The 1965 Pennant Race
As the calendar turned into June, it was clear the National League would be a close pennant race that season. The Dodgers, Giants, Reds, Braves and Cardinals were separated by 5 1/2 games. The Dodgers, despite being in ninth place of 10 teams in runs scored in the National League had a four game lead in first place, but, of course, they also led the National League in fewest runs allowed.
Surprises during the 1965 season for the Dodgers continued. On June 3rd in St. Louis, the Dodgers defeated the Cardinals, 11-10 in a game that saw the Dodgers overcome deficits of 7-3 and 10-7. The club needed to score all the runs they could as Koufax departed the game after just two innings when he allowed seven runs, two of them earned. Fairly hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning to give the Dodgers the lead and the club had 15 hits in the game. Four nights later, the Dodgers had 16 hits in the game and scored 14 runs to defeat the Phillies. Even Koufax joined in the fun with two hits and two RBI.
Drysdale did it all for the Dodgers against the Mets in New York on June 11th. The big right hander pitched a complete game for his 11th win and hit his third home run of the season off 44-year-old Warren Spahn (who pitched a complete game) in the eighth inning as Don provided the winning run for the margin of victory. For the third time that season, Drysdale had driven in the winning run for the team. Even though Drysdale had his own model bat, he was having good success with a 33-ounce Willie Davis model.Frank Finch, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 1965
The long-time rivals from New York, the Giants and the Dodgers, intensified their rivalry upon their move to the West Coast. It had been the Dodgers who had won a close pennant race in 1959 and the Giants who took the honors in 1962. And, as two great rivals will do, it seemed that the two teams were always to be involved in a close pennant race and they were bound to end up playing each other in tight, close games. A three game series in Los Angeles had the Giants winning the first game, 2-1 behind the Giants’ great starting pitcher, Juan Marichal. The next night, it was Koufax besting Bob Shaw, 2-1. The rubber game of the series went to the Dodgers when Osteen blanked the Giants, 3-0. Osteen’s shutout was a one-hitter, the only hit coming in the second inning. The three games produced six runs for the Dodgers and just three runs for the Giants!
On June 20th, New York Met Manager Casey Stengel must have groaned when he read the newspapers and discovered that the Dodgers would start Sandy Koufax in the first game in a doubleheader and Don Drysdale would be the starter for the second game. This was the first time the great Dodger duo had ever started a doubleheader. However, after Koufax one-hit the Mets in the first game, the Mets defeated Drysdale and the Dodgers, 3-2 in the nightcap. To add insult to injury, the next night left hander Alvin Jackson shutout the Dodgers 1-0. The Dodgers won the final game, 4-2, but gained just a split with the lowly Mets.
The pitching would not always be so great. On the night of June 24th, it was amazing that Dodger Stadium was still standing after the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Wilver Stargell was finished. Stargell hit three home runs in Dodger Stadium, the first player to do so, and in the eighth inning, hit the left center field wall on the fly for a double, narrowly missing a four home run night. Stargell had four hits, 14 total bases and drove in six runs as Drysdale was chased from the game before the end of the fourth inning.
On June 30th, the arrival of a new player with his own unique playing history joined the Dodger team. Don (Ducky) LeJohn signed originally with the Dodgers and played 12 seasons in the minor leagues before his call-up. Bob Hunter wrote in The Sporting News that LeJohn had never even seen a major league game until he reported to the team in Chicago.Bob Hunter, The Sporting News, July 17, 1965 LeJohn had been playing for the Dodgers’ AA club in Albuquerque in the Texas League but it was felt his background and experience would pay dividends for the club as a right hand pinch-hitter and utility infielder. He had also been serving as a player-coach and helping younger Dodger players at Albuquerque. LeJohn wasted little time making a contribution as he singled in his first major league at bat to drive home a run and then he scored what proved to be the decisive run in a 4-3 win over the Cubs. He hit safely in first five games and had six hits in his first 16 at bats.