Don Larsen can’t get away from hearing about his perfect game 60 years ago against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series — and the 86-year-old former Yankee wouldn’t have it any other way.
Larsen owns the only perfect game in World Series history, which dates to 1903. “I think about it myself all day long,’’ Larsen said last week from his home in Hayden, Idaho. “I can’t forget it. I don’t want to.’’
Larsen expects to be at Yankee Stadium on Sunday on Old-Timers’ Day, saying “I haven’t missed one yet.’’
Larsen pitched for eight teams and was 81-91 in a 14-year career. His masterpiece made all that seem irrelevant. It might never have happened if manager Casey Stengel hadn’t forgiven the righthander’s performance in Game 2, when he lasted only 1 2⁄3 innings after walking four batters. Four unearned runs scored in a six-run inning that wiped out a 6-0 Yankees lead.
As he was pitching hitless ball in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium, Larsen said he did not think much about what was unfolding until after the seventh inning, when he had retired 21 straight batters.
The only Dodger close to getting a hit had been Jackie Robinson, whose second-inning line drive off the glove of third baseman Andy Carey was deflected to shortstop Gil McDougald. He got Robinson by a step at first. Another close call came when centerfielder Mickey Mantle made a nice running catch on a long fly ball by Gil Hodges in the fifth.
Mantle’s fourth-inning home run off Sal Maglie was the first hit of the game.
Larsen didn’t quite get why everyone was avoiding him as the innings went by. “Mantle came in from the outfield and I said to him, ‘Look at the scoreboard. Wouldn’t it be something! Two more innings to go.’ He just walked away. Everybody wouldn’t say anything to me.
“They were all afraid to say something, like a jinx. It didn’t bother me. If it was going to happen, it would happen. I was by myself for the last two innings. Even Yogi [Berra, his catcher] didn’t talk to me. They were afraid of me.’’
Larsen struck out pinch hitter Dale Mitchell looking on a 1-and-2 pitch for the final out. Berra charged from behind the plate and leaped into Larsen’s arms.
Larsen was named MVP of the Series, which the Yankees won in seven games.
He said he remembers the event as if it were yesterday, but at the same time, “it doesn’t seem like it ever happened.’’