The day of the big game dawned clear and warm, but the icy fingers of fear gripped the household of Minnesota's Jim Grant, who knew he had to pitch the opener against the Dodgers, his first World Series game. Mrs. Grant was pressing a bit as she prepared her husband's breakfast. "She butchered the eggs," Grant said, "spilled the orange juice, burned the toast. I said, 'Hey, baby, I'm the one who's supposed to have the butterflies.' "
Grant is the coolest of cats, one who had fluid mastery over the mashed potato and the slop at a time when most informed people believed a discoth√®que was a record library. He also came into 1965 with a reputation as a .500 pitcher—one who cancels himself out by failing as often as he succeeds—but this year he was the man who won the "big" games for the Twins, preventing the prolonged slumps that can make a whole team feel the nonexistent icy fingers.
The technical aspect of Grant's new success is the advice of Pitching Coach Johnny Sain, whose text for all days is the importance of spin on the baseball, but Sain did not give Grant guts. Six years earlier, with insufficient experience and inferior spin, he pitched 14 innings to beat the Yankees on their home grounds in one of the most impressive "hang-in-there" exhibitions of modern times. In the first game of the 1965 World Series the Dodgers got 10 hits off him, but he was still in there at the end and he won 8-2.
October 17, 1965
He beat Don Drysdale, and even made him fall down. Frank Quilici, the Twins' second baseman, had led off the third inning with a double and Grant followed with a bunt. Drysdale rushed in, did a pratfall and from a sitting position threw the ball on one bounce to Jim Lefebvre, who ruined Drysdale's fine recovery by bobbling the throw. Before the inning was over, the Twins had scored six runs. Had Drysdale retired Grant, he could have escaped the inning with only two runs scored. He didn't, not because the field was spongy from October rains but because his Achilles' knee had betrayed him, collapsing as he chased the ball.
"It's cartilage," Trainer Bill Buhler explained. "It won't show on X rays and it's not serious enough for surgery, but it goes out once in a while." Drysdale confirmed that the knee "went," but assumed he'd have been beaten anyway because "I had bad command, bad control. You're out there tinkering around like Thomas Edison, trying to figure out what's wrong, and by the time you do you're in the clubhouse watching the game on television. Hell, a Little Leaguer could have hit that slider I threw Don Mincher."
A Little Leaguer would have been terrorized by the "little bit high" fast ball Drysdale threw after Grant's bunt, but Zoilo Versalles lined it into the left-field seats for three runs. So much for the Twins' power, which nobody doubted, but where was the speed? Drysdale saw it on television when Versalles singled off Jim Brewer in the sixth. While the Dodgers took batting practice the day before the Series opened, an unimposing man in a red sweater had stood near first base, almost unnoticed. It was Versalles, and he had plans. During spring training it had been suggested to him by Maury Wills that he ought to run more. "He told me I had good speed," Versalles said, "and I should steal bases." Versalles stole 25, among the many things he did to make himself the most valuable Twin by his teammates' acclaim. And now he was going to steal more. "The first time I get on," he said, "I must go. There are some things we must find out right away."
Brewer threw to first three times before delivering his first pitch, which was a pitchout. Versalles didn't get a good "jump," according to First-base Coach Jim Lemon, but the throw to second was high and Versalles was safe. The play didn't prove a thing, but the Twins had dropped the gauntlet: they had notified the Dodgers that they could run, too. "No, I don't try to tell them anything," Versalles said. "I see his move and I think I can make it. I wouldn't do it in the regular season, but there are not so many teams as good as the Dodgers."
And not so many good teams that looked as bad as the Dodgers did in the first game. "Shoot," said Lou Johnson, the Dodger left fielder whose success with limited abilities has somehow made him an epitome of the Dodgers' scrambling ways. "This club got to be two games behind before we can play."
Next day they were.
