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Good Times: Pirates fans celebrate historic home run on Mazeroski Day

Fans+gathered+outside+the+Forbes+Field+Wall+across+from+Schenley+Plaza+to+celebrate+Mazeroski+Day.+Edward+Major+II+%7C+Staff+Photographer%0A
Fans gathered outside the Forbes Field Wall across from Schenley Plaza to celebrate Mazeroski Day. Edward Major II | Staff Photographer

Fans gathered outside the Forbes Field Wall across from Schenley Plaza to celebrate Mazeroski Day. Edward Major II | Staff Photographer

Fans gathered outside the Forbes Field Wall across from Schenley Plaza to celebrate Mazeroski Day. Edward Major II | Staff Photographer

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

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It was Oct. 13, 1985, and Saul Finkelstein was having a bad day.

But it was also the 25th anniversary of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Yankees. So Finkelstein, a lifelong Pirates fan, stopped by the 457-foot marker on the Forbes Field Wall across from Schenley Plaza in Oakland.

He sat down at the flagpole, pulled out a cassette recording of the original broadcast and listened to the game all the way through. It made him feel better.

After that day, Finkelstein began coming back every year on Oct. 13, to relive one of the greatest baseball games ever played.

Finkelstein met Pittsburgh sports author Jim O’Brien seven years later at a Piratefest event, where O’Brien was asking if anyone had stories about the 1960 game. Finkelstein shared his tradition, and O’Brien decided to join in.

About 25 people showed up that year, including leader Herb Soltman and the other members of the Game 7 Gang — a group of friends from all across Pittsburgh who met at the first reenactment and have stayed in touch ever since.

The crowd swelled to about 200 people in the years that followed, and more than 1,500 fans showed up for the 50th anniversary of the game in 2010.

The tradition continued Thursday as Soltman –– a 1956 Pitt graduate –– stood up to speak at a makeshift podium outside the remainder of the outfield wall at Forbes Field just before 12:30 p.m. Thursday. Dozens of Pirates fans assembled to take in the Mazeroski Day celebration hosted by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

“My name is Herb Soltman. I’m the leader of the Game 7 Gang, and the only turf I’ll protect is the Forbes Field Wall,” Soltman told the crowd. “It’s time to recall, reminisce and rejoice. Let’s play ball.”

At 12:59 p.m., everyone rose for the singing of the national anthem, then settled in with their hot dogs and Cracker Jacks as they awaited the first pitch.

Between 75 and 100 people had gathered when the broadcast began blaring out of an iPod and through the speakers. Some sat on benches, some sat in lawn chairs and others just stood around to take it all in.

Eventual World Series MVP Bobby Richardson led off the game for the Yankees and lined out to Pirates shortstop Dick Groat. Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski caught a pop-up for the second out, then third baseman Don Hoak caught another pop-up to end the 1-2-3 top of the first inning.

After every out, the assembled crowd applauded as though the game were taking place live.

Bob Skinner drew a walk for the Pirates in the bottom of the first inning, the first baserunner of the game. Rocky Nelson followed with a two-run home run to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead, and the crowd roared.

The Pirates scored two more in the bottom of the second, and the crowd cheered again, sensing a blowout in the making.

But, as everyone there knew, this one was far from over.

The Yankees were a powerhouse like no other, competing in their 25th World Series and looking for a 19th championship. They won 15 games in a row to end the regular season — an MLB record. And they had defeated the Pirates by 10 runs or more three times in the series.

But the Pirates had scraped out three wins of their own over the Yankees by three runs or less, and here they were –– locked in a winner-take-all Game 7 for the World Series title.

The Yankees got their first hit of the game –– and scored their first run –– on Bill Skowron’s solo home run in the top of the fifth, then took the lead on Yogi Berra’s three-run blast in the top of the sixth.

The fans rose to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch, then groaned when the Yankees added to their lead with back-to-back hits in the top of the eighth.

“That could be it,” one fan muttered.

But the Pirates battled back to take a 9-7 lead on Hal Smith’s pinch-hit three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth.

“[Smith] was the hero, until the last of the ninth,” Game 7 Gang member John Urso said. “Everybody forgot about him.”

The crowd went wild, only to listen in disbelief as Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente bobbled a ball in right field for the second inning in a row, allowing the Yankees to tie the game in the top of the ninth.

Luckily for Clemente, another Hall of Famer was due up to start the bottom half for the Pirates.

Mazeroski was the first Pirate to come to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, and there would be no need for any others. The Hall of Fame second baseman sent a long fly ball over the still-standing wall to give the Pirates a 10-9 walk-off victory and their third World Series title.

Everyone in attendance stood and cheered in celebration –– no high-fives, though, since they didn’t exist in 1960, according to Soltman.

“I was crazy enough to be at the mob scene at home plate when Maz came around,” Soltman said.

If you weren’t there with him in 1960 when Mazeroski rounded third base, jumping and wildly waving his cap in the air, you can still experience the moment every year on Oct. 13.

“We’re always told we can’t turn back the clock. Nonsense,” Soltman said. “We can and we should.”

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Good Times: Pirates fans celebrate historic home run on Mazeroski Day