AL to two full games with a 10-9 win over the Yankees in a game that featured a then major league record 11 home runs combined by both teams. All 19 runs in the game scored on home runs. 51,400 fans were in attendance.
The defending World Series champion Yankees, managed by Casey Stengel, started Tommy Byrne. The Tigers, managed by former Yankee third baseman Red Rolfe, had Ted Gray on the mound. Neither pitcher would make it anywhere near the ninth inning.
The Yankees got to Gray early. left fielder Hank Bauer homered twice in the first three innings, driving in three runs. Catcher Yogi Berra added a two-run homer in the third and second baseman Jerry Coleman hit a solo home run in the fourth that drove Gray out of the game. Dizzy Trout relieved.
The Tigers started their rally in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, center fielder Johnny Groth singled and first baseman Don Kolloway did the same. Catcher Bob Swift drew a walk to load the bases. Byrne hoped to use the pitcher's spot to get out of the inning, but Trout spoiled that strategy the best way possible, by hitting a grand slam home run to make it 6-4 New York. Shortstop Jonny Lipon lined out to left, but second baseman Jerry Priddy homered and Stengel took Byrne out of the game and brought in Fred Sanford. (This one was white.)
Detroit was not done. Third baseman George Kell singled and right fielder Vic Wertz homered off the roof in rightfield. Left fielder Hoot Evers followed with another home run and the Tigers had an 8-run fourth and an 8-6 lead. The five home runs in the inning is still a record that has not been broken, although it has been tied several times. The Tigers four home runs in the inning was an American League record at the time, although the Minnesota Twins would break the mark with five in 1966.
Tom Ferrick came in to relieve Sanford and he was able to pitch shutout ball until the eighth for the Yankees, pitching through a sore ankle injured when he got hit by a line drive off the bat of Lipon.
The Yankees got to within a run in the seventh when center fielder Joe DiMaggio hit his 14th home run of the season. Then in the eighth, pinch hitter Tommy Henrich powered a 2-run homer off of Trout to give the Yankees a 9-8 lead. Paul Calvert came into pitch, but couldn't retire anyone and Rolfe turned to Fred Hutchinson to get out of the inning.
Stengel called on his relief ace, Joe Page, to pitch the last two innings. Page allowed a hit in the eighth, but in the ninth, after getting leadoff man Kell, Wertz lined a double to left-center. Evers then drilled a Page pitch deep to center that hit the wall about 415 feet away. Wertz scored easily and when second baseman Billy Martin couldn't handle the relay from DiMaggio cleanly, Evers came around to score on what was scored an inside-the-park home run.
The 11 total home runs in the game remain a record for the most home runs in an American League night game. The record for all games is 12 and it's been done twice and both times the Tigers were involved. And the White Sox wer the opponents each time. Those games were on May 28, 1995 and the other on July 2, 2002.
The Yankees would win the AL pennant by three games over the Tigers and go on to sweep Philadelphia in the World Series. Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuto would win the MVP award. Boston utility man Billy Goodman was second in the voting and Berra was third, although all he did was catch 148 games and hit 28 home runs, bat .322 and slug .533.
Detroit's star pitcher was 22-year old Art Houtteman who went 19-12 with a 3.54 ERA. But he missed the 1951 season because of military commitments and when he came back in 1952, a family tragedy and bad luck led to a 9-20 season. You can read about Houtteman's career in this online biography by Warren Corbett from the SABR Bioproject. The Tigers dropped into fifth place in 1951 and all the way to last in 1952 and in the middle of the season, Rolfe was let go and Hutchinson took over as manager.
Sources: Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com, New York Times, SABR BioProject