Long after the first game of the Series was over and the stunned experts were saying that, well, anyway, the Twins couldn't beat Sandy Koufax, Minnesota Manager Sam Mele sat in his office in Metropolitan Stadium, thinking about how they could. Since late September 1964, when Owner Calvin Griffith came within an inning or so of handing Mele his walking papers, Sam has not stopped thinking of ways the Twins could be made a winner. In the spring he had convinced them that the embarrassing possibility of being thrown out was an insufficient reason not to try for an extra base or even a stolen base, and they had run and they had won. But Koufax would be something else. To run on him, one must first reach base.
Koufax, Mele had noted, is one of the rare pitchers who has the velocity to throw a high fast ball past a hitter—almost any hitter. "It jumps this much," Mele said, "so that by the time you swing at it, it's so high it's a ball. I'm telling the guys to lay off that pitch because there's almost no chance to hit it anyway. His low pitches are tough to hit, too, but at least they stay in the strike zone."
It was a good idea, and the Twins won the second game 5-1, but the battle plan didn't have too much to do with it. Koufax was beaten, Koufax said, because he couldn't put his fast ball "anyplace I wanted it." He conceded that both his stuff and his control had been worse on other occasions. "But sometimes you get lucky," Sandy said. "Sometimes you can be bad and still win 5-2 or so." When you're Sandy Koufax it is a bonanza to be given five runs, but this day the Dodgers weren't going to get anywhere near that many because the Twins' lefthander Jim Kaat was not throwing the book at them. He had looked over the meticulous scouting reports that had been compiled for the Series, politely complimented their authors and forgotten about them, deciding in favor of pitching like Jim Kaat. "I've got to use my best stuff," he said, "and I've got to throw strikes. The best thing Sain has done for us as pitching coach is simplify the job. If I'd tried getting too cute or too fine today I wouldn't be me and I'd be doing them a favor. You throw your best pitch and you throw strikes."
Kaat threw strikes, and so, for the most part, did Koufax during the early part of the game. It was a double no-hitter for three and a half innings and a double shutout for five and a half, but only because of Outfielder Bob Allison, who made what could well be the best catch ever made in a World Series. With Ron Fairly at first and none out in the fifth, Jim Lefebvre hooked a curving fly ball deep down the left-field line. Allison, running to his right across turf soggy from rain, dived near the foul line, caught the ball backhanded just off the ground, landed in the mud, skidded 15 feet across the foul line and came up throwing.
A great play, said winning pitcher Kaat. "For an instant they realized a sort of rally, and then that play takes it away from them. It's got to take some of the starch out." The starch was all out after the Twins' sixth, when they nicked Koufax for two runs. Versalles' hard ground ball took a nasty hop off Jim Gilliam's shoulder for what was called a two-base error. Tony Oliva scored Versalles with a single to left and ran the hit into a double, and then Killebrew drove him in with a line single off a low fast ball.
While the gracious Koufax was analyzing himself mercilessly after the game, the subject of the Twins' speed kept coming up. "Really," Sandy said quietly, "they haven't run that much." They hadn't, really. Oliva's leg double was only the second manifestation of Twins' footwork, and Versalles' caper in the seventh made three. He tripled with two out, then dashed 45 feet down the line in what appeared to be an attempt to steal home. It convinced Ron Perranoski, who bounced a wild pitch off John Roseboro's shinguard for the third, and more than sufficient, run.
Now the Dodgers were two games down and, as Johnson had blithely suggested the day before, ready to play. As the Dodgers plodded grimly through the runway to the dressing room after the game, a large man, a Metropolitan Stadium employee, happened to be crossing their path. Johnson, leading the retreat, snarled: "Out of the way, you big——donkey."
In Los Angeles on Saturday nobody shouted "Go," but Harmon Killebrew went—to a certain extent. He ran about 50 feet in a northerly direction and stopped. At that precise point Killebrew became a spectator and the Dodgers became contenders for the first time in this World Series. The play occurred in a scoreless first inning, and scoreless first innings ordinarily are regarded as inconclusive. But to Dodger Pitcher Claude Osteen it was a very significant play, and Claude Osteen is an authority, because it was he who pitched the 4-0 victory that reversed the tide.
