Bill "Moose" Skowron was a terrific first baseman for Casey Stengel and Ralph Houk's World Series champion Yankee teams of the late '50s and '60s. He was a five-time All-Star with the Yankees despite the fact that he did not become a true full-time first baseman until his final season with the platoon-happy Stengel. Nonetheless, he never had a season with a wRC+ lower than 107 during his nine years in the Bronx, and he belted 165 homers in pinstripes. Sadly, the man who was "Moose" long before Mike Mussina was even born passed away in April of this year at the age of 81. Today, we celebrate one of the finest games he ever played with the Yankees, a three-hit, five-RBI performance in a 13-11 marathon win over the Cleveland Indians that took place 52 years ago today.
The Yankees were facing several challenges in 1960. In '59, they failed to win the American League pennant for only the second time in eleven years, finishing fifteen games behind the first-place "Go-Go" White Sox. The media was really starting to question whether or not the "Ol' Perfesser" should still be managing the Yankees as he approached his 70th birthday. The acquisition of promising Kansas City Athletics outfielder Roger Maris in a big seven-player deal helped to quiet the criticism as Maris soared toward an MVP campaign in '60, teaming with slugging centerfielder Mickey Mantle to create a devastating duo in the lineup unseen since the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Maris's swing was perfect for the friendly right-field porch at Yankee Stadium, and by the morning of July 19th, he had already smashed 29 homers. The Yankees were in first place, but led by only two games over the White Sox, and three and a half games over the Indians. After taking the first game of a three-game series with the Indians, the Yankees sent Jim Coates to the mound to face the Tribe's Jim Perry (the older brother of spitballer Gaylord Perry) at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. A "crazy-quilt contest" ensued, and Moose was the star of the game.
The game sure started quietly for one that ended with 24 combined runs. Both Perry and Coates threw 1-2-3 innings in the first, with Perry inducing a double play from Mantle after walking Hector Lopez with one out. In the second, though, Moose made his first mark on the game by blasting a solo homer against Perry to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. The Indians fired right back thanks to the father of a future Yankee nemesis. Tito Francona doubled against Coates to lead off the second, then scored on an RBI single by Jimmy Piersall. In the next inning though, the Indians allowed a free basrunner when second baseman Johnny Temple mishandled a grounder from Coates. The pitcher eventually came around to score on a Mantle groundout, and Maris followed with a two-run homer into the upper deck in right field to score Clete Boyer, who had singled, to make the score 4-1. The homer was Maris's 30th of the season, remarkable for mid-July. Coates still struggled to hold the lead, however.
The Indians loaded the bases on singles in the bottom of the third inning, and scored their second run of the game on a sacrifice fly by Francona. They scored another run in the fourth when Piersall slugged a solo homer to make it a one-run game (Piersall would later play for one of Stengel's horrid Mets teams in '63, and to celebrate his 100th career homer that year, he circled the bases backwards. He was cut a little over a month later). Stengel had seen enough of Coates, and removed him from the game in the fifth inning despite the fact that he was in line for a win. Four innings of seven-hit ball weren't enough to bail Coates out. Unfortunately, relievers Duke Maas and Johnny James didn't make Stengel's decision look very wise. Maas surrendered three hits without recording an out--a single to Ken Aspromonte, a double to Harvey Kuenn, and a two-run single by Francona, who was having a terrific game, to give the Indians the lead. James relieved Maas, but he gave up two more run-scoring hits to Vic Power and light-hitting shortstop George Strickland. The Indians had taken a 7-4 lead, and Perry pitched through his third straight scoreless inning in the sixth.
James's wildness in sixth gave the Indians a couple more runs after two walks, a wild pitch, and a two-run double by Power, who was feasting on James's pitching. The Yankees began to rally from the five-run deficit in the seventh, as the offense rapped four straight single against Perry, scoring two runs to make it a three-run game again. Indians manager Joe Gordon (a former Yankee) replaced Perry with reliever Johnny Klippstein, who escaped the inning, but began the eighth by allowing back-to-back home runs to Yogi Berra and Skowron. Moose's second dinger of the day made the score 9-8 and the Yankees were within a run of a great comeback. The Indians responded with some insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth against Yankees ace reliever Ryne Duren. The flamethrower walked the leadoff man, but his defense betrayed him as Kubek fumbled a grounder to allow Francona to reach base again and Lopez made an error in left, which led to two runs scoring on Power's single. Now with a three-run lead, the Indians felt comfortable sending Bobby Locke back to the mound to finish the game.
Things did not go as planned for Locke, though. He allowed Lopez to reach on a walk and Mantle singled him to second base, leading to Locke's departure. Ted Bowsfield entered the game, but fumbled a grounder back to the mound, loading the bases with no one out for Yogi. The Hall of Fame catcher singled to center, scoring Lopez and bringing Skowron to the plate with a chance to tie the game. Moose did more than that--he doubled to left-center field to score all three runs and give the Yankees the lead. Kubek atoned for his error by bringing Moose in with an RBI single against Mudcat Grant, the third reliever of the inning, and the Yankees took a 13-11 lead to the bottom of the ninth inning. '58 World Series MVP Bob Turley came on in relief and brought some sanity to this topsy-turvy match by throwing a scoreless ninth. The Indians had two chances to tie the game after a pinch-hit single by Marty Keough, but pinch-hitter Bob Hale and Temple both sent easy fly balls to Kubek in left field (you read that correctly) to end the game. It was a wacky contest, but it was one of Skowron's finest games as he helped the Yankees rally to victory over the Tribe.
Game recap source: "Skowron Excels in 13-11 Triumph." New York Times, July 20, 1960.