1959: “We go to Chicago!”
National League President Warren Giles also rendered his decision on the Braves’ protest of the Dodger game on September 15th. Giles decision was “After personal inspection of the left-field screen at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and satisfying myself as to the place the ball hit the screen support and the exact spot the ball lodged in the screen, both of which generally agree with (Braves’ GM John) McHale’s report and as a result of a verbal report from all of our 16 umpires the last two days, I have definitely concluded the call of a Ground Rules double on the hit by Adcock in your game of September 15 was a correct decision. It was the unanimous decision of our 16 umpires that the ruling conformed with the understanding and the Ground Rules interpretation under which all National League games have been played at the Coliseum in 1959. Milwaukee’s protest is, therefore, denied.”Warren Giles, National Leagues President, September 18, 1959
Three National League teams are within two games of each, two of them, the Dodgers and Giants, going head to head and the Braves are in Philadelphia, playing their game and watching the scoreboard.
The decision Alston had to make was to which starting pitcher would begin the day game and the night game. Alston had Craig and Drysdale, but in Alston’s opinion, Craig had a better overall day record than Drysdale and it was Craig who received the nod.John Old, Los Angeles Herald-Express, September 19, 1959
If the pennant race did not need additional attention, a sponsor had supplied a two-week vacation for two to Japan for the Most Valuable Player of the critical Dodger-Giant series. Craig laid first claim when he pitched a complete game for the 4-1 win over the Giants. Craig not only pitched well, but he had a single and drove in a run for his own support. The Giants’ starting pitcher was left hander John Antonelli, and Alston wanted as many right-hand bats in the lineup, so Furillo was in the lineup in right field and Joe Pignatano was behind the plate in place of Roseboro. All of Alston’s moves paid off. Furillo singled to drive in a run and scored one run, Pignatano had two hits and drove in a run and Wills had three hits with one RBI. The top of the Dodger lineup was a combined two hits in 22 at bats, but the bottom of the lineup came through with seven hits and three RBI in 14 at bats.
After the first game win, Craig lay on the trainer’s room table and told Alston, “I’m ready to work in relief (for the second game).”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 19, 1959 Alston again went with a right-handed lineup against the Giants’ left hand pitcher, Mike McCormick. Moon was the only starter who hit from the left side exclusively. This meant Pignatano would start and play the second game as catcher and he would provide physical and mental support to the Dodger starter, Drysdale.
In the bottom of the first inning, Drysdale couldn’t find his control and walked the first three hitters to load the bases with none out. The veteran Pignatano took charge of the situation. He went to the mound and said he told Drysdale, “I told him not to let up. I told him to keep firing the ball.”Jimmy Cannon, Los Angeles Herald-Express, September 23, 1959 Drysdale started to fire the ball. He fanned the next three Giants and prevented a big inning. However, in the second inning, the Giants pushed over a run and led 1-0 through six innings. The top of the seventh inning changed the game, the doubleheader, and maybe the pennant.
With one out, singles by Don Demeter and Wills and a walk to Pignatano loaded the bases. Essegian was then safe at first on a fielding error, and the tying run scored. Gilliam broke the tie when he drove home two runs with a double and Neal followed him with a two-run double for the Dodger five-run outburst and they finished the seventh inning leading, 5-1.
Everyone on the team was coming through. Pignatano, catching two games in one day, had a single and scored a run. Wills singled and scored a run. Four Dodger pitchers fanned 13 Giants in the second game.
Alston went with his best in the later innings. The relief pitcher, Sherry, who had an easy seventh inning, wobbled in the eighth. The last out of the inning came when Alston brought in left-hander McDevitt to face the great power hitter McCovey with men on the corners and McDevitt got a strikeout. In the ninth inning, Alston went to Churn, and he set the Giants’ down without a run. The Dodgers had a doubleheader sweep. For the first time since July 29th, the Dodgers were in first place, although tied with the Giants.
From September 2nd to September 19th, Churn had been a life saver. He pitched in six games with three wins and one save. The second game save over the Giants would be his only major league save. His effective relief had been a necessary component for the club down the stretch.
The Braves were keeping the race tight also. Their win over the Phillies put them a half game behind the Dodgers and the Giants as the Braves now had one less win than the identical Dodgers and Giants’ record of 82-66.
The 1958 season had been a long one for the Dodgers. Their record fell below .500 for the first time since 1944 and to add insult to injury, the Giants had defeated the Dodgers in 16 of 22 games. The National League race was incentive enough, but to beat the Giants in San Francisco was always satisfying to any Dodger club.
