The first place New York Yankees saw their lead trimmed to just four games as the upstart Minnesota Twins edged the Bronx Bombers 5-4 before a crowd of 25,282 at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees had won the 1961 pennant with 109 wins under manager Ralph Houk. But in 1962, center fielder Mickey Mantle was troubled by injuries and right fielder Roger Maris dropped from 61 to 33 home runs. Rollie Sheldon got the start for the Yankees. Minnesota, in its first year after moving from Washington went 70-90 under Cookie Lavagetto. Sam Mele took over in 1962. Lefthander Dick Stigman started for the Twins.
Minnesota knocked out Sheldon in the first. With one out, first baseman Vic Power singled. Third baseman Rich Rollins singled Power to second. Left fielder Harmon Killebrew singled to score Power and moved up a base when Mantle misplayed the ball in center. After a walk to right fielder Bob Allison, Houk had seen enough and brought in Bob Turley. Catcher Earl Battey hit a sacrifice fly to score Rollins. Minnesota led 2-0.
The Twins added a run in the second on an RBI ground out by Power, but Yankees catcher Elston Howard picked off Twins center fielder Lenny Green to end the inning.
The Yankees cut the lead to 3-2 in the second when first baseman Bill Skowron homered to left fielder Hector Lopez. The Yankees got two more runners on, but Stigman struck out Maris to end the inning.
Minnesota lengthened its lead in the sixth. Allison led off with a triple and scored on a single by Battey. Second baseman Bernie Allen moved up Battey on a ground out. Shortstop Zoilo Versalles singled and Battey moved up to third. Stigman singled in Battey to make it 5-2 Twins.
The Yankees mounted a rally in the eighth. With one out, Maris homered, his 25th of the season. Mantle followed with a double. Jack Reed pinch ran for the sore-kneed Mantle. Howard doubled to score Reed and it was now 5-4 Twins. Frank Sullivan came in to relieve and he got Lopez to ground out and pinch hitter Yogi Berra to fly out.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Yankees got a runner on when pinch hitter John Blanchard walked, but Sullivan retired shortstop Tom Tresh and second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game.
Although the Yankees weren't quite as dominant in 1962 as they were the season before, they still won the pennant with a 96-66 record, five games better than the Twins who did improve by 71 games.
Although Mantle played in just 123 games, he still won the MVP award. He finished second in batting average at .321 (Pete Runnels of Boston led at .326). He led in OBP at .486 and slugging at .605. Tresh won the Rookie of the Year award. The Yankees went on to win a taut seven-game World Series over San Francisco, winning Game 7, 1-0.
As for the Twins, Killebrew led the AL in home runs with 48, nine more than second place Norm Cash of Detroit. Killebrew also led in RBI with 126. Twins pitcher Camilo Pascual led the AL in strikeouts with 206. The Twins would finish in third in 1963 and to sixth in 1964, before winning their first pennant in 32 years in 1965.
The Twins big improvement from 1961 to 1962 was due in part to an improved offense. The team OBP and slugging both were among the best in the AL. Eight Twins hitters reached double figures in home runs. The pitching staff's ERA dropped from 4.28 to 3.89. Young lefty Jim Kaat went from 9-17 and 3.90 in 1961 to 18-14 and 3.10 in 1962.
Sources: New York Times, Retrosheet, Baseball-reference.com