That day, Sept. 28, 1951, turned out to be one of the more momentous days in the New York Yankees’ glorious history. The Yanks played a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox, and a sweep would clinch the pennant.
In the first game, Allie Reynolds threw a no-hitter. He did walk four Red Sox, so it wasn’t quite a perfect game — “I’m getting lousy,” he said after the game, noting that in his previous no-hitter, he’d walked only three — but it was perfect enough. That guaranteed a tie with Cleveland for the American League title.
Then, in the second game, the Yankees already led by four runs in the sixth inning when Joe DiMaggio stepped to the plate with two runners on. The pitcher was lefthander Chuck Stobbs, a Red Sox bonus baby who was only 21 years old but had been pitching in the big leagues since he was 17. Stobbs had pitched well against the man he’d grown up idolizing, but this time he left a fastball up and DiMaggio smashed a three-run homer to put the game away.
Joe’s brother Dom came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and Joe stood in centerfield and found himself praying for his brother to hit the pennant-clinching out to him. Joe already knew this was his last time around. But Dom DiMaggio flew out to leftfielder Gene Woodling instead.
“Hold that ball for me,” DiMaggio shouted out, and Woodling did. He handed DiMaggio the ball as they were running to the celebration. “It was a tough thing to take off a guy,” Joe would say. “But I wanted it. I never wanted a souvenir more.”
After the game, Joltin’ Joe refused to say if this was the end of the road for him — “The work isn’t finished,” he said — but everybody knew. Casey Stengel approached him in the clubhouse. “Thanks for everything, Joe,” Stengel said.
That was home run No. 361.
Mike Trout, you might have read, hit home run No. 362 on Wednesday.
I wanted to tell the story of DiMaggio’s last home run for two reasons.