The 1965 Pennant Race


On October 1st, the Dodgers lost when Denny LeMaster shut them out, 2-0, but the Giants were walloped 17-2 by the Reds. The Reds scored four runs in the first inning and added 10 runs in the final three innings. Osteen pitched well for the Dodgers and lost, but the Giant loss now at least clinched a tie for the Dodgers. A two game lead looked large with Koufax and Drysdale scheduled to pitch the final two games.

On the morning of October 2nd, the Dodgers were playing the Braves in Los Angeles and the Giants facing Cincinnati in San Francisco. Three years earlier, the Dodgers needed one win or a Giant loss in the final two days of the season to win the National League pennant and they had lost two straight games while the Giants won two straight. Now, it was three years later and the Dodgers had Koufax on the mound and Drysdale expected to go on Sunday, the final day of the season if necessary. The Braves would not give the Dodgers an easy time. Twenty-four game winner Tony Cloninger of the Braves would be the starting pitcher. In addition, Brave Manager Bobby Bragan wrote Henry Aaron in the second place in the lineup in the Braves’ hope that maybe one more at bat with Aaron as the second hitter would make a difference in the game.

True to the nature of the entire 1965 season, the Dodgers won the game and did not get many hits. In fact, their first run came without a hit. Gilliam walked, stole second, moved to third on a throwing error, and scored on a wild pitch. Koufax was on his game and struck out five of the first six hitters. He faced a mild jam in the third inning with runners on first and second, but he struck out Felipe Alou and Henry Aaron lined out to third.

Nerves were wound tight in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Giants and Reds were scoreless through five innings and the Dodgers and Braves were in a close 1-0 game. In the Brave fourth, Gene Oliver, the man who homered in the eighth inning on the final day of the 1962 season to put the Dodgers into a playoff with the Giants, came up, now playing for the Braves. And you couldn’t blame Dodger fans as they shuddered when Oliver hit a solo home run and tied the game at 1-1. With very little hope left, San Francisco fans were hoping the home run by Oliver would be an omen for them.

The game was still tied 1-1 when Johnson led off with a walk. After a single by Lefebvre, Parker hit a groundball and Johnson was trapped off third base when he rounded too far. Caught in a rundown, Sweet Lou scrambled back to third base and beat the tag to the base. Instead of runners on first and second and one out, the Dodgers had bases loaded and none out. Johnson’s avoiding being tagged out rattled Cloninger. Roseboro walked and Johnson scored the go-ahead run. A pitching change was made in the middle of the bat to Koufax, and he walked, forcing in a second run and the Dodgers now led 3-1. However, with a chance to break open the game, the next three hitters went out and the Dodger lead was 3-1 entering the sixth inning.

In San Francisco, the Giants took a 3-0 lead. It would be up to the Dodgers to win the game and the pennant. Koufax took his lead and retired the Braves in the sixth and seventh inning. In seven innings he had struck out 11. The Dodgers’ offense continued to be what it was, a lot with a little. They had scored their three runs on just one hit and Jim Lefebvre’s single in the sixth inning would be the second and last hit of the game for them.

In the eighth inning, for the first time, Koufax shows some fatigue. After retiring the first hitter in the eighth inning, Henry Aaron lined out hard to shortstop and Gene Oliver singled. Koufax bore down and struck out Joe Torre for the final out in the eighth inning.

The Giants had finished off the Reds, 3-2 and now waited to see if they could extend the season a day longer by a Dodger loss. The Braves needed two runs to tie but Koufax would start the ninth inning.

The Braves’ leadoff hitter singled. As Koufax struck out Mack Jones, catcher John Roseboro threw out the base runner on a steal attempt for a double play. With one out left to clinch the pennant, Koufax walked Woody Woodward on five pitches. When Koufax’s first pitch to Denis Menke was a ball, Alston made a visit to his pitcher to be sure he had enough left.Frank Finch, Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1965 Brave shortstop Menke ran the count to two balls and two strikes and it was then Menke who hit the final fly out caught by a jubilant Lou Johnson in left field.

“That’s one ball that won’t get into the Hall of Fame,” said Johnson after the game. “I squeezed that baby so hard and so long there’s nothing left of it.”The Sporting News, Bob Hunter, October 16, 1965 The clubhouse celebration was exuberant with Dodger players regarding this as one of their greatest moments. Don Drysdale said, “This is like that commercial which says, ‘It couldn’t be done.”The Sporting News, Bob Hunter, October 16, 1965 Dick Tracewski added, “Maybe we weren’t the best on paper, but we play this game on the field.”The Sporting News, Bob Hunter, October 16, 1965 In Darrtown, Ohio, neighbors of Walter Alston rang their dinner bells loudly to announce Alston’s fifth pennant and Alston himself said, “We wanted to win it ourselves.” Alston took a congratulatory phone call from owner Walter O’Malley and that night, the Dodger president hosted a victory dinner for the players and front office at the Stadium Club as they celebrated the achievements of a remarkable season.The Sporting News, Bob Hunter, October 16, 1965

The Dodgers had trailed the Giants by 4 1/2 games with 15 games to play. They won 13 straight games and 15 games of their last 16. During the 13 game winning streak, Dodger pitchers threw an amazing seven shutouts, and four other wins limited the opposition to just one run. Nine times the club scored three or fewer runs during the streak and still won the game. Ron Perranoski allowed two earned runs in 36 innings in September and Koufax, Drysdale, and Osteen all recorded ERAs below 2.00. Lou Johnson and Jim Lefebvre led the team in home runs with just 12.

This 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers team didn’t just satisfy itself with the pennant. Facing the Minnesota Twins, an easy pennant winner in the American League, the Dodgers once again did it the hard way, losing the first two games. They would rebound to win three straight at Dodger Stadium with Osteen, Drysdale and Koufax winning Games 3, 4, and 5. Koufax then came back to pitch Game 7 on two days’ rest to shutout the Twins, 2-0, without a decent curve, and the Dodgers won their third World Series in the last seven seasons.

But, in order to win the 1965 World Series, the Dodgers had to first get there, and how they got there and what they had to do to get there was to find the way, and they surely did, to win the 1965 National League Pennant race. And now, even 40 years later, it still remains a tough and memorable pennant race.

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  • Dodger second baseman Jim Lefebvre.Dodger second baseman Jim Lefebvre.
  • Dodger outfielder Lou Johnson.Dodger outfielder Lou Johnson.
  • Karl Hubenthal combines the 1965 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Dodgers with a Gemini space flight that took place during the 1965 Series.Karl Hubenthal combines the 1965 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Dodgers with a Gemini space flight that took place during the 1965 Series.
  • The World Championship Ring of the 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers.The World Championship Ring of the 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers.