When a Boston Red Sox sweep finished Yankee pennant hopes


The Boston Red Sox were easy sport for the New York Yankees in the 1950s with one exception – a five-game sweep at Fenway. The Yankees are back in town tomorrow night.

Virtually my entire Boston Red Sox early years was a New York Yankee kind of world and now the Yankees are coming to town.

My first baseball experience was the Boston Braves, who quickly left this eight-year-old having to move to Milwaukee if I wanted to see them play, so that meant option number two – the Red Sox.

For most of the Red Sox fan base, they have no idea what baseball was like in the 1950s and into the mid-1960s. This was the Yankees at their very dominating best. From 1949-1953, the Yankees won five straight World Series. In 1954, the Yankees won 103 games and finished second to the pitching rich Cleveland Indians 111 wins. That was just a rest stop.

From 1955-1958, it was the World Series each season and from 1960-1964, another string of World Series visits. What I have left out is 1959 and that takes into the equation my Red Sox highlight versus the Yankees until that emotional and momentous 2004 playoff victory. And in 1959, the Red Sox were going nowhere.

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry of that period was far less intense than what has been exhibited in the last 30 years. The Yankees were always a huge draw in baseball and continue to be so. In the 1950’s and 1960’s time frame, there was a certain degree of respect for their excellence and many Yankee players became idols for young fans. For me it was Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford.

The Red Sox had some offensive talent with reigning MVP Jackie Jensen, steady Frank Malzone, Pete Runnels hitting over .300 and Ted Williams suffering his only sub .300 year. Tom Brewer and Ike Delock were the only starters to break the .500 plateau on a team that eventually finished 75-75, finished fifth and had attendance under 1,000,000.

On July 8th, the Yankees came to town to face the Red Sox in a five-game series. The Bronx Bombers were 4.5 games out of first in what was then an eight-team league and everyone expected the Yankees to start their usual run to the pennant at the expense of the usually docile Red Sox. Didn’t happen.

The first game of the series was a good old fashion blowout with the Bronx Bombers on the losing end at 14-3. Vic Wertz – an excellent power hitter – and Williams both hit home runs as Bob Turley took the loss. Turley was the reigning Cy Young Award winner. The highlight was a seven-run second inning for Boston.

Ford usually avoided Fenway Park and that can be attested with a career 7-6 record and 6.16 ERA. The Hall of Fame lefty was somewhat spooked by Fenway and the fourth inning would show why, as the Sox posted five runs on their way to an 8-5 victory. This was the only game I attended in the series, since Ford was pitching and I was flush with youthful admiration.

The third game of the series went extra-innings as Boston overcame a three-run Yankee first inning lead and took the lead with a three-run explosion in the eighth. New York tied it up on a Tony Kubek home run in the ninth. The New York bullpen imploded in the last of the tenth and Don Buddin – the much maligned Boston shortstop – hit a grand slam off Turley to win it 8-4.

On Sunday, the Red Sox wrapped it up early with a four-run first inning with the big blast being a three-run home run by Jackie Jensen. Jensen had won the MVP the previous year and would lead the American League in RBI in 1959 and also win a Gold Glove. Jensen temporarily retired after the season.

Boston put the seal on the deal with a three-run seventh and the big story was this game pushed New York under .500 at 41-42 after the 7-3 Boston win.

On Monday, Sullivan returned to the mound since this was an era before pitchers became pampered poodles and Boston simply put it to the Yankees 13-3. The big inning syndrome continued as Boston responded to a New York two-run first with four of their own and then Boston put up a nine-run sixth for the frosting on the sweep.

New York came to town down 4.5 games and left down 8.5 games, never getting much closer as the Go-Go White Sox went to the World Series. Despite his long record of success in New York, there were rumblings for Yankees manager Casey Stengel to be canned. The Yankees finished at 79-75, the lowest win total of the Stengel era that produced seven World Series titles, ten pennants, and a .623 winning percentage.

Next: Red Sox Dustin Pedroia Feisty As Ever

For a Red Sox fan, this represented the rare time that sand was kicked in the bullies face, but only the first game reached 30,000 in attendance as the rest hovered in the mid-twenties. But for this fan, it was my highlight against New York until 2004.