Boyer’s Slam Downs Downing

 

This Week in 1960s Baseball

(October 11, 1964) In Game Four of the World Series, Ken Boyer‘s sixth inning grand slam off Yankee starter Al Downing gave the St. Louis Cardinals a 4-3 victory over the New York Yankees. The St. Louis third baseman is the second National Leaguer to hit a post-season bases-loaded round-tripper.

The Cardinals’ victory tied the Series at two games apiece.

Ken Boyer’s grand slam home run off Al Downing was the game winner as the St. Louis Cardinals took Game Four of the 1964 World Series 4-3.

Ken Boyer’s grand slam home run off Al Downing was the game winner as the St. Louis Cardinals took Game Four of the 1964 World Series 4-3.

Boyer, who would be named the National League MVP for the 1964 season, got only one hit in the game, but it was the one that counted. Downing, the Yankee left-hander who went 13-8 during the regular season and led the American League with 217 strikeouts, had shut out the Cardinals over the first five innings, allowing only one hit.

The Cardinals loaded the bases on back-to-back singles by Carl Warwick and Curt Flood, and an error by second baseman Bobby Richardson that allowed Cardinals shortstop Dick Groat to reach base safely. Boyer, the National League RBI champion for 1964, promptly launched a Downing fastball deep into the left field seats, putting the Cardinals ahead for good.

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Boyer wasn’t the only hero for the Cardinals that day. Cardinals starter Ray Sadecki lasted only a third of an inning, allowing four consecutive hits and two runs before being replaced by Roger Craig. Craig was the Cardinals’ pitching star that day, allowing a third run on an Elston Howard single (run charged to Sadecki) before shutting down the Yankees’ bats, pitching 4.2 scoreless innings and striking out eight batters.

Craig was the pitcher of record when Boyer hit the game-winning home run. Ron Taylor shut out the Yankees over the final four innings for the save.

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Glancing Back, and Remembering Al Downing

When he first came to the big leagues, Al Downing lived and died on the heat of his often-unhittable fastball. And like so many pitchers who experience the inevitable decline in velocity that comes with age, Downing learned to evolve from thrower to pitcher.

But while he was a New York Yankee, what a thrower he was.

As a rookie in 1963, Al Downing averaged 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest strikeout ratio in the league.

As a rookie in 1963, Al Downing averaged 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest strikeout ratio in the league.

A New Jersey native, Downing was signed by the Yankees in 1961 off the campus of Rider University. By 1963, he had worked his way into the Yankees’ starting rotation, an important addition to an already formidable pitching staff. In his rookie season, Downing went 13-5 with a 2.56 ERA. On a Yankees staff that featured Whitey Ford (24-7), Jim Bouton (21-7) and Ralph Terry (17-15), Downing finished second on the staff in shutouts (four) and strikeouts (171), while leading the team (and the league)  in strikeouts per nine innings (8.8). He was the starter (and loser) in Game Two of the 1963 World Series, as the Yankees were shut out by Johnny Podres and the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0. (The Dodgers took the 1963 World Series in four games.)

Downing won 13 games in 1964, while leading the American League in strikeouts (217) and walks (120).  As the Yankees’ fortunes tumbled, so did Downing’s won-lost record: to 12-14 in 1965 and 10-11 in 1966. He rebounded to a 14-10 record in 1966 with a 2.63 ERA, 10 complete games and four shutouts. But pitching 200-plus innings per season took its toll on Downing the flame-thrower, and he was limited to a combined record of 10-8 over the next two seasons.

Following the 1968 season, Downing was traded by the Yankees with Frank Fernandez to the Oakland Athletics for Danny Cater and Ossie Chavarria. His stay in Oakland lasted only two months, and he was traded again, this time with Tito Francona, to the Milwaukee Brewers for Steve Hovley. His combined record for both teams was 5-13 with a 3.52 ERA. The Brewers traded Downing to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Andy Kosco.

With the Dodgers, Downing had the best season of his career in 1971. He went 20-9 with a 2.68 ERA. He pitched 12 complete games with five shutouts, the most in the National League. He tied with Steve Carlton and Tom Seaver for second in wins (Fergie Jenkins won 24 for the Cubs). And he finished third in the Cy Young voting (behind Jenkins and Seaver). He was named Comeback Player of the Year for the National League.

Downing pitched six more seasons for the Dodgers, compiling a 26-28 record over that period. He retired during the 1977 season with a career record of 123-107.

 

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