Osteen, called "Gomer" by his teammates, is a small man for a big-league pitcher, unprepossessing, moderately endowed with talent and singularly unlucky. It would be unreasonable to ask him to do a thing that Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax could not do—beat the Twins—but Manager Walter Alston had no choice but to ask him.
Gomer gave it his best shot, and that was his first mistake. Zoilo Versalles led off the game and creamed the first pitch, bouncing it into the left-field stands for a ground-rule double. "I had my mind made up to throw him a curve," Osteen said, "and I tried to throw it too hard. It hung up in his eyes, with no spin at all." Trying less hard, Gomer retired the next two batters, Versalles moving to third on an infield out. Then he had to pitch to Killebrew.
"It's a different feeling when Killebrew comes up in this park," First Baseman Wes Parker said. "He doesn't scare you as much as he does in Minneapolis." But he's still Harmon Killebrew, window-breaker, and Osteen walked him. With a 2-0 count to Earl Battey, Killebrew ran. He stopped halfway to second as Maury Wills, moving in front of the base, took John Roseboro's throw. It seemed to be a play that wouldn't have been news to the old Orioles: the runner from first gets himself in a rundown, in the hope that the umpires will note that the runner from third scored before the rundown was completed.
But that wasn't the play. Sam Mele, with his best and almost only hit-and-run batter at the plate, had played hit-and-run. So had Killebrew and so had Osteen, throwing Battey a strike, high and away. But Battey hadn't. He took the pitch and Versalles was run down, 6-2-5. "Battey missed the sign," Mele said. "And Killebrew is supposed to run through, to draw a throw."
First-base Coach Jim Lemon agreed, more or less. "He shouldn't have stopped," Lemon said, "unless he was within five yards of the bag, so by drawing a throw he could let Versalles score." Battey couldn't testify. He had run into the framework of the dugout boxes while pursuing a pop foul in the seventh inning, bruising his voice box, and he couldn't talk.
"That was the big play," said Osteen, possibly giddy from the feeling of having four runs to work with after six innings. "If they score they have a big advantage. Getting a run early makes a team confident and more aggressive. They would have been tougher to pitch to."
Tougher, perhaps, but not impossible. Osteen confined his mistakes to the first inning. He didn't think the game was the best he had pitched all year, but he had to concede it was the best he had won. There was a 1-0 defeat by the Mets in which Billy Cowan's ninth-inning home run was only the second hit off him. He remembered that. There was also a 2-0 defeat by the Pirates' Bob Veale, a game in which Osteen didn't throw a bad pitch. After Osteen's first six starts this year he was 3-3 and could, with pedestrian luck, have been 6-0. The Dodgers got him three runs, aggregate, in the three defeats.
"It's the most remarkable club I've ever seen," said Wally Moon, the veteran pinch hitter who seldom pinch-hits. "It has almost no bench. I'm the only experienced hitter the manager can use, but if he sends me up they bring in a left-hander. Considering the disadvantages, the manager has got a lot of mileage out of this club."
This was remarkable from Moon, who was not an Alston admirer a few years ago, when he was not playing as much as he would have liked. Waves of players have come to the Dodgers and departed in the past dozen years, and half of each wave has knocked Alston as being indecisive.
"I did think that at first," Moon said. "But I've been around long enough to know now that he's a very good manager." Moon was a first-magnitude star with the improbable Dodgers who won the 1959 pennant in a playoff and then the World Series. He wasn't enchanted with Alston then. "But when we came down the stretch we had the best pitching rotation of any team in contention," Moon said. "And this year we had it again. He refused to panic."
There were no panicked managers in Dodger Stadium on Saturday. Mele had had a phone call from his wife, who was home in Quincy, Mass., momentarily expecting their fifth child. She said she was fine and didn't believe she'd have the baby right away. She was going shopping, she said. Much later, Mele was asked how he'd play the rest of the Series. He sang his answer: "Day by day...."
