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October 1st is typically late in the season, but there have been some incredible Yankee moments on this day.
Top Three October 1st Moments in Yankee History
1. 1961: Roger Maris hits his record-breaking 61st home run.
A few days ago, I covered the moment when Maris finally tied Babe Ruth's record for most home runs in a single season with his 60th roundtripper of '61 on September 26th. Maris actually had to take a day off after tying the record simply due to exhaustion. The pressure to answer so many questions from the media wore on Maris, and the rumors that he lost hair from stress were true. Many people just seemed to have a problem with Ruth's legendary record being broken by a man who was not nearly the same caliber baseball player as Ruth, and the fact that expansion from a 154-game schedule to 162 merely irritated them even more. Regardless, Maris felt he was simply doing his job, and he did not feel he was eliminating Ruth from memory or anything like that. Shortly after he broke the record, he met Ruth's widow and assured her that "no one can replace the Babe."
The New York Yankees had already clinched the pennant, and they were merely playing out the remainder of their schedule when the Boston Red Sox came to Yankee Stadium to close the season in a three-game series. The Yankees won the first two games to close out September, but despite losing in complete game efforts, Boston starters Bill Monbouquette and Don Schwall both avoided becoming footnotes to history by holding Maris to a single and three walks in eight plate appearances. Rookie righthander Tracy Stallard started the last game of the season on October 1st for Boston. Maris stepped up to bat in a scoreless tie with one out in the fourth inning. He flew out to deep left in the first inning, and his chances to break the record were winding down. This time though, he jumped on a Stallard fastball and drove it several rows back into the right field seats for his 61st home run. The crowd roared and Maris's teammates forced the "reluctant hero" out of the dugout to salute the fans. Maris's solo homer was the only score of the game, and the Yankees won 1-0 for their 109th victory of the season. To date, no American Leaguer has ever matched Maris's magical 61-homer season of '61.
2. 1932: "The Called Shot"
Perhaps the most famous home run of Babe Ruth's career was not one of the 714 he hit during the regular season in his 22-year career. Ruth clubbed 15 homers in his World Series career, a record that stood until Mickey Mantle stretched the mark to 18 in 1964. The last two came in a multi-homer performance during Game 3 of the '32 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. It was the last of Ruth's seven World Series titles, and it was a perfect four-game sweep over a solid Cubs team. The '32 Yankees though continue to be one of the most underrated teams in baseball history; they won the American League pennant by 13 games with 107 victories. Ruth was 37 that year, but he sure did not play like a 37-year-old--he hit .341/.489/.661 with 41 homers and a 201 OPS+ (the last of a record 11 40-homer campaigns for the Bambino).
Starting the series at home, the Yankees took the first two games by scores of 12-6 and 5-2 respectively before boarding the train to Wrigley Field in Chicago. Ruth and the Yankees were warmly greeted by Chicago fans at the station, but the praise turned to vitriol at the ballpark once the third game began. There was animosity between the teams too, as Yankees manager Joe McCarthy sought revenge on the team that fired him near the end of the '30 season despite a National League pennant in '29 and a won/loss record that was 20 games over .500 at the time. Furthermore, former Yankee shortstop Mark Koenig was on the Cubs after Chicago signed him for the last couple months of the season in August, but his Cubs teammates decided to only give him a half-share for the pennant victory even though he hit .353/.377/.510 in 33 games down the stretch. His former Yankees teammates were incensed at his treatment, and both benches frequently barked at each other throughout the series.
Amid this chaos, the Cubs players relentlessly heckled Ruth in Game 3 even as he slugged a three-run homer off Charlie Root to give the Yankees an early 3-0 first inning lead. The Cubs rallied to eventually tie the game at four as Ruth came to bat in the fifth inning with no one on base. Root threw a fastball that Ruth took for a strike. He put up a finger. Root threw another fastball for a called strike. Ruth put up two fingers. Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett later recalled that Ruth said, "It only takes one to hit it." Ruth then pointed, but to where? Some said toward the flagpole in center field, and others, like Hartnett, thought he pointed to the Cubs dugout, warning them. Ruth always played coy about it and even his own teammates disagreed about it. Either way, he crushed the next pitch an estimated 436 feet to center field at the base of the flagpole, then rounded the bases shoving his hands toward the Cubs dugout. It was reported as the longest home run in Wrigley Field history. The Yankees took a 5-4 lead that they would never relinquish. Ruth's final World Series homer will forever be remembered as the "Called Shot," whether or not it was so predicted. It became a part of baseball lore that will never be forgotten.
3. 1995- A postseason at last for "Donnie Baseball"
The first two numbers in this post's title are obvious references to the first two moments on the list. Roger Maris's 61st homer of the '61 season broke the single-season home run record, and number 3 was, of course, Babe Ruth. The number 1,785 is not as well-known, but that figure was how many career games former Yankee captain Don Mattingly played before finally reaching the postseason. He came up to the majors in September 1982 toward the end of a season without playoff baseball for the Yankees (the previous season, they had won the AL pennant before losing in the World Series). For the next 13 years, the Yankees continued to miss the playoffs despite some truly amazing seasons from Mattingly, who blossomed as a terrific hitter and stellar defensive first baseman. Mattingly accomplished great feats that still stand atop various marks in baseball record books like six grand slams in a season and a homer in eight consecutive games, and he also set single-season Yankee records for hits and doubles (238 and 53 in '86, respectively). Even with Mattingly's superb play, the Yankees endured their longest playoff drought since divisional play began in 1969.
By '95, it was clear that Mattingly's career was near its end. Back injuries had robbed him of his power and turned him into a below-average offensive first baseman at age 34. His best chance at reaching the playoffs seemed to have passed him by when the players went on strike in August of '94 while the Yankees held the best record in the AL. An eight-game losing streak a year later in August of '95 seemed to put any hopes that the Yankees had of reaching the playoffs to sleep as they were four games under .500 on August 26th. Thankfully, they got hot and played well down the stretch in a 21-6 September. The AL East title was way out of reach, but the addition of the Wild Card to the playoffs gave Mattingly and the Yankees life. They held a one-game lead over the California Angels, who had choked away a huge lead in the AL West to the Seattle Mariners. Going into the last day of the season on October 1st, the Yankees controlled their own destiny; if they beat the Toronto Blue Jays at the Skydome, they would go to the playoffs. Mattingly would finally have the opportunity to shine in the postseason after 1,785 games.
Pat Hentgen would win '96 AL Cy Young Award, but in '95, he had struggled to a 5.06 ERA in 29 starts. The Yankees got off to a fast start when Dion James led off the game with a walk and rising star Bernie Williams doubled him to third base. Trade deadline acquisition Ruben Sierra lined a two-run double of his own down the right field to give the Yankees an immediate 2-0 lead. They added two more runs in the second when Toronto third baseman Ed Sprague threw away a Tony Fernandez ground ball, allowing the runner on first base, Randy Velarde, to score. Fernandez crossed home plate as well after second baseman Pat Kelly grounded a single to left field. The Yankees entrusted 24-year-old southpaw Sterling Hitchcock with this four-run lead, and he made it hold up for 5.1 innings, yielding just one run. Mattingly himself chipped in with his 222nd career home run, a solo blast on a line drive over the right field wall, just his seventh roundtripper of the season. A solo homer from Velarde in the eighth inning was the icing on the cake in the 6-1 victory. The bullpen did not allow a run in 3.1 innings, and the late Steve Howe was on the mound at the end of the game when catcher Randy Knorr grounded into a force to end it. Mattingly knelt and slapped on the ground in joy. A playoff berth was there at last for the beloved captain.