In the final game of the series, Alston’s dilemma was to choose between starting pitchers Koufax and Podres and Podres was elected. After the game, Alston decided on Podres as Koufax would have been pitching on three days’ rest.Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 21, 1959
Podres, who had won several big games for Alston in the past, again gave him the performance he was seeking. He lasted until two outs in the eighth inning and struck out nine Giants. Meanwhile, the Dodgers took an early 2-0 lead and added two more seventh inning runs for a 4-0 lead. The man leading the team was the seventh place hitter, Wills, who had another three hits and an RBI in the game. His second-inning double was his 21st hit in his last 38 at bats. He would later add two more hits in the game and be named the player of the series, winning the trip to Japan. On September 7th, Wills’ average had dropped to .209, but his torrid hitting now had his average at a robust .274. Bob Hunter would write of Wills a few days later, “It looks as if a new star is born.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 23, 1959
Giant pitchers did not help their cause with eight walks and a 4-0 Dodger lead narrowed to 4-2 in the eighth inning. Koufax retired the final hitter in the eighth inning with the tying runs on base and in the ninth inning, the Dodgers scored four times to break the game open and the extra runs were invaluable.
Koufax opened the ninth by walking the first two Giants and in the middle of the at bat of the third hitter, he was relieved by Clem Labine. Labine walked Landrith, but the walk was charged to Koufax. The lead may have been 8-2 for the Dodgers, but with none out, it appeared McCovey would get one more at bat and Mays and Cepeda would follow McCovey. However, Labine finished off the Giants with a strikeout and a double play to clinch the three-game sweep over the Giants and the right to first place. The save by Labine was his first for the team since July 24th, almost two months earlier.
It had been a remarkable day, one that began with the Giants and the Dodgers tied for first place, the Braves a half game behind. The Braves won the earlier game, making them tied for first in the middle of the Dodger-Giant game. The Dodger win over San Francisco put them alone in first place, the Braves were now in second place, a half game behind and the Giants fell to third place, albeit just one game behind the Dodgers.
On Monday, September 21st, the Dodgers had an open date, but despite their 3 a.m. arrival in St. Louis, the players had requested they work out. The Giants were traveling to Chicago to play the Cubs. The Braves, the only team among the pennant contenders playing, defeated the Pirates in Pittsburgh and now their record was identical with the Dodgers at 82-67 and the Giants remained one game behind.
The National League office made plans for a potential of a three-way playoff between the Giants, Braves, and Dodgers. Two teams had met before in league playoffs, but never had three teams been tied at the end of the season. The National League at that time had a playoff system of two wins in three games, but fairness required each team to play each other and each team requiring at least one game at home. There were several possibilities and still five games left to play by the three teams.
The Los Angeles Examiner newspaper had columnists Bob Hunter covering the Dodgers, Mel Durslag following the Braves, and general columnist Vincent X. Flaherty, notable for his support to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles, traveling with the Giants. The impact of the games could be measured by three major newspapers in Los Angeles now putting the game report on the front page of the newspaper and not just the sports page.
The games between the three clubs on September 22nd would provide two clubs with unpleasant surprises. The first blow was to the Giants who took a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning in Chicago, but a lightning-bolt home run by George Altman with a man aboard made the Cubs winners and the late loss hurt the Giants severely.
As the Dodgers prepared to meet the Cardinals, the Braves scored early and never trailed in the game as they defeated Pittsburgh for a half-game lead. The Dodgers batted first in St. Louis and scored three early runs, but the Cardinals responded with four runs in the bottom of the first. The Dodgers tied the game in the second inning and took a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the third inning, but it wasn’t the night for the Dodger pitchers. Starter Koufax did not get out of the first inning and Alston went to the bullpen five more times with effective relief only in the last three innings.
Taking advantage of his bench, Alston set a major-league record by using nine pinch-hitters in the game and had success with three of them, driving in five runs. The Dodgers trailed 11-7 in the ninth and young Frank Howard got them closer with a three-run home run, but a game that saw 21 runs, 28 hits, 14 walks and four home runs only meant the Dodgers were a run short and with the Braves win, one game from first place.
