CHAPTER EIGHT (continued,
Keane brought in six-foot-two, 220-pound Staten Island native Pete
Mikkelsen to finish the game. As was the case with many players around the
league, Mikkelsen was familiar to avid baseball fans in the region because he
had pitched for Fargo-Moorhead in the Northern League as a 20-year-old in 1960.
He became a standout high school pitcher after his family moved to
California, but neither his fastball nor his breaking pitch seemed to be more
than minor-league stuff. He threw a palm-ball for his change of pace,
maintaining his fastball motion so as not to tip the pitch. He just held the
ball so far back in his hand that the pitch did not have the velocity of his
fastball and tricked the hitter into swinging early.
This had not been enough to gain him a major-league roster spot, but an arm
injury in 1963 caused him to drop down from a straight overhand delivery.
Suddenly his fastball started to dip most of the time. He was now a sinkerball
pitcher, capable of inducing groundouts.
It was only Mikkelsen's second season in the major leagues, but he had
confidence in his pitches and himself, and along the way he was offered some
good advice, which quickly became ingrained: the edge was his when he entered a
game in the late innings. Batters didn't make any money taking walks in those
situations; they were up there to swing that bat and drive in runs, so they
could drive better cars. Mikkelsen decided if batters swung at his sinking
fastball, they would hit it into the ground. Of course, the ball had to sink.
In the fifth game of the '64 World Series, 23-year-old St. Louis catcher
Tim McCarver clubbed the rookie's 3-2 fastball over Mickey Mantle's head
for a three-run homer that won the game in the 10th inning. It was probably the
undoing of Yankee manager Yogi Berra, who had left-handed options in the
bullpen but let the right-handed Mikkelsen pitch to the lefty McCarver. The
Cardinal catcher also happened to be hot as a flaming sunrise in the Series,
with seven hits in 16 at-bats.
Keane was managing the Cardinals, so he was the beneficiary of
McCarver's blast, which helped his team eventually win the Series in seven
games. Keane sat in the dugout with a million-dollar view that day as
Mikkelsen's fastball to McCarver failed to sink. During the offseason, Berra
was fired, and Keane was offered the job of Yankee manager, a job that forced
him to make some decisions regarding Mikkelsen.
Harmon Killebrew's 40th home run of the 1961 season on
September 8 against Jim Archer cleared the left-field wall by 100 feet, it was
reported at the time. The left-field fence was 380. Killebrew launched the ball
into a parking lot across the street from Kansas City's Municipal Stadium.
Leading 6-4 in the ninth inning, K.C. responded. Rather than pitch to Killebrew
with two outs and Billy Martin on first, relief pitcher John Wyatt plunked
Mikkelsen began the 65 season in a New York uniform before the Yankees
demoted the bespectacled right-hander to Class AAA Toledo in mid-June with the
idea of making him a starting pitcher. The demotion also occurred days after an
incident in a Newark Airport bar in which Keane fined three Yankees and
reprimanded two others following behavior that led to bartenders' refusing to
serve the players further. The New York Times reported Mikkelsen was one of
He had been used exclusively in relief in 1964 and was among the better
relievers in the league that season, but he responded to the experiment in
Toledo by winning three of four starts. That included throwing a no-hitter on
July 4, exactly one week before he took the ball for the ninth inning in
Metropolitan Stadium. The Yankees had flown him more than a thousand miles,
from Florida to Detroit, just days before the series with the Twins. He started
against the Tigers, pitching respectable ball through five innings, but the
experiment as a starter didn't last long. Keane used him for nearly three
innings of relief in the second game of Saturday's split doubleheader, and
Mikkelsen got the win.
He was making his third appearance in four days when he entered the game
following the controversy with Repoz and quickly retired Versalles to begin the
bottom of the ninth inning. Working a walk had become rare for the next batter,
Rollins, but he coaxed a free pass, to the delight of Martin, who in his Yankee
career often used patience to get on base late in the game so one of the
Yankees' big bats could send him around the base paths.
Pre-game honoree Oliva hit a fly ball to Repoz in center for the second out,
with Rollins remaining at first base. Killebrew stepped into the batter's box.
He had 15 home runs at the time, a low mid-season total for a man who was
averaging 47 homers a season since the franchise had relocated to Minnesota,
but he had worked hard to cut down his swing and drive the ball to the opposite
field in Mele's go-go offense.
Mikkelsen had faced Killebrew twice during the Yankees' win Saturday and
induced groundouts both times. Mikkelsen first developed deep confidence in his
sinker against Killebrew while auditioning for the Yankee pitching staff during
spring training in '64. Killebrew drove numerous sinkerballs into the dirt in
one exhibition game, and if Mikkelsen could handle Killebrew with that pitch,
he stood to be a valuable weapon in the Yankees' bullpen.