Sunday, July 31, 2011

1962 National League Playoff: Ghosts of '51

They played on the opposite coast, and the players on the teams had almost completely turned over, but the Giants and Dodgers spent much of the 1962 season reliving their famous pennant duel of 1951.

Aided by the expansion Houston Colts and New York Mets - the latter a team that would set a 20th Century record for futility - and the Cubs, who somehow ended up being worse than the Colts, there were plenty of wins to be had in the National League in 1962. The wins were so plentiful that the defending league champion Reds, who won 98 games, were mere spectators in one of the most famous pennant races of all time.

Just like in 1951, the Dodgers spent most of the summer in first place. In 1962, though, the gap was much smaller, with the Giants staying around a handful of games off the pace. Nine years earlier, it had been an incredible hot streak that pushed the Giants into first place. This time, it was a Dodgers collapse.

On September 22, the Dodgers had a record of 100-55 and had a four-game lead on San Francisco. From there, the Dodgers closed the season on a 1-6 slide, including getting shut out against St. Louis in the final two games of the season. The Giants, meanwhile, closed on a 5-2 run, getting an eighth-inning home run from Willie Mays in the final game of the season to draw into a dead heat with the Dodgers.

That forced the second three-game playoff between the Giants and the Dodgers in nine seasons. Game one featured Sandy Koufax going against the Giants' Billy Pierce. Koufax had been good in 1962, but he was still a year away from being the unhittable pitcher everybody remembered, and the Giants knocked him out of the box in the second inning after a pair of home runs. Pierce's complete-game three-hitter led the way, and the Giants won 8-0.

The Giants took an early lead in game 2, as well, and seemed well on their way to the National League pennant when they took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth. But the Dodgers ended their 26-inning scoreless streak in a big way, plating seven runs to take a 7-5 lead. The Giants tied the game in the eighth, only to see the Dodgers win in the bottom of the ninth on a sacrifice fly. The first two games having decided nothing, the 1962 season ended up the way most people thought it was destined to: in a Giants vs. Dodgers, winner-take-all matchup.

The Game
There are moments in sports that you don't want to end, where the excitement is so overwhelming that you want it to last forever. Then there are moments that can't end soon enough, that seem like a car accident happening in slow motion. For the Dodgers, the final inning of the 1962 season fell in the latter category.

They might have felt some impending problems in the bottom of the eighth after failing to score despite loading the bases. They left that inning with a 4-2 lead, but they still might have had that nagging doubt. After all, the Dodgers had virtually given the Giants both their runs, committing three errors in a sloppy third inning to fall behind.

The Dodgers had come back, of course, using a Tommy Davis home run to go up 3-2, then adding a 4th when Maury Wills stole third, then came home on the resulting throwing error. Still, though, the third inning was ugly, and those kinds of things are hard to forget about during tense moments.

It was the little things that made the top of the ninth painful for the Dodgers. After a leadoff single, Harvey Kuenn hit a lazy double-play ball to short, but the Dodgers only got one out. Then came two straight walks to load the bases, another painful thing to watch. I mean, if you're going to blow the pennant in the final inning of the season, you don't want to do it on walks, right? You want to make them earn it.

Of course Willie Mays was up next. The inning was already painful enough, and a run hadn't even scored yet. Mays hit a rocket right up the middle, and here's where fate played a cruel trick on the Dodgers. Pitcher Ed Roebuck could have caught the ball for an out, maybe even fired to a base to get the game-ending double play. Or it could have deflected off his glove to a waiting infielder, who could have found somewhere to get an out. Or the ball could have missed Roebuck entirely, only to be scooped up by a middle infielder for a double play. But of course, none of those things happened. The ball ricocheted off Roebuck and out of danger, allowing a run to score and keeping the bases loaded.

Out came Roebuck, in came Stan Williams. He did a good job, getting Orlando Cepeda to hit a lazy flyball for an easy out. Too bad there was only one out in the inning, so Cepeda's flyball became a game-tying sacrifice fly.

About here is where the inning moved into "when will it end" territory for the Dodgers. Mays hadn't moved up to second on the sacrifice fly, but a wild pitch helped put him there. Ugh. With first base open, the Dodgers then walked Ed Bailey to reload the bases and set up the double play ... only Williams then walked Jim Davenport to force in the go-ahead run. Double ugh. Enter Ron Perranoski, who did a good job by getting a grounder ... only that grounder was manhandled by second baseman Larry Burright for an error, allowing yet another run to come home. Triple ugh.

The pennant race was over, then. The Giants brought in Pierce, who had been brilliant in Game 1, to close the door, and he put the Dodgers down in order to send the Giants to their first World Series on the West Coast.

As seemed to happen every time the Dodgers and Giants battled for the National League pennant, the prize was a World Series matchup with the Yankees. Unlike in 1951, though, the Giants put up a good fight against the Yankees. With the series tied at 3, the Giants went into the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 trailing 1-0. With runners on second and third and two outs, Willie McCovey hit a lazer beam toward second base that Yankee Bobby Richardson snagged to secure the World Series. What made the loss more painful for the Giants was that it would be 27 years before they made it to another World Series and 48 years before they finally won a championship in San Francisco.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, reloaded. Sandy Koufax became the pitcher he was always destined to become, Don Drysdale continued his hall-of-fame career, and the Dodgers won three of the next four National League pennants, winning the World Series twice in that span.

The Rundown

6. San Francisco 6, Los Angeles 4 (1962 National League playoff)
7. Chicago 1, Minnesota 0 (2008 AL Central tiebreaker)
8. N.Y. Yankees 5, Boston 3 (1949 American League)
9. Arizona 2, St. Louis 1 (2001 NLDS)
10. Chicago 4, New York 2 (1908 National League makeup game)
11. Boston 12, Cleveland 8 (1999 ALDS)
12. Boston 5, Minnesota 3 (1967 American League)
13. Minnesota 5, Oakland 4 (2002 ALDS)
14. Boston 4, Oakland 3 (2003 ALDS)
15. Cleveland 4, N.Y. Yankees 3 (1997 ALDS)
16. L.A. Angels 5, N.Y. Yankees 3 (2005 ALDS)
17. Texas 5, Tampa Bay 1 (2010 ALDS)
18. San Francisco 3, Atlanta 1 (2002 NLDS)
19. N.Y. Yankees 5, Oakland 3 (2001 ALDS)
20. Seattle 3, Cleveland 1 (2001 ALDS)
21. Chicago 5, San Francisco 3 (1998 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
22. N.Y. Yankees 7, Oakland 5 (2000 ALDS)
23. Los Angeles 4, Houston 0 (1981 NL West Division Series)
24. Montreal 3, Philadelphia 0 (1981 NL East Division Series)
25. N.Y. Yankees 7, Milwaukee 3 (1981 AL East Division Series)
26. Seattle 9, California 1 (1995 AL West tiebreaker)
27. Chicago 5, Atlanta 1 (2003 NLDS)
28. Houston 12, Atlanta 3 (2004 NLDS)
29. N.Y. Mets 5, Cincinnati 0 (1999 NL Wild Card tiebreaker)
30. Cleveland 8, Boston 3 (1948 AL tiebreaker)
31. Houston 7, Los Angeles 1 (1980 NL West tiebreaker)

No comments:

Post a Comment