Today, even most casual baseball fans know who Don Larsen is. No matter how inconsistent a career can be, a moment like that is embedded in the minds of fans forever. Unless someone throws another perfect game in World Series play, Larsen's gem in '56 should be remembered as the best-pitched game in the history of baseball, given the intensity of the Fall Classic. However, if fate had been just a little different, Larsen's perfect game would not have been the first no-hitter in World Series history.
Led by American League MVP Joe DiMaggio, the Yankees won the AL pennant in 1947 in a 12-game romp aided by a franchise-record 19-game winning streak in July. Although DiMaggio's .315/.391/.522 with a 154 OPS+ was best on the team, the offense was stellar in general--among the 11 players to have at least 175 plate apperances, the lowest OPS+ was second baseman Snuffy Stirnweiss's 96. It was a good-hitting ballclub that slugged over .400. On the pitching side, new manager Bucky Harris capably filled the departed Joe McCarthy's shoes by successfully guiding the staff to the best ERA and fewest runs allowed in the league (3.39 and 568, respectively). 10 players made at least five starts during the season, and a quiet man from Hubbard, Oregon made 23 of them, tied for second on the team behind Allie Reynolds with Frank "Spec" Shea. This man's name was Floyd "Bill" Bevens, and he was probably the least effective pitcher on the regular staff.
It took Bevens until he was 27 to make a major-league roster, and he needed World War II to deplete the talent pool to do so with the Yankees in 1944. He stayed in the rotation even after the regulars returned from overseas though, and his 2.23 ERA with a 154 ERA+ in '46 was fourth-best among AL pitchers. A season later, he had slumped to a 3.82 ERA and a 92 ERA+, both marks that ranked far behind his rotationmates Reynolds, Shea, "Spud" Chandler, and Bobo Newsom. However, a 2.61 ERA in the second half and a 1.42 ERA in September encouraged Harris to at least give him a World Series start in Game 4 against the crosstown rival Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yankees took the first two games at home behind Shea and Reynolds, but lost Game 3 at Ebbets Field when Newsom's former Dodger teammates knocked him out of the game in the second inning with a 5-0 deficit. Game 4 was crucial--if Bevens could come up with a win, the Dodgers would be on the brink of elimination. If he lost, the World Series would be tied and turn into a best-of-three.
The Dodgers sent their own surprising story to the mound in Harry Taylor, a 28-year-old rookie who came out of nowhere to pitch to a 3.11 ERA and 132 ERA+ in 162 innings for the NL champions. It was evident from the game's outset though that Taylor had nothing today. Stirnweiss and right fielder Tommy Henrich led off the first inning with singles, and rookie Yogi Berra reached on a botched fielder's choice that loaded the bases when normally-reliable Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese bobbled the throw to second. Taylor issued a bases-loaded walk to DiMaggio made the score 1-0, and manager Burt Shotton (who had filled in all year for the suspended Leo Durocher) had seen enough already. Not wanting to let this crucial game get away from Brooklyn, he chose Hal Gregg to make his second appearance of the series. Gregg struggled in the regular season, but he came up big here, escaping the bases-loaded, no-out jam without another run scoring thanks to a pop-up from dangerous first baseman George McQuinn and a 6-4-3 double play from Billy Johnson.
The Yankees blew an early opportunity to put a crooked number on the scoreboard, but Bevens held the slim margin up despite some horrid control. His 4.2 BB/9 in '47 had been a career-worst, and although he had not thrown a wild pitch all season, he was never known for good aim. Through three innings, he walked four and uncorked his first wild pitch of '47, but he kept the Dodgers both hitless and off the scoreboard. The Yankees missed another chance to score in the third when Yankee third-base coach Charlie Dressen waved DiMaggio (who had been on first) around third base on a wild throw to first by catcher Bruce Edwards after a slow grounder hit by McQuinn. Right fielder Dixie Walker backed up the play and threw DiMaggio out by 15 feet. The score remained 1-0, but a triple by Johnson to lead off the fourth led to him scoring on Johnny Lindell's RBI double against Gregg. There were no outs when Lindell hit the double, but the Yankees could not bring him home. Still, Bevens had some insurance at 2-0 now. He would need it.
