by Paul Semendinger
This article originally appeared in Here’s The Pitch, the newsletter for the IBWAA.
The year was 1953. That year, the Yankees were on their way to their unprecedented fifth consecutive World Series victory, a number never exceeded and never even matched.
And Satchel Paige, the great Satchel Paige, the legendary Satchel Paige was pitching in his last full big league season.
Ol’ Satch was 46-years-old. No one knows quite how many games he won in the Negro Leagues before reaching the Major Leagues in 1948, the color barrier having finally been lifted the season previous. It is safe to say that it was hundreds and hundreds of games. It is quite possible that no pitcher won as many professional baseball games as Satchel Paige, but we’ll never know.
Satchel Paige pitched for the Cleveland Indians in the 1948 and 1949 seasons. He did not pitch in the Major Leagues in 1950, but he returned in 1951 with the St. Louis Browns and now, in 1953, he was completing his final season.
The date was September 16, 1953. The Browns of St. Louis (52-93) were in New York to play the mighty Yankees (94-47). It was a mismatch from the start.
For Satchel Paige, this would be his 177th Major League game. It would be the 14th time he pitched in Yankee Stadium, a building where he had particular success, even if his opponents were mighty World Champions. Paige’s lifetime ERA in Yankee Stadium against the Yankees to that point was 2.16 over 29.1 innings.
It didn’t matter how old Satchel Paige was, the man could pitch. It was a crime that fans across the country were only to get a glimpse of the greatness of Satchel Paige, and only at the very end of his career at that.
But on this day, in the first game of a doubleheader, there was no promise or guarantee that Paige would pitch. The mismatch between these two clubs was further exacerbated by the pitchers scheduled to start. For St. Louis, it was Duane Pillette (6-11) going against the reliable and always effective Ed Lopat (15-3) of the Yankees.
But sometimes something crazy happens on the way to a supposedly predetermined outcome. Pillette of the Browns matched Lopat for the first two innings as they both kept their opponent from scoring.
Then, in the third, the Browns, of all teams, mounted a rally against Steady Eddie Lopat. The number seven batter, Jim Dyck, led off the frame with a single. Bobby Young then attempted to bunt Dyck to second, but he actually reached first as Lopat made an error. Pitcher Pillette then failed to sacrifice both runners (Dyck was gunned out at third). With one out Billy Hunter, shortstop (and future Yankee), singled home a run. Then another run scored on a Dick Kryhoski ground out.
The inning soon ended, but the Browns were winning 2-0.
And in the third, and in the fourth, and in the fifth innings, the Yankees still failed to score any runs.
The Browns then scored two more runs (now off relief pitcher Tom Gorman) to up their lead to 4-0.
But, no lead was safe against the Yankees, especially if they were playing the Browns. The Yankees decided to make that point well known in the bottom of the sixth.
Andy Carey walked. He advanced to second on a ground out and then went to third on a wild pitch. Hank Bauer then walked as well before Johnny Mize singled home Carey making it a 4-1 game.
Gene Woodling then walked to load the bases. It seemed that the Yankees had awoken from their slumber.
And that was when Ol’ Satch was called to put out the fire.
The first batter Paige faced was Jerry Coleman who popped out, but Willy Miranda singled home one run… nearly two… Johnny Mize rounded third… but was thrown out at the plate and the inning ended.
Satchel Paige and the Browns had escaped, barely, but they escaped nonetheless.
Neither team scored in the seventh inning and the Browns didn’t score in the eighth.
And then up came the Yankees, still trailing 4-2, but getting ready to do what was necessary to secure the victory.
Irv Noren began the frame by walking. Hank Bauer then hit into a fielder’s choice. Johnny Mize flew out. Gene Woodling singled. With two runners on and two out, up stepped Mickey Mantle.
And Mantle did not disappoint. He singled home Bauer to make it a 4-3 game.
And up stepped Don Bollweg. (Even for the Yankees, not every player was great.) Bollweg flew out. Paige and the Browns escaped again.
In the top of the ninth, Satchel Paige came up to bat with one out and Jim Dyck at third. In Paige’s last at-bat in the Bronx, he hit a grounder to the pitcher that resulted in one out, not two, and the Browns got an insurance run as Dyck scampered home on the play. They now led 5-3.
Paige came out for the bottom of the ninth. He faced five batters allowing a double and a walk, but no runs. No runs. The Browns had won the game. In the process, Satchel Paige had earned the save, his 11th of the season, and the 33rd and final save of his career.
Satchel Paige threw 3.2 innings against the Yankees that day. He allowed four hits. He walked two. He didn’t strike any batter out. He bent, but he didn’t break. He helped the Browns prevail. It was the second-to-last time the Browns would ever beat the Yankees. The last came two days later as a rookie pitcher named Don Larsen beat his future team. The next season, the St. Louis Browns were no longer as they became the Baltimore Orioles.
Satchel Paige would pitch one more time that year, a start against the Detroit Tigers on September 22. He’d win that game, ending on a high note. Twelve years later, as the 1965 season was windowing down, on September 25, as a member of the Kansas City A’s, he’d start a game against the Red Sox. In that game, Ol’ Satch went three innings. And like the great pitcher that he was, he allowed no runs and just one hit (a double to Carl Yastrzemski).