60 years later, Maz’s feat recalled
PITTSBURGH — Dick Groat vividly recalls the moment he realized the Pirates could beat the heavily favored Yankees in the 1960 World Series.
It was the top of the ninth inning of Game 1 at Forbes Field, and the Pirates were clinging to a 6-4 lead with one out, one on and the potential tying run at the plate.
“I can remember being at shortstop in the ninth inning of the first game,” Groat said. “A ground ball was hit to Maz (Bill Mazeroski). He came up with it, gave me a perfect throw, and I turned the double play. As soon as I released the ball I said, ‘We can beat these guys!’ and I can remember it as if it happened an hour ago.”
But a lot of strange, wonderful and miraculous things were about to take place between that moment and the one in which Mazeroski hit the dramatic series-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7. There were many gut-wrenching twists and turns before the wild finish, arguably the greatest moment in Pittsburgh sports history.
Tuesday marked the 60th anniversary of Mazeroski’s heroic homer, which occurred at exactly 3:36 p.m. at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. It is perhaps rivaled in prominence only by the Steelers’ Immaculate Reception at Three Rivers Stadium in 1972, which didn’t result in a championship.
“When I lived (in Hempfield), every time I went out, somebody would ask about it,” said Mazeroski, 84, who has moved to the Philadelphia area. “It’s never gotten too bad. I’ve never gotten overwhelmed with it. It’s just that people keep bringing it up. But I’m quite comfortable with it.”
Luck, grit of Game 7
Things looked good early for the Pirates in Game 7. Vernon Law was on the mound trying for his third win of the series, and the Bucs raced to a 4-0 lead after two innings.
But the lead would change hands four times.
Pirates reliever Roy Face allowed four runs over three innings, including a three-run homer by Yogi Berra, and the Yankees took a 7-4 lead into the bottom of the eighth.
But the Pirates staged a thrilling rally that included timely hitting and at least one very lucky bounce. After a leadoff single by pinch-hitter Gino Cimoli, Bill Virdon stepped up and hit what appeared to be a routine grounder to Tony Kubek at short.
“I was on deck when Bill hit that ground ball and I said ‘Oh, s——!’ Excuse the language, but it was a tailor-made double-play ball,” Groat said. “It took a bad hop and hit Tony right in the throat. And from that point, everything worked out.”
Kubek had to leave the game with runners on first and second and nobody out. Groat came up and tried to hit to the opposite field against lefty Bobby Shantz. After fouling several pitches off, Groat stepped out of the batter’s box.
“I said to myself, ‘If he’s going to make you pull it, pull it and hit it hard and hope it finds a hole.’ “
It did. Groat singled to score a run, and the comeback was on. Two outs later, Roberto Clemente hit a run-scoring infield single to cut the Pirates’ deficit to one run. Up came Hal Smith, who provided the most dramatic moment of the game to that point by hitting a three-run homer to left to give the Pirates a 9-7 lead.
The 36,683 fans at Forbes Field were going crazy. “Forbes Field is an outdoor insane asylum,” is how play-by-play announcer Chuck Thompson described the scene on NBC Radio.
The Pirates were three outs away from beating the mighty Yankees.
But in the top of the ninth, New York scored two runs to tie the game, 9-9. Understandably, the tension returned as the Pirates dealt with the emotional letdown.
“I came in (to the dugout) and sat down and said, ‘Holy cow, what the hell happened here?’ “ Mazeroski said. “I forget I was on deck when the last out was made in the eighth, so I was leading off the ninth. And I was just sitting there wondering how in the world we’re going to pull this thing out. And then somebody said, ‘Maz, you’re up!’ And I said, ‘Ooooh yeah, I forgot about that.’ “
Fortunately for the Pirates, Maz hadn’t forgotten how to hit.
“I just went up to the plate saying to myself, ‘I gotta hit the ball hard somewhere. I got to get on base,'” Mazeroski said. “The first pitch (from Yankees hurler Ralph Terry) was high, and I took it for a ball. The next pitch he got down a little bit, and I hit it good. I knew I hit it good, but I wasn’t sure it was going to go out, so I was busting my tail around first base. When the umpire gave the home run signal, well, I don’t think I touched the ground all the way around from second base.”
And then Maz did something he said was very uncharacteristic.
“I just couldn’t believe that we beat them, and I went kind of goofy. I was always a relaxed player and never showed off, no antics or nothing. I can’t believe that I was jumping around like I was. I almost embarrassed myself when I looked at the film, seeing me waving my hat. I didn’t do things like that. I just played the game and didn’t want to show anybody up. But it was just natural. Holy cow! It was amazing.”
It remains the only time the seventh game of the World Series ended with a walk-off home run. The final score was Pirates 10, Yankees 9. Pittsburgh had its first championship since 1925, and Downtown exploded in a celebration on that sunny Thursday afternoon of Oct. 13.
Memories never fade
Mazeroski would go on to play 12 more seasons with the Pirates and earn a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for being arguably the best defensive second baseman in Major League history.
It’s a memory that this aging group of ballplayers seems to enjoy reliving.
“That was the best experience I ever had,” said Virdon, who became the Pirates’ manager in 1972.
“So many things that happened that year are so fresh in our minds, and they stay there right to the end of your life,” Groat said.
It’s also a memory longtime Pirates fans will never forget.