Bevens embarrassingly walked the bottom two hitters in the Brooklyn lineup, third baseman John "Spider" Jorgensen and the pitcher Gregg, to start the fifth inning. Second baseman Eddie Stanky bunted them to second and third, where a run could score even without a hit. Reese obliged, sending a ground ball to deep shortstop, where Rizzuto had to let the score but could throw out Gregg at third (why the pitcher ran to third on a grounder to the left side is a mystery in itself). Reese stole second and moved to third when Berra fired the ball into center, but Bevens struck out the very first MLB Rookie of the Year, Jackie Robinson, to end the inning. The Dodgers were still hitless, but they only trailed 2-1 now; a solo homer would both break up the no-hitter and tie the game, and if Bevens continued to issue free passes, they could even take the lead.
The seventh walk of the game for Bevens led off the sixth, but Walker stayed at first after Bevens retired the side in order. He also walked veteran pinch-hitter Arky Vaughan with one out in the seventh, but the future Hall of Famer also failed to advance when Bevens induced a popout from Stanky and a grounder to first from Reese. Both Brooklyn reliever Hank Behrman and Bevens threw scoreless frames in the eighth, and Bevens's 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth sent his unlikely no-hit bid to the ninth, where no World Series game had ever been before in its 44-year history. The longest previous no-hit attempt was former Yankee Red Ruffing's 7.2 innings of no-hit ball against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the '42 World Series, but Bevens had surpassed Red's record.
The Yankees desperately hoped for insurance runs in the top of the ninth, and they had a chance to expand their one-run lead when they loaded the bases with one out against Behrman. Veteran Hugh Casey entered the game, seeking vengeance for the Yankees' unlikely rally against him in Game 4 of the '41 World Series. Facing Henrich, the very same hitter who struck out against him but reached on his wild pitch with two outs in the ninth six years ago, he got "Old Reliable" to hit a low curve back to him, and Casey turned a rally-killing 1-2-3 double play. The game went to the ninth at 2-1.
Bevens got to two outs in the bottom of the ninth by sandwiching a walk to center fielder Carl Furillo between fly balls from Edwards and Jorgensen. With Casey's spot now due up, Shotton tabbed veteran Pete Reiser, the '41 batting champion now reduced to a part-time role due to injuries, to pinch-hit for the pitcher. Additionally, he put outfielder Al Gionfriddo (who would have another incredible highlight two games later) in to pinch-run for Furillo, and though he stole just two bases all year, he dashed toward second base. Berra could not throw him out, and the Dodgers had the tying run in scoring position. Curiously, Harris elected to put the winning run on base by walking Reiser--he was a fine hitter, but Harris set himself up for second-guessing through this controversial decision. Eddie Miksis pinch-ran for the hobbling Reiser, and Shotton pinch-hit Harry "Cookie" Lavagetto for Stanky. He swung and missed Bevens's 136th pitch, but he sent the next one toward Henrich in deep right field. He leapt, but could not track it down--the ball went off the wall for a two-run double and suddenly, the game was over. The no-hitter was lost and the Yankees went from a 3-1 series lead to a tie in the blink of an eye.
It was an unforgettable moment for the Dodgers, but for Bevens, who had issued a record 10 walks in the game, it was a devastating punch in the gut. This passage in a game recap perfectly surmises what Bevens must have felt.
Bevens, after watching Lavagetto's blast hit the wall, turned dejectively and trudged off the field, a forlorn figure. He owned the distinction of having pitched more hitless innings than any man ever before in a World Series, but that was small recompense for the bauble which escaped his grasp.
He also later said, "I wasn't even thinking of the no-hitter. I knew it was riding but never mind about that. I'm trying to win. Those bases on balls sure kill you." Even one of his opponents, the future Hall of Famer Reese admitted to feeling sorry for Bevens after the game. It was a very difficult way to lose.
Fortunately for Bevens, the Yankees shook off the tough loss and won 2-1 in Game 5 thanks to Shea's four-hitter. They lost Game 6 at Yankee Stadium to send the series to a decisive Game 7, where they won 5-2. Bevens even helped out in the final victory, tossing 2.2 scoreless innings in relief of Shea, who the Dodgers knocked out of the game with a 2-0 deficit in the second inning. Bevens gave up two hits but walked only one this time, and he stemmed the tide until relief ace Joe Page came on to finish the rest of the game in the fifth inning. Bevens had a World Series ring, yet neither he, Lavagetto, or Gionfriddo would ever play in another major league game. The strange tale of Bevens's failed no-hit bid truly had a bizarre ending, as Bevens hurt his shoulder during Spring Training of '48 and never made it back to the major leagues.
Bevens's near-no-no occurred 65 years ago today.
Further sources: Tan, Cecilia. The 50 Greatest Yankee Games. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005.