With just one more out standing between me and a no-hit, perfect game, it was difficult to know who was more nervous, Babe Pinelli, the official scorers, my defensive teammates, Casey Stengel, the players on the Yankee bench, the Dodgers or yours truly.
Standing on the mound, I felt like I was in a dream world. I’ve heard players talk about the magic moment when something very special happens in a sporting event. It may be a great hit like Bobby Thomson’s shot heard ‘round the world, or The Catch in the Super Bowl by the 49ers’ Dwight Clark, or the last-second shot by John Havlicek in the fifth game of the Celtics-Phoenix Suns playoffs in the mid-seventies. When players are asked to describe their feelings, most times they can’t remember much, because they are so focused on the task at hand.
While the pressure had been building with every inning and every batter, I can honestly say that after I retired Roy Campanella, a bit of a peaceful feeling came to me. I had somehow reached a point where the challenge would be met, where I would find out if a miracle was truly going to occur. The stakes were clear now. If I retired the next batter, I would have a no-hitter and be the winning pitcher for the Yankees in the pivotal World Series game. Every athlete wants to be in a special situation like that, and I would get the chance.
The atmosphere on the field suddenly seemed in focus. Everything was moving in slow motion, but I focused and began to prepare for what I hoped would be the final batter.
The Yankee Stadium crowd had gone crazy after Campanella’s out, but I would not allow myself to be distracted by them. I made up my mind I was going to focus on one thing—throwing strikes to whoever the Dodgers sent up to face me.
With that in mind, I kept my eyes peeled in the direction of the Dodger dugout. I knew Walter Alston would send up a pinch-hitter to bat for Sal Maglie. The Barber had pitched a great game, but Alston would want his best pinch-hitter at the plate so that he had every chance to not only break up my no-hitter, but come back and either tie up the score or hit me for a few runs and take the lead.
The choices to pinch-hit for Sal Maglie consisted of Dodger reserve third baseman Randy “Ransom” Jackson, outfielder/first baseman Dale Mitchell, outfield reserve Gino Cimoli, infielders Charlie Neal, Chico Fernandez, Don Zimmer, and Rocky Nelson, and catchers Rube Walker and Dixie Howell. Of those, the most logical was Mitchell, who ended up with a lifetime .300 plus average in ten seasons with Cleveland and one with the Dodgers.
From Colony, Oklahoma, the 6-foot, 195-pound, 35-year-old Mitchell, who had lazy gray eyes and close-cropped brown hair, first joined the Indians in 1946. A left-handed thrower and hitter, Mitchell had a number of good years with the club and led the American League with 203 hits in 1949.
In 1947, his first full year with the club, Dale hit .316, and in 1948 improved the average to .336. He played on the Indians’ World Championship team that year along with Joe Gordon, Lou Boudreau, and Larry Doby.
In a career where he ended up with 1,244 lifetime hits, Mitchell batted .317 and hit 23 triples in 1949, the most in the American League since 1939. A .308 and .290 average followed in 1950 and 1951, but in 1952, Mitchell hit .323, second in the league to Philadelphia’s great hitter Ferris Fain.
Dale Mitchell’s prowess at the plate fell off in 1954 and 1955, and he was traded to the Dodgers during the 1956 season. With the Dodgers, he hit .292, most as a pinch-hitter in 19 games.
As I walked around the mound trying to ready myself, I saw that Dale was approaching the plate. I tried not to look at him too closely, but instead watched for Yogi to get in position. The break in the action had suddenly made my hands shake. I slapped the ball in my glove and tried to steady myself.
From The Perfect Yankee: The Incredible Story of the Greatest Miracle in Baseball History by Don Larsen with Mark Shaw.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Shaw. Excerpted with permission.