By: Scott RossPublished: October 8, 2022

Don Larsen

On October 1, 1955, Don Larsen got the start for the New York Yankees in Game 4 of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, with a chance to give his team a commanding 3-1 lead. But Larsen lasted just 4 innings, giving up five runs on five hits, including two dingers, and two walks, putting his team in a hole they could climb out of as the Dodgers won the game 8-5 and evened the Series at two games apiece. Six days later the Dodgers completed their comeback, winning the franchise's first ever World Series title.

On October 5 of the following year, Larsen was given a shot a redemption as he again took the bump for the Yankees in Game 2 of the World Series against the defending world champion Dodgers, who had already won the opener on the strength of home runs by Jackie Robinson and Gil Hodges off of Whitey Ford. And once again, Larsen shit the bed, recording just 5 outs while giving up four unearned runs on a hit and four walks, with Yankees going on to lose 13-8 and putting themselves down 2-0 to start the Series.

None of this should've come as a surprise. Larsen was 26 by this time, already on his third team and had only once ever led the league in any major statistical category, and that was when he paced the American League with 21 losses in 1954. His nickname was Gooney Bird, he had a secret wife and child and he loved to drink. How much did he like to drink? Let's let Hall of Fame ballplayer and alcoholic Mickey Mantle explain:

“Don had a startling capacity for liquor. Larsen was easily the greatest drinker I’ve known and I’ve known some pretty good ones in my time."

But something strange happened on October 8, 1956. With the Series tied at two games apiece, Yankee manager Casey Stengel again entrusted Larsen with the start against Sal "The Barber" Maglie and the Dodgers.

Larsen started off by striking out both Jim Gilliam and Pee Wee Reese, then got Duke Snider to line out to right. In the second he retired Robinson, Hodges and Sandy Amoros in order. And in the third he put down Carl Furillo, Roy Camanella and Maglie without incident. Hodges put a charge into one in the 5th, a deep drive in the gap between left and center, but Mantle got on his horse and ran it down, reaching across his body to snare it. By the end of the 6th inning Larsen had again gone through the Dodgers without anyone so much as reaching base and the Yankees were up 2-0 thanks to a Mantle home run in the 4th and an RBI single by Hank Bauer in the 6th.

In the seventh, Larsen again retired Gilliam, Reese and Sinder, then Robinson, Hodges and Aromos in the 8th. Come the 9th, Furillo flied out to right, and Campanella ground out for the second out of the inning with Maglie, the pitcher due up.

Brooklyn manager Walter Alston called on pinch hitter Dale Mitchell. Mitchell had been named to a couple of All Star teams early in his career, and even picked up a few down-ballot MVP votes, but by 1956, though just 34, he was cooked. Over the previous three seasons, he'd played 171 games, gone to the plate 194 times and batted .250/.326/.302 with a single home run. Now he was tasked with keeping alive the Dodgers' championship hopes with two outs in the bottom of the 9th against a pitcher who's retired the previous 26 batters.

Mitchell fell behind in the count, finding himself in a 1-2 hole. To this point Larsen had thrown just 96 pitches, 69 of them for strikes. Larsen fired his 97th pitch just a bit up and away, and Mitchell could muster nothing more than check swing. Don "Gooney Bird" Larsen had thrown the only perfect game in World Series history.

Larsen's performance that day was, in the words of the great Vin Scully, "the biggest diamond in the biggest ring."

From that day forward, Larsen was a topflight pitcher in October, pitching 30 1/3 innings across 8 appearances, with a record of 4-1, and ERA of 1.78, while allowing an OPS of just .478, though eh remained a perfectly mediocre pitcher during the regular season, finishing with a career won-loss record of 81-91 and an adjusted ERA of 99, just a tick below average.

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