May 23, 1948
Big time players rise to the occasion on a big time stage.
The Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio rose higher than the Indians’ Bob Feller in front of the second largest crowd to ever watch a big league baseball game, and the biggest ever in Cleveland. DiMaggio hit three home runs and drove in all six runs for New York, while Feller could not hold an early four-run lead with 78,431 in the seats.
“I hit three once before,” DiMaggio said. “It was so long ago, I don’t remember the other team. I know it wasn’t Cleveland though.” DiMaggio hit three home runs once before, at St. Louis on June 13, 1937.
Cleveland used a big home run of its own to help take an early lead off of former teammate, Allie Reynolds. Thurman Tucker started the bottom of the first inning with an infield single. After Larry Doby struck out and Lou Boudreau grounded to shortstop, Eddie Robinson walked with two outs. Joe Gordon singled to center field to score Tucker and give the Indians an early 1-0 lead.
Ken Keltner followed with a three-run homer to left field to give the Indians a 4-0 lead after one inning. Keltner’s 13th homer of the season remains a league lead and had the Indians sitting pretty after just a frame. However, Reynolds would only allow two more hits to the Tribe for the rest of the game.
The Yankees and DiMaggio cracked the scoreboard in the top of the fourth inning off of Feller and the Indians. Tommy Henrich started the inning with a walk and DiMaggio hit a two-run homer to cut the Indians lead to 4-2. His eighth homer of the season landed in the left field seats.
Two innings later in the sixth, DiMaggio gave the Yankees the lead with a mammoth homer. Henrich again walked, then Charlie Keller singled before DiMaggio hit a titanic home run into the crowds of people standing past the left field fence. The ball traveled 465 feet and landed at the base of the bleachers.
“That would be the longest ball I’ve ever hit in the majors,” DiMaggio said. “I had one over 475 (feet) in an exhibition game, but that wasn’t against Feller.”
The ball started out as a line drive and had plenty of steam left when it cleared the temporary fence in left center field between the 365 and 380 signs. DiMaggio’s blast gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead after six innings.
Feller (5-3) finished the seventh inning, but was removed from the game for pinch-hitter Hank Edwards to lead off the bottom half of the inning. Feller allowed seven hits (three to DiMaggio), five runs, two walks and three strikeouts. While Feller’s curveball was dominating, his fastball lacked his normal zip. He knew it from the time he started to warm up for the game.
“DiMaggio is always tough for me,” Feller said. “But today I didn’t have any stuff. I could feel it when I was warming up and I was lucky to get by as long as I did.”
“I was throwing the ball just about where I wanted it but not fast enough,” Feller said. “Joe hit one high and inside for the first homer and that long one was on a low outside pitch.”
Bob Muncrief came on in relief of Feller in eighth inning and had no better luck with DiMaggio. Joltin’ Joe hit a one-out solo home run to extend New York’s lead to 6-4. His final blast of the day just flew past the 385-foot sign and the outstretched glove of left fielder Dale Mitchell. DiMaggio was 4-for-4 on the day, driving in all six runs. Only a first inning single stayed in the ballpark for the game.
Cleveland did have one last rally in their bats in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Indians started the ninth with a walk to Mitchell. Yankees manager Bucky Harris had seen enough and removed Reynolds for lefty reliever Joe Page. Reynolds (6-1) was showing fatigue, likely from his tough first inning. He pitched eight innings, allowing six hits, five runs, five walks and four strikeouts.
Hal Peck pinch-hit for Jim Hegan and laced a single off Page to put runners on first and second base with no one out. Joe Tipton pinch-hit for Muncrief and bunted the two runners to scoring position. Allie Clark became Boudreau’s third straight pinch-hitter when he took Tucker’s spot and walked to load the bases.
With the bases loaded and one out, Pat Seerey struck out when he pinch-hit for Doby. Boudreau walked, forcing Mitchell to score and cutting the lead to 6-5, with the tying and winning run in scoring position.
“Boudreau is one of the toughest clutch hitters around,” Page said. “I wasn’t going to give him anything good to swing at, even if it meant walking a run in.”
Page proceeded to strikeout Robinson to end the game on a pitch that may not have been a strike.
“I threw the ball high and on the inside to Robinson,” the big lefty Page said. “My guardian angel must have been with me, too.” Page picked up his fifth save of the season.
Cleveland’s offense was held to just seven hits on the afternoon with four of those knocks coming in the first inning against Reynolds. The Indians will need to slow down DiMaggio and increase the offense if they wish to find a victory in the second half of the doubleheader.
The narrow defeat is a depressing one considering the poor effort the Indians received from Feller. Cleveland’s chances to win the second game of the doubleheader seem thin with Don Black (0-0) on the mound for the Indians. Black has been hit around in his two previous starts. The Yankees counter with Ed Lopat (2-3). The southpaw has won 13 of 15 starts against the Tribe over his career with the Chicago White Sox.
Photo: AP Photo