Wednesday, October 17, 2012

1962 World Series: One Foot Higher

The Teams
American League: New York Yankees (96-66) - 27th World Series (Won 19 previous times) 
National League: San Francisco Giants (103-62) - First World Series

What Happened
Willie McCovey stood at the plate, staring down Ralph Terry. Two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Matty Alou was the tying run on third, while Willie Mays stood at second as the World Series-winning run. First base was empty, practically begging the Yankees to put McCovey there. It made sense, after all. McCovey's run meant nothing - if Mays came around to score, the series was over. Plus, McCovey had absolutely killed Terry all series long, homering off him in Game 2 and tripling off him earlier in Game 7.

Terry probably wanted to walk McCovey, too. With their personal history, plus Terry's ignominy of having given up the first ever World Series-ending home run two years earlier, he probably wanted McCovey safely at first where he could do no harm. It was the smart play, being correct both statistically and emotionally. And yet Yankee manager Ralph Houk wasn't moved. He had Terry to pitch to McCovey, a decision that was very possibly the worst in World Series history. So Terry pitched. And McCovey swung a violent swing, the kind of swing that could have taken down a brick wall, and he made contact, pulling a screaming line drive in the general direction of second baseman Bobby Richardson.

It had been a long season for the Giants, even longer and more stressful than baseball seasons typically are. They had fought neck-and-neck with the Dodgers all season long, one of the tightest pennant races of all time. Unlike their dramatic pennant battle of 1951, there wasn't a dramatic collapse this time around. Instead, neither team ever held a lead of more than five games at any point in the season, and they spent most of September trading the lead. It was fitting, then, that they ended up tied at the end of the season, requiring their second three-game playoff in 11 years.

They were in different cities, a different coast even, but the playoff played out the same way. Once again, Giants and Dodgers split the first two games, and once again, the Giants entered the ninth inning of the third game trailing. And once again, they came from behind, scoring twice to tie it and then taking the lead on, of all things, a bases-loaded walk.

The Giants held on, and entered the World Series against The Machine Known as the Yankees completely exhausted. And yet they made a series of it. They lost Game 1 - played the day after their dramatic pennant-clinching win over the Dodgers - but scored against Whitey Ford, ending his World Series scoreless-inning streak at 33. They won Game 2, escaped Yankee Stadium with one win in three games, then waited out three days of rain to win Game 6.

And here they were, in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7. The only run had come on a double-play ball in the fifth. Aside from that, Terry and Jack Sanford had completely shut the door. Then came the ninth, and Alou led off for the Giants with a bunt single. His brother Felipe couldn't bunt him over, striking out. Inexplicably, manager Alvin Dark ordered another sacrifice attempt; unfathomably, Chick Hiller also failed, striking out himself. So the Giants had wasted two outs, and Matty Alou hadn't gone anywhere.

And it was all up to Mays. Really, there were worse fates than having your season come down to an at bat by Willie Mays. And Mays did the job, ripping a line shot to right field that seemed destined to tie the game. But Roger Maris made the play, the kind of play that doesn't show up in a boxscore, that's almost impossible to reflect statistically, but the play that saved the series. He somehow cut the ball off before it got to the wall, then got the ball in on time to hold Alou at third. Mays ended up at second, leaving first base open for McCovey.

But Terry threw the pitch to McCovey, and McCovey ripped it to the right side. Had it been a foot higher, or a foot lower, or a foot to the left, Alou and Mays would have run home and the Giants would have been World Champions. As it was, it was right at Richardson, hit him in the glove, almost knocked him over. But he held on. And like that, the Yankees were champions. They hugged Richardson, carried Terry off the field, then disappeared into the clubhouse to drink a few beers and disperse for the offseason. The Machine had won again.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

New York60 33521
San Francisco 22273 50

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

12. 1962 - New York (A) def. San Francisco (N) 4-3
13. 1926 - St. Louis (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
14. 1995 - Atlanta (N) def. Cleveland (A) 4-2
15. 1960 - Pittsburgh (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
16. 1952 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-3
17. 1997 - Florida (N) def. Cleveland (A) 4-3
18. 1993 - Toronto (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-2
19. 1956 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-3
Numbers 20-29
Numbers 30-39
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

3. 1960: Pittsburgh 10, New York (A) 9
5. 1997: Florida 3, Cleveland 2
7. 1946: St. Louis (N) 4, Boston (A) 3
9. 1925: Pittsburgh 9, Washington 7
10. 1926: St. Louis (N) 3, New York (A) 2
11. 1962: New York (A) 1, San Francisco 0
12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
14. 1952: New York (A) 4, Brooklyn 2
15. 1971: Pittsburgh 2, Baltimore 1
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
23. 1973: Oakland 5, New York (N) 2
24. 2002: Anaheim 4, San Francisco 1
26. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
28. 1965: Los Angeles (A) 2, Minnesota 0
29. 1964: St. Louis 7, New York (A) 5
30. 1957: Milwaukee 5, New York (A) 0
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago (N) 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0
34. 1934: St. Louis (N) 11, Detroit 0 
35. 1985: Kansas City 11, St. Louis 0
36. 1956: New York (A) 9, Brooklyn 0

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