The Redemption of Ralph Terry

Ralph Terry, perhaps more than anyone else, knows that baseball truly is a game of inches. Vilified by Yankees fans for allowing one of the most dramatic home runs in World Series lore, Ralph Terry was the rare individual who was able to redeem himself two years later on baseball’s biggest stage. While twice attempting to get the last out of a World Series, Ralph Terry had to face two men now in the Hall of Fame, each hitting the ball hard, but with very different results.

Ralph Terry came up to the Yankees in 1956, went to the awful Kansas City A’s for a season and a half, and then returned to the Bronx, where he spent the majority of his career. The big right-hander had a good fastball, and was able to register some very fine seasons in New York. In 1961, Ralph Terry posted a 16-3 mark, largely overlooked because of the Mickey Mantle/Roger Maris home run chase and Whitey Ford’s 25-4 won-lost record. He won 23 and lost 12 in 1962, leading the AL in wins and innings pitched. Ralph Terry also had the dubious honor of leading the majors with 40 home runs allowed that season, as often happens to hurlers with great control.

It was a home run that looked to have doomed Ralph Terry to be remembered in a negative way, off the bat of Bill Mazeroski in the 1961 World Series. The oddest Fall Classic ever, the Yankees lost four games to three to the Pirates, despite winning by scores of 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0! However, with the score of Game Seven knotted at 9-9 in the bottom of the ninth at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field, Ralph Terry threw a 1-0 pitch that Mazeroski knocked over the left field wall for the first walk-off Series homer ever. Ralph Terry, as sad as a man could be, went into manager Casey Stengel’s office moments after the game to apologize foe letting him down. Stengel, who would be “retired” by the Yankees after this series, asked Ralph Terry if Mazeroski had hit his best pitch. When Ralph Terry told him yes, that it was a fastball, the “Ol Perfessor” told him everything was alright.

The 1961 season was like a movie scripted by Yankee fans, as they breezed through the American League setting records and then dismantled the Reds in five games to claim the championship. But the season ended on a sour note for Ralph Terry. He lost the only game New York failed to win, going seven innings and allowing four runs, two on a home run by Cincinnati’s Gordy Coleman. In the Series clincher, Ralph Terry could not hold a 6-0 advantage and was gone after only two innings of work. He gave up a three-run shot to Frank Robinson, but the Yankees pounded a host of Reds’ hurlers and easily prevailed 13-5. When Ralph Terry had his 23-12 season in 1962, New York fans had no idea what to expect from him when the Yankees squared off against the Giants in the World Series.

Although the Yankees were favored, as one looks back at this match-up it is easy to see why it came down to the last out. Although New York had Mantle, Maris, Elston Howard, Bobby Richardson, and Ralph Terry, San Francisco had the likes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe and Matty Alou, Harvey Kuenn, and a pitcher having his own career year, Jack Sanford. The Series began in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, where Whitey Ford struggled to a complete game victory, giving up ten hits as the Yankees won 6-2. Ralph Terry started the second contest and lost 2-0. Sanford, who didn’t start the opener because the Giants had been involved in a playoff with the Dodgers to decide the National League pennant, only let the Yankees get three hits. Ralph Terry pitched well, but a first inning run and then a seventh inning homer by McCovey did him in.

When the Series moved cross-country to New York, the Yankees won Game Three by the score of 3-2. Bill Stafford gave up just two hits to the Giants until the ninth, when catcher Ed Bailey smacked a two run homer off of him to make it a one-run contest. The big blow for the Yankees was a two-run Roger Maris single in the seventh. Second baseman Chuck Hiller’s grand slam the next day for San Francisco knotted the Series at two games each, as Ford lasted only six innings and reliever Jim Coates yielded the home run that was the difference in the 7-3 final. Ralph Terry took the mound two days later after a rainout and was the winner when left fielder Tom Tresh hit a clutch three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth off of Sanford. Ralph Terry’s 5-3 triumph gave the Yankees a 3-2 Series edge as they made the long trip back to the West Coast.

Constant Bay Area rains forced the postponement of Game Six until October 15th, meaning it would be played five days after Game Four. This allowed both team to have their two best pitchers ready; Ford and Ralph Terry for the Yankees and Billy Pierce and Sanford for the Giants. When Ford was bombed for nine hits and five runs in less than five innings, the Giants had a 5-1 lead which Pierce made stand up for a 5-2 win. The deciding seventh game would now be in the hands of 24 game winner Sanford and 23 game winner Ralph Terry. The Yankees were not hitting, as Mantle, Maris, Howard, and Richardson would combine to go a measly 14 for 96 in the seven games. Only Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek, and Tresh did much damage at the plate for the Yankees the entire seven tilts, while the Giants’ future Hall of Famers, Mays, Cepeda, and McCovey, combined for just 13 base knocks between themselves.

Sanford pitched well, but his fatal mistake was issuing a walk to Ralph Terry in the fifth with men on first and second. A .160 lifetime hitter, Ralph Terry saw the first run of the game score as the next batter, Tony Kubek, hit into a double play that scored Moose Skowron. Ralph Terry pitched into the ninth with the 1-0 lead, having given up hits to Sanford and McCovey. But the control that caused him to surrender so many gopher balls during the year on this day served him well, as he issued not a single base on balls. In the bottom of the ninth, holding a 1-0 lead in the seventh game of the World Series, Ralph Terry must have been wondering if he could hold on, or would he lose another World Series?

The first man up, Matty Alou, reached on a bunt single that made it past Ralph Terry on the second base side of the mound. But Ralph Terry, who had only two strikeouts to that point, then proceeded to fan Felipe Alou and Chuck Hiller, who had hit the grand slam off of Ford earlier in the Series. Willie Mays stepped to the plate and hit a ball into right field that Maris was able to corral and hold Mays to a double and prevent Alou from scoring. This single play may have been the greatest contribution Roger Maris ever made to the New York Yankees.

Manager Ralph Houk came to the mound and asked Ralph Terry who he would rather face. McCovey was the batter, with Orlando Cepeda on deck with first base open. Cepeda had knocked in 114 runs and was a right-handed hitter; McCovey, a lefty swinger, at this point in his career was the lesser of the two. He had his then career high of 54 RBI in 1962 and was not yet the established slugger that Cepeda was. Ralph Terry decided to face the left-handed McCovey. Houk sat down and Ralph Terry threw a pitch that McCovey hit as hard as humanly possible right at second baseman Bobby Richardson for the Series clinching out. A foot either way and two runs would have scored, but in a game of inches, the smile on Ralph Terry’s face was a mile wide. He was named the World Series MVP. Ralph Terry would have one more good year with the Yankees and one with Cleveland before his pitching career ended in 1967 with the Mets. His seventh game victory gave New York their last title until 1977, and himself the redemption that few in his sport ever get a chance at.

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