Last Saturday afternoon Herman Franks, manager of the San Francisco Giants, sat in his office with his cap on backward, a cigar in his mouth, a drink in his hand and his ample forehead covered with wrinkles. The entire week had been bewildering for Herman and his Giants. Just a few minutes before they had escaped, at least temporarily, from an early September burial in the National League pennant race by winning a dramatic game from the New York Mets after they apparently had lost it. Herman seemed emotionally exhausted—an extraordinary thing for a man who tries very hard never to be emotional.
Suddenly he picked up his desk phone and called the press box, in which many of his closest friends do not sit. "What's going on down in Los Angeles?" Franks asked. When he was told that the Pittsburgh Pirates were leading the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning a small light of hope came to Herman's tan eyes.
"What games these have been," he said, "What games. This thing will kill you. But there is no way that a team in the National League can, all of a sudden, just pull away like the Dodgers have seemed to be doing these last few days. No, this race is not over yet. Not by a long shot."
Headline writers and statisticians did not agree with Herman. GIANTS' SEPTEMBER SONG, read one headline; FORGET SERIES, said another. People kept pointing to the loss column, where the Giants were in serious trouble, and to the fact that they were playing pretty stupid baseball and wasting good pitching. For two weeks the Giants had made the very least out of a long home stand, while the hated Dodgers were running off with 13 of 16 games. But last week Herman and his friends played some hilarious and dramatic baseball. On Sunday they were in third place, three games behind, with 12 games remaining, and neither headline writers, statisticians or fans could figure out for sure what they were about to do.
September 25, 1966
San Francisco's confusing and comical week started toward its climax on Wednesday afternoon, when the Giants played the Philadelphia Phillies at Candlestick Park. It was a beautiful afternoon, yet only 8,328 fans paid their way to see the game. "The Phillies," a Giant executive tried to explain, "never draw well." Yet there was a feeling in both clubhouses that this was a big game for the Giants. They stood in third place, two and a half games behind the Dodgers and only a game behind the Pirates. Since neither of those teams was scheduled to play on Wednesday, here was a chance for the Giants to apply a little pressure.
The night before Franks had instructed Gaylord Perry (see cover), who won his 20th game of the season on August 20 but had not won since, to leave the stadium during the first game of the series with the Phillies and go visit Pitching Coach Larry Jansen, who had only recently been released from the hospital after suffering a coronary. Jansen had worked diligently with him during spring training and taught Perry, who had a lifetime record of 24-30, to throw a hard slider (and some say a spitball, too). He also taught him to take his time while pitching and to deliver his pitches from high above his head. Three weeks ago Jansen, while convalescing, had seen Perry pitch on television against the Dodgers and noticed some flaws in Gaylord's delivery and timing. Larry explained this in detail to Perry. The next day, against the Phillies, Gaylord took plenty of time between his pitches, and he bent his back just as Jansen had suggested. In eight innings the Phillies hit only four balls out of the infield. But Richie Allen hit one of those, and it got out of the outfield, too. Philadelphia led 1-0 going into the ninth, and a misplayed triple gave them a second run. The Giants themselves could do nothing against Jim Bunning but, in the bottom of the ninth, with two out, Willie McCovey managed a single, and the entire San Francisco bullpen was on its feet rooting encouragement to Jim Ray Hart to keep the rally alive. Hart, who has had trouble swinging a bat since he aggravated an old shoulder injury four weeks ago, bounced back to Bunning to end the game, and the bullpen crew started walking slowly toward the green exit door in the right-field corner. During the final innings of the game, most of the players in the bullpen had picked up baseballs to slam into their gloves, or roll around in their hands, to relieve the tensions and frustrations of the Giant predicament. Before they reached the door three baseballs flew out of the hands of dejected Giants and into empty seats. It was a big game to lose, even though played well, and a man with a trumpet rose behind the third-base dugout and played a good, clear, heartbreaking taps. Instead of putting the pressure on Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, the Giants had put more on themselves, for a reason that people who only casually follow the Giants will not understand.
This year's Giant team is not really what everyone thinks it is. The general assumption is that the Giants have excellent hitting and little pitching beyond Juan Marichal and the surprising Perry. The Giants, though, are next to last in the league in batting this year, and their defense is only so-so. Giant fans now shake their heads about the trade that sent away Orlando Cepeda and brought in Ray Sadecki, because what the Giants have needed this season is hits and Orlando is hitting .307 for St. Louis. When the Giants do get runs they seem to get them all at once, but they have spent one-fifth of their season getting one run or less. After their 0-2 loss to Philadelphia they went out and got 10 runs the next day against the New York Mets, but again on a beautiful day they drew barely 6,000 people, the smallest crowd at Candlestick this season. One of the attractive usherettes at Candlestick explained this perfectly. "Bob Shaw is pitching for the Mets," she said, "and he used to be a Giant. It is very In and easy to boycott Shaw." Not half as easy as it was to hit him, and the Giants put the game away early.
