Now that it is all over and the Los Angeles Dodgers have won the National League pennant and have nothing more to worry about except beating the New York Yankees in the World Series, it is easy to forget that awful Sunday less than two weeks ago when the Dodgers lost the pennant in Philadelphia. With some effort, you may recall the details. A thousand miles to the west, the St. Louis Cardinals were winning their 10th straight game, their 19th out of 20. In Philadelphia the Dodgers were losing disgracefully. They had lost a game to the Phillies on Friday night when what should have been a game-ending double play turned into a nightmarish two-run error. Now, on Sunday, they made not one but a dozen bad plays, lost to the Phillies 6-1 and found their once-fat lead withered away to one miserable game. All over the country people were shouting across the street to one another: "Did you hear? The Dodgers lost! The Cards are only a game back!"
And then it was Monday, and there, with melodramatic perfection, were the folding Dodgers in St. Louis to play three games in a row with the flaming, blazing, red-hot, rampaging, wheed-up, hell-for-leather, every-time-a-bull's-eye Cardinals. More than 60 sportswriters poured into town for the kill. Before the first game a caucus of them surrounded Walter Alston, the Dodger manager. "Do you think you're going to blow the pennant again?" asked one. Alston the Calm contained himself. With only a note of exasperation in his voice he replied, "We've won 13 of our last 19 games. Do you call that blowing it?"
"Well," said another, "what about that game yesterday in Philadelphia?"
"We have games like that every now and then," Alston said. "It's nothing to worry about."
September 29, 1963
No one believed him. No one ever seems to believe Walter Alston, possibly because what he says is obvious and reasonable. The Dodgers are not a good fielding team, and they have played embarrassingly inept games at times during the year. But their superb pitching—particularly by Sandy Koufax and Ron Perranoski, the best starter and the best reliever in baseball this year—and their ability to eke out at least one or two runs almost every game have quieted any panic caused by the abysmal fielding. When the San Francisco Giants made their last assault on Los Angeles late in August, the Dodgers met the challenge head on, beat the Giants three games out of four and knocked them out of the pennant race. This was what Alston meant. He had his pitching lined up for the Cardinal series, and all his hitters and fielders were healthy and waiting. He was ready.
But no one believed him. Everyone was excited by the St. Louis pennant drive, and hardly anyone outside of Los Angeles wanted the Dodgers to win. Emotion insisted that the Dodgers were collapsing and that nothing could stop the Cardinals now. Critic told critic, "They're feeling it. You can't tell me the Dodgers don't remember last year." And critic agreed.
Who could forget last year?
Certainly the Dodgers remembered last year. How could they forget it? But what the critics failed to take into consideration was that the memory of defeat can stimulate as well as paralyze. The old slogans said, "Remember Pearl Harbor," "Remember the Maine," "Remember the Alamo." The Dodgers remembered 1962. Every game they played leading up to the Cardinal series was a flag waved at the specter of last year's disaster; every game they won was a measure of revenge. This time no one said, "We can play .500 ball the last three weeks and still take the pennant." This time they wanted to win every game, every last game.
And so they beat St. Louis three straight. They got the roaring Cardinals into a cold shower, sobered them up and turned them around. To paraphrase a line of Gertrude Stein, the Cardinals instead of going the way they were going went back the way they had come. The Dodgers beat them with pitching, speed and pride, and perhaps the third of these was most important because the three games were awfully close, and the Cardinals could well have won all of them. The first game was a 1-1 tie going into the ninth, the second was 1-0 going into the eighth and the third went 13 innings before the Dodgers won 6-5. The Cardinals pitched well and fielded well, they hit sharply and fought hard—but in the end their pitching gave way, their fielding broke down, their hitters did not come through.
The three games were marvelous affairs, collector's items, filled with unforgettable bits and pieces of baseball that will be dug out and talked about for years. A few of these may serve to explain why the Dodgers beat the Cardinals and why they won the pennant. In the first game both starting pitchers were taken out after eight innings with the score tied 1-1. The Cardinals used Bobby Shantz and Ron Taylor in relief in the ninth; a double, a single, two walks and an error on a double-play ball gave the Dodgers two runs. The Dodgers used Perranoski in the ninth; the Cardinals went down one, two, three, and the game was over. Score one point for superior relief pitching.
Maury Wills opened the second game with a single to center, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored when Jim Gilliam doubled to left. In the third Sandy Koufax hit one batter with a pitch and threw the following sacrifice bunt into right field to give the Cardinals men on second and third with one out. The next batter grounded to short, and the runner from third was thrown out at the plate. The next man grounded out, too, to end the inning, and Koufax went on to pitch a shutout. Score three points for the Dodgers: one for speed, one for clutch fielding, one for Sandy Koufax.
