Following three straight World Series appearances and a remarkable stretch of domination through the 1950s under Casey Stengel, the Yankees entered the 1958 season with championship aspirations. Considering the fact that they were armed with a roster that featured the likes of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, and Don Larsen, anything less than a World Series title would likely have been a disappointment.
Regular-season record: 92-62
Manager: Casey Stengel
Top hitter by rWAR: Mickey Mantle (8.7)
Top pitcher by rWAR: Whitey Ford (4.3)
World Series result: Yankees defeat Milwaukee Braves, 4-3
The first half of the season was one of streaks. In mid-April, the Yankees ripped off six straight wins to start the year 7-1. Following some usual back-and-forth performances to end the month, New York won four straight games to start May and ended up ripping off 10 straight wins in the middle of the month.
Most impressively, though, the Yankees straight up dominated throughout the regular season. On Friday, April 18th, the third day of the season, New York took a 0.5-game lead in the pennant race. On Sunday, September 8th, the final day of the season, the Yankees’ victory over the Baltimore Orioles gave them a 10-game lead over the second place Chicago White Sox. From April 18th until the end of the season, the Yankees never once slipped out of first place.
As a team, the offense and defense were both equally good. The Yankees led the league in runs per game (4.90) and OPS+ (110), while the team was second in runs allowed per game (3.72), had the second lowest ERA (3.21), and posted the third-highest ERA+ (111) on the defensive side of the ball. Individually, the Yankees also had the top hitter in terms of OPS+ (Mickey Mantle, 188) and the top pitcher in terms of ERA+ (Whitey Ford, 177). Coming off back-to-back MVP seasons, Mantle slashed .304/.443/.592 with 42 home runs, 97 RBI, 127 runs, 18 stolen bases, and an ungodly 19.7 percent walk rate. The fact that this wasn’t even close to his best season — he finished fifth in MVP voting — is just mind-blowing.
That domination didn’t exactly translate to the World Series, however, as the Yankees found themselves matched up against the powerhouse Milwaukee Braves. With a roster that glittered with Hall of Fame talent — Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, and Red Schoendienst — Milwaukee steamrolled their way through the National League and finished the season with an identical record to the Yankees. It was a rematch of the ‘57 Fall Classic, when the Braves surprised the baseball world by pulling off a seven-game upset to win the only championship in the history of Milwaukee baseball.
This World Series got off to an inauspicious start for the Yankees, as they dropped the first two games by a combined score of 17-8. Game 2, in particular, was a disaster right from the jump. With Cy Young winner Bob Turley on the mound for New York, Milwaukee shelled the Yankees for seven runs on the back of multiple home runs and an assembly line of singles. Despite a two-homer game from Mantle, the game was totally out-of-reach.
Game 3, however, was all New York. Milwaukee failed to muster any sort of offense against Larsen. The ‘56 World Series hero went seven scoreless innings, giving up six hits and striking out eight batters in a winning effort, before turning the ball over to Ryne Duren to close out the game in scoreless fashion. On the offensive side of the ball, all of the damage was done by right fielder Hank Bauer, who notched three hits in four at-bats, including a three-run home run and an RBI single. Bauer accounted for all four of the Yankees’ runs as they clawed their way back to a 2-1 series deficit.
Game 4 was the premier matchup of the World Series, as it saw Whitey Ford face off against Warren Spahn. Unfortunately for the Yankees, though, Warren Spahn turned in a legendary performance to the tune of a complete game, two-hit shutout. By the end of the evening, the Yankees were staring a 3-1 series deficit in the face.
Thankfully for Yankees fans, New York’s bats came alive in Game 5. Led by second baseman Gil McDougald and his three runs driven in, the Yankees won the game 7-0. While that kind of performance in a win-or-go-home game would typically be the focal point for most discussions, Game 1 starter Bob Turley’s heroics on both sides of the ball are the real storyline. On the mound, Turley threw nine scoreless innings, giving up just five hits while striking out 10. At the dish, Turley recorded one hit, a two-run single, that put the game out of reach. The series stood at a 3-2 lead for Milwaukee.
The real drama came in Game 6. Fighting for their season and up against Warren Spahn on the mound, the Yankees struck for a run in the first, but quickly fell behind 2-1 in the second inning before tying it in the sixth. The ninth inning proved undramatic, leaving New York and Milwaukee tied at two entering extra innings. In a move you’d likely never see today, Spahn took the mound to start the 10th inning. That would prove disastrous, as the Yankees struck for two runs on the back of a McDougald home run and an RBI single from Bill Skowron.
Though Ryne Duren started the 10th, the Yankees once again turned to Turley for the save, despite the fact that he had thrown a complete game just two days before. He was able to shut the door for the Yankees, leading to a 4-3 victory. The series was officially tied at three.
In Game 7, New York did the unthinkable. The Yankees gave the ball to Don Larsen, but he only managed to last 2.2 innings after giving up a first inning run. The Yankees took the lead in the second after a fielder’s choice and a single. Milwaukee would tie up the game in the sixth, but a four-run eighth inning, on the back of a one-run single from Elston Howard and a three-run home run from Skowron, sealed the deal for the Yankees.
After Larsen’s short start, the Yankees once again turned eventual series MVP Turley, pitching for the third time in three days. Despite an absurd workload, Turley improbably threw 6.2 innings of two-hit, one-run ball to complete the improbable comeback. At the end of the day, the Yankees had won their 18th title and sixth title in eight years.
The 1958 season was yet another year of domination from one of the greatest teams ever assembled. Led by remarkable seasons from Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, it was really Bob Turley’s postseason heroics—despite a disastrous Game 2 start—that led the Yankees to this victory. While every World Series has its own unique, improbable storyline, Turley’s ferocious run through the final three wins of this comeback might just be my new favorite.