Should the Giants end up losing the 1966 pennant, there is one game that they will never forget. It came last Friday night and was one of the funniest games ever played, unless you happened to have been playing in it. Ray Sadecki was the starting pitcher for the Giants. Sadecki's record is 3-7 since coming to San Francisco, and that does not make either the people of San Francisco or St. Petersburg, Fla. very happy. Sadecki used to own a coffee shop in St. Pete, and every time he won a game the old folks would scramble off the green benches on Central Avenue and head for it because coffee was on the house. Despite a bad year, he has been saving money on coffee, and he has not lost his sense of humor. Pasted above his dressing cubicle are small signs, many of which he put up himself. LIFE IS FULL OF RUDE AWAKENINGS, one says. MY MIND IS MADE UP—DON'T CONFUSE ME WITH FACTS, is another, and a large one reads, KEEP SMILING.
The very first hitter Sadecki faced on Friday tripled, and the Mets quickly picked up a run. Then odd things began to happen at Candlestick. The fog came in in large clumps, and it was difficult to see the outfielders. The wind kept blowing the caps from the players' heads, and their faces became sandblasted. Third basemen from both sides started back to catch pop flies, only to have them caught by the catcher standing near home plate. With San Francisco a run behind, Tito Fuentes bounced to Second Baseman Ed Bressoud to open the sixth inning. When Bressoud threw wild to first Fuentes spun around to third and, when they realized the Mets had left home plate unguarded, the Giants screamed at Fuentes to score. But Tito never budged toward the plate. After a walk put runners at first and third, Mays hit back to Jack Fisher, Fuentes found himself trapped and a big rally died. The boos virtually cleared the fog.
The Giants managed to score later and led 3-2 entering the ninth, only to lose in spectacular fashion. The ultimate winning run belonged to 22-year-old Bud Harrelson, a lifelong Giant fan who is a rookie shortstop for the Mets. Harrelson, who comes from Hay-ward, Calif., still roots for the Giants—"unless we're playing them," he says. He tripled with two out in the ninth, and Met Third Base Coach Whitey Herzog called him aside as Giant Pitcher Lindy McDaniel came on from the bullpen. "If he doesn't look over at you before he starts to wind up," said Herzog, "go." McDaniel did not look at third as he went into his windup, and Harrelson streaked toward the plate. But he did not get a good jump, and McDaniel saw him from the corner of his eye. Catcher Tom Haller had signaled for a curve, but when a runner is trying to steal home the pitcher must throw a fast ball. Confused by the spin on the ball, Haller felt it skid off his glove, and Harrelson was safe. Again the boos were tremendous, and after the game the Giants sat on their stools in the clubhouse in a silence twice as thick as the fog.
The loss pushed the Giants four games behind Los Angeles and also caused Manager Franks to change his plans to gain ground later on. Herman had decided that if the Giants could beat the Mets he could hold Marichal out a day and start him twice in four days against the Pirates. The Friday loss meant that Marichal had to pitch against the Mets on Saturday and, while Juan pitched well, the Giants played poorly and were behind 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning when they did the near impossible. With one man out, Cap Peterson, who had not gotten a pinch hit in his last 20 appearances, drove a sure double to left center field, but instead of stopping at second he tried to reach third and was thrown out He knelt by the bag with his hands over his face, as Third Base Coach Charlie Fox gestured in anger.
Obviously the chase was over for the Giants—all over. Hart came up as a pinch hitter. Just the night before his injured shoulder had bothered him so much that he could not even take batting practice. A strong wind whipped in from left field, making the possibility of a home run extremely unlikely even for a hitter at full strength. With the count 3-1, Hart swung and hollered "ouch," but the ball went hard and long through the wind into the left-field seats. Hart said it was the hardest ball he had hit in a couple of years, and the Giants had tied the game. In the 10th they won it on Willie McCovey's third home run of the day.
The Pirates came to town the next day, tough and angry after their disappointing series in Los Angeles. But with the Dodgers losing on Saturday and again on Sunday, the Giants were still only three games behind Los Angeles. At virtually the same time last season the Giants were three games in front—and they lost the pennant. Of course, as any gambler knows, long shots seldom come up back to back.