Sometimes, the standings at the end of the season can be deceiving. Take the 1960 season, for example. The Yankees won the American League pennant by eight games, so one might infer that the Yankees did not run into much trouble making it to the World Series that year. However, this lead was built up at the latter stages of the season, when the Yankees won 15 games in a row to end the the campaign. As late as September 14th, the Yankees were tied atop the AL with the Baltimore Orioles. The efforts of good, young players like first baseman Jim Gentile and third baseman Brooks Robinson combined with veteran talent like former Yankee Gene Woodling and bullpen ace Hoyt Wilhelm helped the Birds have their first really successful season since moving to Baltimore in '54. They fought hard with Casey Stengel's terrific team all year long, and they played some great games as the season went down to the wire.
One of these competitive ballgames occurred on August 15, 1960. The Yankees had lost five of their previous eight games, and there was tension in the clubhouse as well. The previous day, the Yankees were swept in a doubleheader at home by the mediocre Washington Senators, and in the second game's tough 15-inning loss, Stengel yanked star center fielder Mickey Mantle from the game for not running out a double play and castigated him to the press afterwards. The Orioles came to town for two games actually holding a half-game lead while the Yankees dealt with public tension between manager and superstar.
One positive for the Yankees was that they were sending one of their best starters to the hill for the first game, Art Ditmar. The 31-year-old righthander was in his fourth season with the Yankees since being traded from the Kansas City Athletics in '57, and he brought a reputable 3.08 ERA into the game. He was the most reliable starter in the rotation behind ace southpaw Whitey Ford, and he would be pitching against young Jerry Walker for the Orioles. Walker had an All-Star season in '59 with a 2.92 ERA and 130 ERA+, but in '60, he struggled to replicate his success. On this day too, he would not fare well against the potent New York Yankees lineup.
The Orioles actually got off to a good start against Ditmar. They held a 2-0 lead by the third inning, courtesy of a solo homer by shortstop Ron Hansen and an RBI single from Woodling to bring home right fielder Gene Stephens. Walker appeared to be fine entering the fourth inning. The Yankees amounted only a double and a walk against him through three inning, but he quickly lost whatever he had going for him. Left fielder Hector Lopez beat out an infield single to short, bringing Mantle up. A cascade of boos rained down on the Yankee star for his lack of hustle in the previous day. However, Mantle turned them to cheers by belting a two-run home run to deep right field, tying the game at two apiece. He was clearly relieved after the game: "I especially wanted to have a good game after what happened Sunday. It can be rough if you have two bad days like that in a row."
"Moose" Skowron followed the circuit clout with a single to centerfield, and Yogi Berra (playing right field that day) walked to move him to second base. Berra's replacement behind the dish, Johnny Blanchard, laid down a bunt to move the runners into scoring position, and Baltimore manager Paul Richards had seen enough. He replaced Walker with Wilhelm, the Hall of Fame knuckleball pitcher. Wilhelm was a tremendous asset to have, as he could start games whenever needed and pitch shutout relief as well. He even no-hit the Yankees two years previously, in late September of '58, so he was not intimidated by this lineup. Wilhelm retired Clete Boyer on a pop-up to shortstop and a Bobby Richardson drag bunt single attempt failed, ending the inning on a grounder to first. In the next few innings, Wilhelm pitched well to keep the game in a tie, holding the Yankees scoreless for three innings on just two singles. Ditmar was even better, and entering the top of the eighth inning, he had sent 13 Orioles down in a row after the Woodling single.
Ditmar ran his streak to 15 before leadoff hitter Jackie Brandt stepped to the plate. The lithe center fielder surprised the Yankee Stadium crowd by turning on a Ditmar pitch and sending it over the wall in left field for a solo homer, giving the Orioles a 3-2 lead. The Yankees did not falter though. Ditmar got Stephens to bounce a comebacker to him to end the inning, and Lopez walked to lead off the bottom of the eighth against Wilhelm. Mantle again followed Lopez with a chance to make up for his lack of hustle the day before. He swung hard at a Wilhelm pitch and popped it up, sky high. Catcher Clint Courtney circled under it and was ready to make the catch for a big out. He dropped it. Mantle had another chance, and even Hall of Fame pitchers like Wilhelm could only make so many good pitches to Mantle. He blasted his second two-run home run of the game deep into the right field seats, his 29th of what would be a league-leading 40 homers. Ditmar returned to the mound in the ninth having only allowed five hits in the game despite Baltimore's three runs. He got two outs, then walked Robinson to put the tying run on first base for Courtney, now seeking a reprieve of his own. The catcher lined a ball to center field, but Mantle made the catch to end the game.
Afterwards, Stengel was clearly glad the tension with his star center fielder was over. "He didn't have to run them two out, did he? I needed those homers and I'm glad Mantle got 'em for me. No sense going down the pennant race with a manager arguing with his players." The Yankees went 34-12 from that win on to capture their 25th AL pennant.