In the third game the Dodgers were behind 5-1, but they tied the score with three runs in the eighth and another in the ninth on a home run by an unknown rookie named Dick Nen. Score a point for guts and another for luck. In the 10th Dick Groat opened with a triple, but the Cardinals were unable to score off Perranoski, who pitched six shutout innings in relief as he waited patiently for the Dodgers to win the game in the 13th. Perranoski faced 23 men in all. Three had base hits, and two were walked intentionally after Groat's triple. Of the other 18, three struck out, three hit fly balls and 12 hit grounders to the infield. Score another very large point for Ron Perranoski.
Score a point for Willie Davis, who had seven hits and three stolen bases in the three games. Give something to Frank Howard, who hit a big home run, and John Podres, who might have had a shutout, too, if Stan Musial had not hit a valedictory home run.
And give a point to the manager, who placidly proved he was right. He did not blow the pennant, and his players did not choke. The Los Angeles Dodgers won like champions.
WHO WILL WIN THE WAR OF THE LEFTIES?
Nothing comes easy to the Dodgers. They do not score like the Yankees, or hit like the Yankees or field like the Yankees. The Dodgers are a team built around pitching and speed, but a team, too, that is built to play its best baseball in Dodger Stadium, where the base paths are as hard as slate and a pitcher never feels the cold, clammy outfield wall pressing against his back.
Granted, only one other team in the last 30 years—the wartime 1945 Detroit Tigers—ever scored as few runs as this Dodger team and still found itself in a World Series. But the Dodgers built their victories stone by stone, with a walk, a steal and a single, or a double, a bunt and a fly ball. Four runs are a lot of runs to score in Dodger Stadium, where the ball does not carry as far as in other parks and home run hitters face the disadvantage of fences 330 feet distant down both the left- and right-field foul lines. In left center and right center, these fences quickly fall away to 380 feet, a set of statistics guaranteed to diminish Yankee power. The Yankees have played in Dodger Stadium 18 times during the last two seasons, and in 11 of those games they were held to four runs or less by Angel pitching—and Angel pitching is related to Dodger pitching only in that both involve a baseball. The Yankees, who normally hit one home run every 29 times at bat, have averaged only one homer every 56 times at bat in Chavez Ravine. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, the most famed slugging act since Ruth and Gehrig, have managed but one homer between them in 91 times up.
The Dodgers, with little reputation as a hitting team, bring a .251 season average into the Series, compared to the Yankees' .252, and the lineup contains a scattering of power that will be dangerous in Yankee Stadium. Frank Howard can reach the seats anywhere, and Ron Fairly pulls the ball hard down that short right-field line. If Alston decides to play Moose Skowron at first base instead—well, Skowron hit 165 home runs in his nine years as a Yankee. John Roseboro and Wally Moon will be dangerous in the Stadium, and Roseboro hits left-handers well.
But the big weapons for the Dodgers are speed and pitching. One of the fascinating aspects of this Series is this: How much can the Dodgers run against the Yankees, particularly Whitey Ford? Ford has an unsurpassed move to first base, and it is possible that he will be used three times should the Series go seven games. Maury Wills, who stole 104 bases last year, only began stealing late this season after recovering from injuries; he steals when everyone in the ball park knows he is going to steal—and gets away with it. Wills certainly will harass Ford, but Ford may also contain Wills. This battle is one that baseball fans have dreamed of for two years. With Wills on first and Ford pitching, switch-hitting Jim Gilliam bats from the right side of the plate and, while he is not as effective from the right side as from the left, Junior still owns two of the best eyes in baseball. No one in the National League strikes out as infrequently. Gilliam is excellent at fouling off pitches with two strikes on him and, with Wills drawing throws at first base, Ford may spend a lot of energy on the top part of the Dodger batting order. Willie Davis, the Dodger center fielder, just happens to have superior speed himself, and his batting average of .240 is deceptive. He can bunt and run, and if he pushes a bunt up the third-base line there are few pitchers who can come off the mound, pick up the ball, turn and throw to first base in time to catch him. Roseboro can run; Tommy Davis is the leading hitter in the National League, and he can run as well as slug.