The Dodgers, like a pool-hall hustler who has been trifling with his victim too long, showed their game on Sunday. They bunted deftly and ran arrogantly and they won 7-2. It was encouraging to Manager Alston to know that his team had not forgotten the stealthy devices by which they had smuggled themselves into the World Series, but otherwise the contest was inconclusive. The Dodgers' tactics might have awed a normal team, but the Twins on Sunday were not a normal team. They were horrid. They overthrew cutoff men and failed to cover bases, getting themselves suckered into all the basic errors the Dodger management hoped for when it decided last fall to go to war without artillery.
"We have not put on such a shabby exhibition all year," said Sam Mele. Sandy Valdespino did the Dodgers the first favor in the first inning, taking the great circle route around first base on his hit to left when it was obvious to everyone that a decent throw to second by Lou Johnson would leave Valdespino yelping at the umpire. Johnson made a perfect throw, and Valdespino yelped.
Then, in the Dodger first, Maury Wills led off with a ground ball to the right side. Don Mincher, with the second baseman and the pitcher to throw to, lobbed the ball halfway between them. Given first, Wills stole second and went to third as Pitcher Jim Grant made his first mistake—failing to get to first base in time when Willie Davis grounded to Mincher. Ron Fairly then grounded to second, a double-play ball with a batter as slow as Fairly. "My spikes stuck like I stepped on a piece of gum," Zoilo Versalles said, explaining why the double play wasn't made. And the run, the typically Dodger run, scored. Wes Parker pushed a bunt past the mound to open the second, then took off on a hit-and-run. The pitch went high, off Earl Battey's mitt, and Parker cruised to third. He scored when Quilici missed John Roseboro's grounder.
It is unfortunate that Dodger Publicist Red Patterson, who introduced the term "tape measure" to the baseball lexicon when he was with the Yankees and Mickey Mantle was hitting 500-foot homers, abandoned his measuring rod after the Dodgers went to the short ball. The first four Dodger hits, laid end to end, might have taped out at 370 feet. n the fourth inning Killebrew found Don Drysdale's fast ball where he was swinging and lined it 410 feet into the left-field bleachers. This one blow not only gave Minnesota a big edge in footage, it trimmed the score to 2-1 and put the Twins back in the game.
But then Parker, a .238 hitter who is concerned about job security, struck a blow for tenure in the Dodger half of the fourth when he lined a home run over the 370-foot sign in right field. That run made the game safe for the Dodgers, who continued thereafter to score at regular intervals, but it was not Parker's hit that bothered the Twins most. They were bugged by Wills's 110-foot single in the third, even though it was quickly nullified when he was thrown out stealing. Wills chopped the ball onto the ground in front of home plate and Killebrew became a spectator again, watching the ball soar over his head in a big, big bounce. Versalles caught it when it came down and then fired to first after Wills had crossed the bag, on the chance that Wills might dart toward second. "It was flattering to have him do that," said Wills, who is delighted to have people mistrust him and doesn't mind being flattered. "He might have thought it went into left field," explained Versalles.
"I saw Killebrew playing in," Wills said, "so I wanted to just chop it or something. I'm not a good enough hitter to be able to hit the top half of the ball, but my normal way of swinging tends to make the ball go that way. That's why I like the ground to be nice and firm."
The ground in front of home plate in Dodger Stadium is so nice and firm that last month the Cincinnati Reds' manager, Dick Sisler, suggested that they hold a dance on it. Minnesota Coach Billy Martin, as annoyed by the high frequency of Wills's success in hitting the top of the ball as National Leaguers have been all year, was less subtle than Sisler. "Where the hell else," he asked rhetorically in a lecture generously sprinkled with four-letter words, "can you see a ball hit over the third baseman's head like that? The league president lets them use a 1,500-pound roller on that infield. That shows you how strong Mr. Giles is. He's going for commissioner, too, and he'll make it."
