The 1965 Pennant Race
Somehow, the team was staying afloat in first place, but injuries were taking a toll. The club was still ninth in the National League in runs scored. Cartoonist Karl Hubenthal had a feature in The Sporting News that showed First Lady Lady Bird Johnson holding a phone for President Lyndon Johnson saying “It’s long distance calling...someone in Los Angeles wants to know where he can apply for Medicare.” In the bottom right corner of the cartoon, Hubenthal had drawn a hapless Los Angeles Dodger player with injuries to his ankle, hamstring, knee, finger, elbow, back, shoulder, neck, thumb, and finally the headaches suffered by Manager Walter Alston. In addition to Tommy Davis’ ankle, Lou Johnson had broken a thumb, Wes Parker had a sore shoulder, John Roseboro suffered from back problems, Drysdale had a tender knee, Willie Davis pulled rib cartilage, Jim Brewer’s elbow, and most importantly, the chronic arthritic elbow of Koufax.Karl Hubenthal, The Sporting News, July 3, 1965
Despite the injuries, Alston was not letting his players feel sorry for themselves. Until June 25th, the club had not lost more than two straight games. However, a stretch that saw them lose eight of 11 games to put them into a tie for first place caught Alston’s attention. After a 7-4 loss in Cincinnati on July 5th where they lost two leads and made two errors, Alston closed the clubhouse doors and spoke to his players as only he could. Alston was aware of his outburst. The Reds that night had fireworks after the game and as the reporters were allowed in the clubhouse, Alston asked if the fireworks were over. “The ones outside, I mean.”The Sporting News, July 24, 1965 Coach Danny Ozark said, “We needed something like that to loosen us up.”The Sporting News, July 24, 1965 The team responded to Alston’s comments and won the next night, scoring 11 runs and went back into first place.
The game of July 7th had a new stratagem unleashed by Alston. With the Dodgers trailing the Reds in Cincinnati, 5-3, Willie Crawford was scheduled to pinch-hit for pitcher Howie Reed against a right hand pitcher. Dick Sisler, the Reds’ manager, countered with left hand pitcher Bill McCool to face the left hand hitting Crawford. In a bit of a surprise, Alston sent up pitcher Don Drysdale to hit for Crawford. But why not Drysdale? He was hitting .302 and more importantly, slugging .567 before the at bat. Alston’s best laid plans didn’t work out. Drysdale hit into a double play, ending the inning and the Dodgers lost, 7-6. Drysdale would be called on to pinch-hit several more times during the season and his presence created more roster flexibility for Alston.
At the All-Star break, the National League race was getting tighter. The Reds were in first place by three percentage points over the Dodgers. The Giants were three games behind, the Phillies 3 1/2 games out, and the Braves were 5 1/2 out. Believe it or not, the powerful San Francisco Giants had scored four fewer runs than the Dodgers, but at the same time, their pitching was nearly as good in runs allowed. Bob Hunter wrote in The Sporting News the New York Yankees were known for “Murderer’s Row” but the Dodgers were the “Banjo Boppers”. Hunter also wrote the Dodgers had their own “Murderer’s Row”, but it was in the ninth spot, reserved for pitchers.The Sporting News, 31, 1965 In the two games preceding the All-Star break and three games following the break, the trio of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Claude Osteen had five hits in 13 at bats with three RBI. Needing every contribution they could find, the Dodgers won four of those five games.
It was not enough that Koufax had to pitch his way to wins, he also had to drive in runs. On July 20th, the Dodgers and Astros were tied 2-2 in the ninth inning. The Dodgers had runners on first and second with two out. With Koufax up and having already pitched nine innings, fans wondered if Alston might pinch-hit for Koufax. Koufax hit for Koufax, and he singled to left, scoring Lefebvre with the winning run and Koufax won his 17th game of the season against three defeats.
If you were going to beat the Dodgers, it was a good idea to make sure your best hitter did it. In consecutive games, it was Henry Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves who took apart Dodger pitching in the first inning. In a July 21st game, Aaron followed hits by Felipe Alou and Frank Bolling with a three-run home run off Osteen. And, just to make sure the Dodgers didn’t forget about Aaron, the next night, July 22nd, the great slugger did it again. The Dodgers’ Bob Miller allowed a leadoff single to Felipe Alou and a single by Mack Jones. Aaron came up and for the second straight night, hit a three-run home run to get the Braves on their way to a victory.