But for the Dodgers it will almost certainly come down to pitching. Like Ford, Sandy Koufax can work three games if needed, and Koufax is baseball's best pitcher. Johnny Podres, the old man of the Dodger pitching staff at 31, beat the Yankees the last two times that he pitched against them in a Series, and Podres is a "money pitcher" with a fine change-up. Ron Perranoski (16-3) has an earned run average of 1.73, and Alston likes to bring him on in late relief. Perranoski has given up only one homer to a left-handed hitter in 323 innings, and it is usually the Yankee left-handed hitters—the Berras, Blanchards, Marises, Kubeks and Pepitones—who win games in the late innings. Don Drysdale, and Reliever Bob Miller (2.98 ERA) are very good Dodger righthanders, which is what right-handers must be against the Yankees. Pitching usually wins a Series, and the Dodgers certainly have that.
The Yankees are equipped with a brilliant infield, fine pitching, excellent power and three of the largest and most confusing uncertainties in their long, proud history. How sound, really, is Mickey Mantle? He can still hit a baseball, but can he now use his once blinding speed? When he bats right-handed against Koufax or Podres or Perranoski and hits the ball on the ground, can he still outrun those close ones? Can his brittle legs stand the strain of all-out defensive play? If Mantle is at full speed—and even Yankee-haters must hope that he is—there is no better baseball player in the world. Then there is the question of Roger Maris. Almost unnoticed, Maris has had an excellent, if limited, year for the Yankees, hitting home runs at the rate of more than one every four hits. But Maris has been repeatedly sidelined with a bad back. Both Koufax and Podres have good changeup pitches, and when Maris, a severe pull hitter, tries to jerk the ball to right field, who can tell how that back will react? Finally, Switch Hitter Tom Tresh, the leading Yankee hitter against the Giants last year, has been harassed by an injury to his throwing hand, and it has made him a less effective hitter when he bats from the right side of the plate. Although the Yankees maintain that the throwing ability of Tresh has not been impaired, no one will really know until the Dodgers try to run on him. Should anything happen to any one of these three outfielders, Hector Lopez and John Blanchard are capable replacements, but Lopez in the past has been less than spectacular in the October shadows of Yankee Stadium, nor has he distinguished himself afield in Chavez Ravine. If Mantle, Maris and Tresh are in top shape the Yankees have the kind of power to worry even the Dodger pitchers. Being able to use all three in the outfield at the same time is also very important to New York defensively. Maris is a truly excellent right fielder in the Stadium, and Tresh has developed rapidly as a left fielder.
With the exception of the bullpen, the Yankee pitching staff is almost as good as that of the Dodgers; New York also is betting on left-handers (see cover). Whitey Ford is still Whitey Ford: cagey, cute and with a Series earned-run average of 2.31. And Al Downing, who was brought up from Richmond in June to win 13 games with a brilliant 2.39 ERA, has an exceptional fast ball. Downing, however, would appear to be vulnerable to the Dodger attack because of fielding inadequacies and a marked slowness in getting off the mound. The best Yankee right-hander is young Jim Bouton, a 20-game winner. Ralph Terry, who completed more games than any other member of the Yankee staff, has been less effective since midseason, and his history of giving up home runs in costly situations still stalks him. He may be used only in relief—which would help a Yankee bullpen that could use some help. Steve Hamilton is used primarily against left-handed hitters and excels at getting left-handers out. Hal Reniff is probably the most reliable member of the relief staff. His record of 4-3 is not overpowering, but he saved 17 games, the same number as Perranoski. Marshall Bridges is usually wild, and Bill Kunkel has a tendency to give up big hits.
If the Dodger left-handers can contain Pepitone in Yankee Stadium, the Yankee attack will suffer. Pepitone is not supposed to be strong against lefties, but he hit 15 of his 25 homers in Yankee Stadium and six of them were against left-handers. Third Baseman Clete Boyer can hit behind a runner better than anyone in the American League, and has power. Bobby Richardson might surprise the Dodgers with his speed; generally overlooked is his record this year of 15 steals in 16 attempts. Catcher Elston Howard leads the Yanks in homers with 28, but only eight of them were hit in the Stadium. The long (402 feet) distance to left center there works against him, but he has hit more homers in Chavez Ravine (five) than any other Yankee. The Yankee bench is much better than the Dodger bench, and Harry Bright, Phil Linz, Yogi Berra and John Blanchard are good enough to start on almost any other team in the American League.
The Yankees have a big advantage in their infield. Boyer at third, Kubek at short, Richardson at second and Pepitone at first make the double play at the critical times. Pepitone has tremendous range to his right, and Richardson never seems to be out of position. Boyer borders on the spectacular, while Kubek remains one of the American League's best shortstops.
This comfortable edge in defense, in power and in World Series experience is enough to offset the remarkable Dodger speed. But the Series will be decided by pitching—by left-handed pitching—and Ford and Downing, as good as they are, cannot match Koufax, Podres and Perranoski. The Dodger lefties are the best. The Dodgers should win.