The Twins had injury added to Wills's insult in the sixth, when nothing went right. After Gilliam walked, Willie Davis singled to right and Tony Oliva threw to third in a futile attempt to get Gilliam. "That guy can fly," Oliva said of the 36-year-old Gilliam. Davis flew to second as Oliva's throw came in too high to cut off, and both Gilliam and Davis flew home when Fairly hit a ground ball with the infield up that would have been an out with the infield back. Fairly took second when Hall made a pointless throw home, and another run scored when Quilici, trying to hold Fairly at second, did not cover first in time on Johnson's bunt. And that's the kind of day it was for the Twins.
By Monday the Minnesota players had almost stopped grumbling about Los Angeles' hard infield and soft hits ("I figure I pitched a two-hitter," Jim Grant said. "Them other hits was cornflakes stuff"), though there was a notable emphasis on bunting during the Twins' batting practice. They were not yet demoralized by the Dodgers' guerrilla warfare. Not until the first inning.
The Twins had covered themselves with glory in the fourth game by comparison with the sorry performance they put on in the fifth. They were outpitched by Sandy Koufax, 7-0, which could happen to anybody ("There should be one Cy Young Award for him," Grant said, "and another one for the rest of us to shoot at"). But until the ninth inning they were also outhit by Koufax, who had a long single that drove in a run, in contrast to Minnesota's two feeble bleeders.
Maybe Sandy's hit, after John Roseboro had been given an intentional pass, was not the most ignominious moment of the day for Minnesota. Maybe it was Willie Davis stealing second with such a big jump on rookie Pitcher Dave Boswell that he was able to stumble and crawl the last 25 feet on his hands and knees without drawing a throw. Maybe it was Boswell making six pick-off throws on Maury Wills, then having Wills steal the first time he threw to the plate. Maybe it came after the game, with the Twins' realization that they had made a .302-hitting team out of a group that had pounded the ball at a .245 pace in its own league. Or maybe it was the realization that Chavez Ravine had become a dry gulch for American League pennant winners, who in five Series games there have scored three runs.
Wills led off the game with a double, the first of his four hits, and as he zipped home on Jim Gilliam's single Davis dashed from the on-deck circle and laid down flat near the left-hand batter's box, indicating to Wills that he would have to slide. This comes under the heading of what the Dodgers call "the little ways we have to help each other." Davis then bunted and would have been out, except that Frank Quilici, covering first base, missed the throw. He said later he lost the ball in the shirt-sleeved crowd, but it appeared he was peeking at Gilliam over on second. The Twins have learned not to trust Dodgers out of their sight. So Koufax had two runs, all he would need.
Minnesota came undone completely in the third. With one out, Davis singled and stole second. He raced home on Lou Johnson's single, and then Johnson sped all the way around on a single by Ron Fairly, which became a double when the relay went home much too late to get Johnson. At this point the Dodgers had earned two runs, had been given a third and had stolen a fourth. In the next inning Wills beat out a dribbler to short, and Gilliam was at bat for almost 20 minutes while Wills belly whopped back to first ahead of Boswell's throws. Then he stole, and when Gilliam singled him home it was all over—except for the fact that Koufax had a perfect game going.
Harmon Killebrew put an end to that when he led off the fifth with a fly to center, and Davis, after a slow start, shoestringed the ball and dropped it. "I didn't see the ball until it was coming down," Davis said. "I had it about 12 inches off the ground, and the umpire gave the out sign. But it fell out when I hit the ground."
"It didn't make any difference to me. I figured I was going to give some hits anyway," said Koufax, who gave up a single in the seventh and two more in the ninth.
The ninth produced the only sparkle of aggression the Twins displayed. After Quilici and Valdespino singled, and with only one out, Joe Nossek hit a ball as well as a ball can be hit—but it went straight to Wills for a game-ending double play.
It was that kind of day for Sam Mele, who was informed in the sixth inning that his wife had been taken to the hospital to give birth. Later he found the report was a false alarm. Connie Mele was five days overdue, and it was getting a bit late for the Twins, too.