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Mazeroski's blast a rebirth for Pirates

Mazeroski's Series blast a rebirth for Pirates

Bill Mazeroski had only one thing on his mind when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning of a tied Game 7 in the 1960 World Series -- and it certainly wasn't winning a championship with one swing.

"The only thing I could think of was try to hit the ball hard somewhere," Mazeroski said. "I had no idea of hitting a home run. I wasn't even thinking about it."

Mazeroski began the at-bat by taking a fastball from Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry that sailed high. Ahead in the count, 1-0, he correctly decided that Terry would try the fastball again.

"I was looking for a fastball," Mazeroski said. "I figured he was going to try and get ahead of me. He got it down to where I could reach it, and I hit it."

He drove the pitch over the left-field wall at Forbes Field to give the Pirates their first World Series victory since 1925 and set off a night-long party throughout the city.

As Major League Baseball crowned a new home run king this week, other memorable home runs came to mind for baseball fans. For Pirates fans, the question of what was the club's most memorable home run is easily answered: Mazeroski. 1960 World Series.

Heading into the ninth, it looked as though Mazeroski's heroics would not be necessary. The hero for the Pirates was going to be catcher Hal Smith, who punctuated a five-run Pirates rally in the eighth with a go-ahead three-run homer to put the Bucs ahead, 9-7, heading into the ninth.

But the Yankees stayed alive when they scored two runs off Bob Friend and Harvey Haddix to set the stage for Mazeroski -- who had no idea he was about to make history.

"When I came off the field, I didn't even know I was up," Mazeroski said. "I had forgotten with all the happenings going on. I forgot I was on the on-deck circle. Somebody had to yell and wake me up and say 'You're up, Maz.'"

When he did step to the plate, he delivered in a way most did not expect. He never hit more than 19 home runs in a season and was known for quickly turning double plays, not hitting the ball out of the park.

"If you look at that lineup, he's probably one of the least likely guys to hit a home run," said Gabriel Schechter, research associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. "Forget about the situation; forget about the pressure of anyone hitting a home run there. He was just the least likely."

It was a fitting ending to a Series that was about recognition and revitalization for the Pirates. Mazeroski made a name for himself as a World Series hero, and the Pirates put themselves back on the baseball map after years of losing by taking down the mighty Yankees.

"It was that David and Goliath thing," baseball historian and author Paul Adomites said. "Little-known Pittsburgh versus the Yankees was at the heart of that series."

The Pirates played the role of David in 1960 because they had been awful in the 1950's -- they finished last six times in the decade, while the Yanks won six championships in the same period.

"Just looking at the '50s, the Pirates were about as bad a team as there was," Schechter said. "From '52-'55 they were the doormats. For them to get off the mat so quickly and win the pennant was a remarkable thing. And to beat the Yankees was really outrageous."

That outrageous victory over the storied Yankees led to a renaissance in Pirates baseball. While the Bucs did not win another World Series until 1971, they were a huge part of the Pittsburgh sports scene again.

"It revitalized the city in terms of baseball," Adomites said. "Pittsburgh liked the Pirates, but they sure didn't fall in love with them until that 1960 season. It became a big baseball town once again."

When the ball off Mazeroski's bat sailed over the left-field wall it provided a moment that will forever be in Pirates lore, and drew new fans to the game. It captured the imagination of children and men alike and made them love baseball.

"To win, and win the way they did was a moment that made me a baseball fan forever," Adomites said. "And it did that for a whole generation of Pittsburgh fans."

Jeremy Anders is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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