After setting the American League record for wins in a season, the Indians were set to face the National League champion New York Giants. The Giants had won 97 games and taken their flag by five games, but would have finished in third place in the AL with that record and a full 14 games behind the Tribe. Needless to say the Tribe were heavy favorites with that superb rotation and potent offense.
September 29-30, 1954 at the Polo Grounds
September 29: Indians 2, Giants 5, 10 innings
September 30: Indians 1, Giants 3
Game 1: This game is that infamous day back in 1954. Fresh off the most dominating regular season in the modern age (111-43), the Cleveland Indians had finished a ridiculous eight games ahead of the 103-51 New York Yankees. They then headed to the Big Apple again, but to the Polo Grounds to take on the New York Giants.
The game started off well, Al Smith was hit by a Sal Maglie pitch and went to third on right fielder Don Mueller's error on a Bobby Avila single. Maglie retired both Larry Doby and Al Rosen on popups, but Vic Wertz drilled one to deep right, scoring both and Wertz ending up with a triple. Dave Philley almost scored another on a deep fly, but Mueller caught it. The Giants got two on in the first off Bob Lemon, but they were stranded. They did tie it up in the third though on back to back knocks by Whitey Lockman and Al Dark, with Lockman scoring on a Mueller forceout. Lemon walked Willie Mays and Hank Thompson knocked in Mueller. The Giants threatened again in the fourth and the Indians threatened in the fifth, but neither broke the deadlock.
In the eighth, Doby led off with a single and Rosen worked a walk off Maglie. Don Liddle was called in to face Wertz. That is when one of the most famous World Series plays occurred. Wertz absolutely crushed one to deep center and this would have been a home run in any ball park not named the Polo Grounds. Mays took off on a sprint, caught it going away from home plate and in one motion threw the ball back in. Doby, incredibly was able to tag up and go to third even though he probably was almost to third in the first place. Marv Grissom came in and walked Dale Mitchell, loading the bases. Dave Pope pinch hit for shortstop George Strickland and struck out looking and Jim Hegan flied out to left to end the inning. Yes the Indians probably would have been up 5-2 in any other park, but the failure to get anyone home with the bases loaded and one out is that inning's crucial failure.
In the bottom of the eighth, Thompson worked a lead-off walk, was sacrificed and moved to third on a Lemon wild pitch but did not score. Grissom dodged a two-base error by Monte Irvin in the ninth. And in the tenth Wertz led off with a double, was sacrificed to third. After Pope was intentionally passed, Bill Glynn pinch hit for Hegan and struckout, while Lemon ended the inning with a liner to first baseman Lockman. In the bottom of the tenth, Lemon stuck out Mueller, but Mays worked a walk. He stole second off Lemon and backup catcher Mickey Grasso. Lemon walked Thompson intentionally. Then Leo Durocher sent up Dusty Rhodes to pinch hit for Irvin and he hit one out to right field that would have likely been caught in most other stadiums not named Polo Grounds due to the weird dimensions. Game over, 5-2, Giants.
Game 2: This game was probably just as frustrating to watch as Game 1 was as an Indian fan. Early Wynn took on Johnny Antonelli in this one. Al Smith led off the game with a hoem run to deep left. After a quick two outs, they loaded the bases on a Al Rosen walk, a Vic Wertz free pass and a Wally Westlake single to center. But George Strickland popped out to end the inning. That missed scoring opportunity would come back to haunt them. They also wasted a leadoff double by Jim Hegan in the second and a first and second chance in the third. In the meantime, Wynn had retired the first twelve in order, striking out three. But the wheel sort of came off in the third. Willie Mays led off with a walk and went to third on Hank Thompson's single. Pinch-hitter extraordinaire Dusty Rhodes hit for Monte Irvin and delivered Mays. After a strikeout of Davey Williams, Wes Westrum was walked to load the bases for Antonelli. Wynn got the ground ball he wanted, but they couldn't turn two and the Giants now led 2-1.
The Indians had a two out double in the sixth, first and second with one down in the seventh, but neither really became a big threat. Rhodes led off the bottom of thes eventh with his second homer in two days, and the lead was now 3-1. The Tribe went 1-2-3 in the eighth for the first time all game. And in the ninth, Smith and Avila both singled leading off the inning. But a Doby strikeout, a Rudy Regalado grounder and a Wertz fly to left ended the game. The Tribe amassed eight hits and six walks, but left thirteen men on base and went a woeful 1-11 with runners in scoring position. The Giants were much more efficient, scoring three runs on four hits and two walks.
October 1-2, 1954 at Cleveland Stadium
October 1: Giants 6, Indians 2
October 2: Giants 7, Indians 4
Game 3: Eschewing a day off after Games 1 and 2 in New York, the teams headed to Cleveland for Game 3 on Friday. Mike Garcia took to the rubber and had to work in the first. Whitey Lockman led off with a single. Don Mueller hit a double play ball, but Bobby Avila erred on his throw, only retiring Lockman with Mueller ended up at second where Willie Mays could drive him in with his single. In the third, Al Dark and Mueller opened the frame with singles. Mays hit a grounder to Hank Majeski at third, who got Dark in a rundown at home, but Mueller and Mays ended up at second and third. Hank Thompson was walked intentionally and Dusty Rhodes once again pinch hit for Monte Irvin, this time in the third inning! He kept his hot streak alive, singling in Mueller and Mays. Garcia then had an error on a squeeze bunt, the lead grew to 4-0. Bob Lemon pinch hit for Garcia in third, ending his day.
Art Houtteman came in to relieve and gave up an RBI single in the fourth to Wes Westrum. Mays tacked on one more in the sixth off Ray Narleski and they led 6-0. Vic Wertz homered to right center in the seventh getting one of the runs back. Ruben Gomez of the Giants was cruising on his side though. He walked three and had four hits in 7.1 innings, with the only runs scored being a Wertz solo shot leading off the seventh and one on a Bill Glynn double and Al Dark error. Hoyt Wilhelm got of the jam in the eighth and retired the side in order in the ninth, with the Giants winning 6-2.
Game 4: With the team down 3-0 in the series, Bob Lemon was sent out to stop the bleeding. But the Giants got to him early. After a leadoff walk to Hank Thompson in the third, Monte Irvin doubled him to third. Davey Williams lined out to Vic Wertz at first, but when he tried to double up Irvin at second, his throw got away, scoring Thompson and Irving moving to third. Wes Westrum hit a fly to Wally Westlake in right, who dropped the ball and scoring Irvin. Willie Mays added a third run in the third on an RBI double but Lemon got out of a bases loaded jam later that inning without further damage.
Already down by three, the Tribe could ill afford any more runs, but Lemon didn't get an out in the fifth. A pair of singles and a walk ended his day and Hal Newhouser walked in the fourth run, an Irvin single brought two more in and a sacrifice fly from Westrum pushed the score to 7-0. The Indian offense (which disappeared the entire series) had only managed a walk by Jim Hegan and a double by Wertz off Don Liddle going into the fifth inning. And without a pair of errors, Hank Majewski probably never hits the three run homer in the fifth. They threatened to get back in it in the seventh on a pair of singles by Wertz and Hegan. Rudy Regalado came through with a pinch hit single, but Hoyt Wilhem got the final out. Down by three, they got runners to first and third in the eighth but didn't score and only managed a walk off Johnny Antonelli in the ninth.
I hope you all enjoyed the trip down memory lane, even though the outcome was known. The 1954 team's quest for another World Series crown fell just short, and they remain one of the greatest teams in baseball history without a championship. Speaking of such teams, next years will be the 20th anniversary of the 1995 team that dominated the American League. What say the LGT faithful?