On this date, Walter O’Malley announced the three games in Chicago would be televised back to Los Angeles on KTTV. Previously, only games played by the Dodgers in San Francisco had been televised back to Los Angeles, but O’Malley knew the fan interest of the moment would be high for his team. Bud Furillo of the Los Angeles Herald-Express said the announcement made one famous fan very happy. Furillo wrote, “When I told Frank (Sinatra) the final Dodger series was televised here he clicked his French heels and advised producer Jack Cummings to draw up another shooting schedule.” (Sinatra was in the process of starring in the film, “Can-Can.”)Bud Furillo, Los Angeles Herald-Express, September 23, 1959
Another game, another day off the September calendar, a bitter month for the Giants. They would lose their fifth game in a row on September 23rd, a 9-8, 10th inning loss to the Cubs and again the winning run came on a home run in the Cubs’ last at bat. Meanwhile, the Braves were frustrating themselves in Pittsburgh. Eddie Mathews of the Braves hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning to tie the game. Mathews got new life when a Pittsburgh fan upset the Pirates’ catcher’s chance to catch a foul pop fly when the catcher reached into the stands. The big moment for the Braves was cut short as the Pirates scored a solo run in the eighth inning and the Braves took a 5-4 defeat, forcing them to see the outcome of the Dodger-Cardinal game.
In St. Louis, Craig was taking the mound for the Dodgers. Craig, the pitcher who had started the 1959 season in Spokane, shut out the Cardinals, 3-0, allowing just two hits over the last five innings. Don Demeter broke open a 1-0 game with a two-run single in the eighth inning for the cushion used by Craig. Now again, the Dodgers and Braves were tied for first place with three games to play, and the Giants’ skid had them at two games back, but it felt like 10. The Dodgers had concerns during the game when Hodges was hit by a pitch and his left elbow swelled to the point where he was considered questionable for the final three games of the season.
Walter O’Malley and Buzzie Bavasi made the trip to Chicago for the final weekend of the regular season. The Dodger-Cub game was typical for the team for the 1959 season. Both teams scored single runs in the first and fifth innings for a 2-2 tie, but in the sixth inning, Hodges, who was not expected to play because of the elbow, slugged a two-run double for a 4-2 Dodger lead. The Cubs had defeated the Giants in two straight and pushed over single runs in the seventh and eighth innings to tie the game. McDevitt had come into the game in the eighth inning for Drysdale and after a solo home run by Ernie Banks to tie the game, held the Cubs scoreless until removed for Sherry in the 10th inning. There were two on and one out and Sherry was facing Banks, the 1958 National League Most Valuable Player going for a consecutive National League Most Valuable Player Award. The reliever got Banks on a strikeout for the second out and then got the final out of the 10th inning without the Cubs scoring.
In the 11th inning, Hodges, one day removed from a swollen elbow and not expected to play, homered to left field for a one-run lead and Sherry earned his win by stopping the Cubs in the 11th inning, leaving a runner stranded in scoring position. The Dodgers ended their game a half game in front of the Braves and then the 6-3 loss to the Phillies that night moved the Braves one game back.
Saturday was no day for the Dodgers. The Cubs began hitting early and by the third inning led 9-0 and by the fourth inning, it was 12-0 Cubs and there would be no Dodger magic that day. And, the 1959 National League pennant race took another turn as the Braves defeated the Phillies in a 3-2 squeaker as the Braves scored the deciding run in the bottom of the eighth inning. The National League pennant race was knotted again.
Sunday, September 27, the final day of the regular season had the Dodgers and Braves both tied for first place and the Giants 1 ½ games back. Remarkably, the Giants still had an actual mathematical chance to make a three-way tie if the Dodgers and Braves both lost and the Giants won a doubleheader in St. Louis.
