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1954 Indians flashback: 7-1 week virtually clinches flag; Wally Westlake profile

With just three weeks in the season, the Indians had a small opening of breathing space of four and a half games. But any misstep and the Yankee juggernaut could make that up quickly.

Wally Westlake, reserve outfielder
Wally Westlake, reserve outfielder

The Indians had just completed their worst week in almost two months, but they still picked up a half game on the Yankees even though they went 4-3. This week covers a doubleheader in Baltimore and then back home for a pair with the Athletics, Red Sox and Yankees respectively.

September 6, 1954

September 6 (game 1): Indians 6, Orioles 1

September 6 (game 2): Indians 2, Orioles 3, 10 innings

Bob Lemon started the first game against Duane Pillette. The Indians got a run in the first off an infield single by Al Smith and an error by Dick Kryhoski after a Bobby Avila sacrifice bunt. Smith scored on a sacrifice fly by Larry Doby, his 112th on the season, in the third with the Orioles getting one back in the bottom half. Lemon tripled to open the fifth, scored on a Smith double and he scored on a wild pitch to Al Rosen. The Indians tacked on one more each in the eighth and ninth as Lemon got his 18th complete game.

Mike Garcia took on Don Larsen in the finale of the season series between the two teams. It was scoreless until the seventh when the Orioles had back to back RBI singles. In the ninth, Hank Majeski got a two out single. Lemon pinch hit for Hal Naragon and doubled in pinch runner Jim Hegan. Smith then tied the game by singling in pinch runner Wally Westlake. Early Wynn pitched the final two innings, but the Orioles scored in the tenth on three singles to salvage a win. The Indians lead over the Yankees stayed at 4.5 games.

The Indians finished the season 19-3 against the Orioles, outscoring them 111-42.

September 8-9, 1954

September 8: Athletics 2, Indians 5

September 9: Athletics 4, Indians 5, 11 innings

After a travel day home, the A's arrived at Cleveland stadium for their final two games. Wynn took the hill against Johnny Gray. Vic Wertz got the early lead with a solo shot in the second. A pair of RBI singles by Doby and Rosen in the third made it 3-0. The A's picked up one in the fifth and another in seventh to make it 3-2. But Avila and Wertz each had RBI singles in the seventh to push the lead back to three. Wynn completed the game with eight hits, two walks and three strikeouts.

Smith and Avila worked their first inning magic again as Smith was hit by a pitch and scored on a sacrifice by Avila and an error by Lou Limmer trying to nab Smith at third. Bill Wilson hit a two run shot off Bob Feller in the second to take a 2-1 lead. Limmer atoned with an RBI single in the fifth and the A's picked up one more in the eighth to make it 4-1. In the bottom of the eighth Dave Pope homered and Avila doubled in Smith to cut it to 4-3. An RBI single by Dave Philley in the ninth pushed it to extras. In the eleventh, Hal Naragon walked with the bases loaded for the Tribe's seventh walk off of the year. The sweep also pushed their lead to 5.5 games

The season series with the Athletics wrapped up with the Indians winning 18 of 22, and outscoring them 108-56.

September 10-11, 1954

September 10: Red Sox 2, Indians 4

September 11: Red Sox 0, Indians 3

Mike Garcia got his first start of the week, facing Leo Kiely of the Red Sox. The Indinas jumped in front in the third with RBIs from Avila, Doby and Wertz. The Red Sox picked up one the fourth, but Jim Hegan got it right back with solo shot in the bottom half. The Sox picked up one more in the sixth, but Garcia finished his complete game with eight hits, three walks and six strikeouts, his seventeenth win of the year.

The finale was Art Houtteman against Mel Parnell. Houtteman pitched a gem, allowing just five hits and one walk in his shutout win. Wertz led off the fifth with a solo blast and a pair of RBIs by Avila and Rosen in the eighth gave Houtteman some breathing room.  The Indians also picked up another game in the standings, leading the Yankees now by 6.5 games.

The two game sweep let the Indians finish an amazing 20-2 versus the Red Sox in 1954, outscoring them 128 to 70. Note, there were also two ties against them too.

September 12, 1954

September 12 (game 1): Yankees 1, Indians 4

September 12 (game 2): Yankees 2, Indians 3

With just twelve games left in the season, the Yankees were in must win mode as they trailed the Indians by 6.5 games. Lemon got the nod, facing Whitey Ford. The game was scoreless until the fifth Indians scratched one across on a Hegan single, Lemon bunt and Avila single. Irv Noren tied it in the sixth, scoring Mickey Mantle on a sacrifice fly. In the seventh, Al Rosen doubled in Smith and Avila in the seventh off Allie Reynolds to reach the century mark in RBI. The Indians tacked on another in the eighth thanks to a pair of Yankee errors. And with a 4-1 win, the Indians had virtually finally put the Yankees away.

The season finale featured Early Wynn against Tommy Byrne in the Indians nineteenth double header of the season. Yogi Berra hit a two run shot in the first to get the quick lead. Byrne stymied the Tribe until the fifth when Avila singled in Wynn and then Westlake doubled in Smith and Avila. After getting the lead, Wynn retired twelve of his final thirteen batters, including striking out Enos Slaughter, Mantle and Berra to finish the game. With the lead at 8.5 games, the pennant was all but clinched.

The Tribe did not win the season series with the Yankees, but did finish even with them, 11-11, and outscored them 99-95.

Player of the Week

I am going with Bobby Avila this week. He hit 448/485/517, with just two doubles in those 13 hits. But he was pretty clutch, driving in six, most in close games, stealing two bags and had four sacrifices, two of which led to unearned runs.

Player Spotlight

Outfielder Wally Westlake

Originally from the Dodger organization, Westlake broke into the majors in 1947 with the Pirates. In 1951, he was dealt to the Cardinals in June and made his only All Star appearance. The Cardinals sent him to the Reds midway in 1952, and then the Indians picked him up from the Reds for cash or players to be named. He was a fourth outfielder during his stay in Cleveland. In 1954, he hit 263/337/454 in his 274 plate appearances. He hit 11 homers and drove in 42 while putting up a 114 OPS+. The Indians dealt him to the Orioles midseason 1955 and he was released a month later. He finished up his career with the Phillies in 1956.

Summary

Although this week didn't officially clinch the pennant, the 7-1 record essentially put the final nails in the coffin of the Yankees five year AL reign. Especially with the doubleheader sweep that put them up by 8.5 with just ten games to play. In a scheduling quirk, next week has just four games scheduled, one with the Senators at home and then three in Detroit.

Standings

W

L

Pct

GB

RS

RA

Pythag

Cleveland Indians

104

10

722

-

690

466

672

New York Yankees

95

48

664

8.5

745

532

649

Chicago White Sox

91

54

628

13.5

677

489

645

Detroit Tigers

64

79

448

39.5

549

606

455

Boston Red Sox

63

79

444

40.0

650

682

478

Washington Senators

61

82

427

42.5

593

633

470

Baltimore Orioles

48

96

333

56.0

456

635

353

Philadelphia Athletics

48

96

333

56.0

508

825

292