The possibilities were numerous for the endgame of this season. The Dodgers or Braves could win the pennant outright, the Dodgers and Braves could tie, the Giants could be involved with a three-way tie. And everything pinned on one day and one game for two teams and two games by the Giants. Karl Hubenthal’s cartoon on the cover of the sports page for the Los Angeles Examiner had his prototypical Los Angeles citizen collapsed in front of a television set, smoke billowing from the screen with a caption, “We’ll Never Be The Same.”Karl Hubenthal, Los Angeles Examiner, September 27, 1959
Alston spoke with his team before the game. Alston told reporters he said, “Let’s just play like we have been, men. The pressure today is no different than any other day.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 28, 1959
Craig was given the ball for the start and as he had done since his recall in June, came through with a 7-1 complete game win. It was Craig’s third complete game win in nine days. Craig beat the Cubs with his arm and his bat as he drove home the Dodgers’ first run and Wills scored from first base on the same play when a slow relay from the Cub outfield gave him time to score and the Dodgers never faltered from the 2-0 start. In appreciation, Cub fans in Wrigley Field gave Craig a loud ovation for his pitching when Craig came to bat in the eighth inning.Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 28, 1959 Los Angeles Times writer Frank Finch revealed what a confident Craig had said to him over a month ago. Apparently, in a conversation with the writer, the Dodger pitcher had said, “You are now shaking the hand that will pitch the club to the top.”Frank Finch, Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1959 Walter O’Malley praised his staff and team. “I’ll say one thing for this team of ours. You know in baseball you can win the easy way or the hard way. But not the Dodgers. They’ve got to win the craziest way.” Frank Finch, Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1959
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee the Braves were defeating the Phillies and the Giants were handed a bitter end to their season when the Cardinals scored two eighth-inning runs for another late-inning Giant loss. After 154 games, the Dodgers and Braves would meet in a best two of three-game playoff for only the third time in National League history and the Dodgers had been involved in the previous two playoffs, losing in 1946 to St. Louis and 1951 to the New York Giants.
Roy Campanella, the Dodgers’ great hitting catcher who ended his playing career from serious spinal injuries suffered in an auto accident told columnist Vincent X. Flaherty of his admiration for the team and how he knew the outcome for the season would be. “I know the Dodgers are going to beat the Braves in a playoff. And that’s what counts now. Tell ‘em Campy’s coming. (to Los Angeles)”Vincent X. Flaherty, Los Angeles Examiner, September 28, 1959 Campanella had great praise for starting pitcher Craig and Alston. “I caught him (Craig) in 1955. I said, “Roger, if you learn to keep sliders inside on left-hand hitters, you got it made.” Campanella cheered the Dodger team. “I never saw any Dodger team work harder than the Dodgers at spring training. Above all, tell that skipper (Alston) I think he did a great job just as he always does. The Dodgers wouldn’t be the Dodgers without him.”Vincent X. Flaherty, Los Angeles Examiner, September 28, 1959
Nothing during this season had ever been easy and the playoffs would be no break for the Dodgers. They had played a Sunday game in Chicago, would face the Braves in Milwaukee for the first game of the playoffs on Monday and on Tuesday play the Braves in Los Angeles.
The first game of the playoffs had Alston in a bind. Over the weekend, he had used his three top starting pitchers, Drysdale, Podres, and Craig and he made his choice to start McDevitt. The Dodgers scored early and led 1-0, but in the second inning McDevitt allowed a walk and two singles and Alston went to his best relief pitcher, Sherry. The Braves took the lead in the second inning on an infield out, but after that, Sherry locked the door. In the last 7 innings, he allowed just four singles and he retired nine of the last 10 hitters. Roseboro hit a solo home run for the Dodgers to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning and the advantage moved to the Dodgers in the first game, 3-2.
During and after the game in Milwaukee, long lines formed at the Coliseum to purchase tickets for the playoff game in Milwaukee. Newspaper photos showed Los Angeles citizens, students, cab drivers, restaurant cooks and all employees in every walk of life listening to the outcome on radio and rooting for their home team. And now, their team was within one game of the 1959 World Series.
The Dodgers and Braves flew from Milwaukee into Los Angeles to play a day game on September 29, the Dodgers’ third city in three days. This time they would have the home advantage, but the Braves early on held the whip hand on the Dodgers. The Braves immediately went after Drysdale and led 3-1 after two innings. The Braves added a single run in the fifth and in the eighth inning and the Coliseum crowd watched morosely as Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette allowed just two hits from the fifth through the eighth inning. In the ninth inning, Koufax walked the bases full and with two out, Labine relieved to hold the game in place. Labine fanned Mickey Vernon of the Braves for the final out and keeping the Braves from scoring in the ninth would turn out to be critical.
So many Dodger wins had been done in unexpected ways in 1959 and their hands were full, down by three runs in the ninth inning. The rally started innocently with a single by Wally Moon. Snider then singled, and Hodges singled to load the bases. Norm Larker, the Dodgers’ hottest hitter, with seven hits in his last 13 at bats then singled off the left field screen for two runs and Hodges went from first to third base. Braves’ manager Fred Haney brought in his ace left-hand pitcher Warren Spahn to face John Roseboro, but Alston’s counter move was Carl Furillo and it was Furillo who tied the game with a sacrifice fly.