The names might easily have been Maglie and Robinson and Furillo and Leo, but they weren't. There was, to be sure, Willie, but there were also Singer and Juan and Buckner and Wills and Johnson, and what these names were doing was fighting. Age and a change of scenery had done nothing to cool passions in baseball's classic rivalry—the Giants against the Dodgers.
Two weeks before, any realist would have said that this would be just another tough series between two old foes, the one already a pennant winner, the other an adequate second. But suddenly the Giants were falling apart and the Dodgers at last were getting together, exactly the way their captain, cheerleader and topkick, Maury Wills (see cover), had said over and over again that they would. While the Dodgers came charging, the Giants developed ninth-inning trouble. Try as they might, they seemed incapable of coming out of the ninth ahead. They lost 11 of 12 games, their once fat lead of 8½ games dwindled to one thin game and Candlestick Park was the Polo Grounds again, or Ebbets Field.
Wacky, of course, just the way things always have been with the two. Consider the days leading up to last week's two-game series, their final confrontation of the season. Before facing off at spitting distance, the archenemies produced a stereo of low lights that stunned even them. One evening, for example, Willie Mays dropped a fly ball in center field. On the same night the Dodgers' Wes Parker got picked off second base with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth inning. He was carrying what was supposed to be the winning run.
The two managers, Charlie Fox of San Francisco and Walt Alston of Los Angeles, rode up and down emotional roller-coasters. Fox, growing more dejected by the moment, said, "Balls bounce off the edges of the AstroTurf and over our infielders' heads. Balls come off the edges of the other teams' bats and fall in for hits. When are the edges going to turn our way?" Looking for a solid combination, Alston juggled his lineup and juggled it again and again. In the end he knew that he was no nearer to a solution than he had been in early March at Vero Beach, Fla.
September 26, 1971
Alston let Richie Allen off work early on Friday night against Atlanta with the Dodgers leading the Braves 2-1. Allen picked up his first baseman's mitt and left the premises and his teammates. They struggled without him through 11 innings and lost 3-2. Fred Norman, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, threw a complete-game victory against Los Angeles on Thursday and did a perfect backflip on the mound at the conclusion of it. Explained Norman: "When I was with the Dodgers I did some backflips in the outfield one day. Alston noticed it and said that if I pitched a complete game it might be kind of interesting to do one on the mound. So I did." That was not exactly what Alston had in mind.
Los Angeles' surprising rise itself came out of mischance. During the team's final swing through the East almost a month ago the Dodgers lost two out of three games in Philadelphia and, after a delightful interlude in Montreal where they won two of three, lost three straight to the Mets in Shea Stadium. Whipped and saddened, they piled onto the plane to Houston, where in all probability they were going to play out the string.
Alston had a better idea. The following evening he closed the dressing room door in the Astrodome and explained the facts of his and their lives to his players. Drawing on his 18 years of experience as a major league manager, he explained to his basically young team that strange things happen in baseball and that several of the losses could have been wins with just a break here and there. Alston also explained the necessity of not letting down, because such an attitude could linger over into future years. He asked the team to show what it was made of.
Los Angeles went out and won, then won again the next night. The Dodgers took nine of their next 11 games, too, including a three-game sweep of the Giants at Los Angeles that set up last week's fight night at Candlestick.
As if that face-off were not heat enough, San Francisco was boiling. Temperatures in the city rose above 100, the hottest it had been there in almost 70 Septembers. Just about everybody in northern California wanted to go to the games—which was quite a novelty for the Giants, who in the last few years had gone largely uninspected by the local citizenry—but only 31,000 could get into the park. It is being rebuilt to accommodate the 49ers football team and, hopefully, 60,000 followers. Studded with beams, girders and half-finished seats, Candlestick resembled a struck set.
The task facing Los Angeles was formidable. Juan Marichal, the starting Giant pitcher in the first game, was 21-1 against the Dodgers at Candlestick, and even the loss came after 11 innings of struggle. In baseball there is no such thing as a game plan. There are only hopes, and the Dodgers' chief one was to score first and hang on in the expectation that Marichal would be replaced by a pinch hitter after five or six innings. Marichal left on schedule, but under circumstances the Dodgers could hardly have foreseen.
In the first inning Los Angeles got its lead when Allen hit a two-run homer. Then with two outs and a 1-1 count to Mays in the bottom of the first, Los Angeles Pitcher Bill Singer hit Willie on the arm with a pitch. He writhed on the ground and the crowd booed. In the top of the fourth Willie Crawford homered for a 3-1 Dodger lead, and with one out in the bottom of the inning Singer hit Shortstop Chris Speier. Now fans started chanting "out, out, out" at Singer, out being where they wanted him thrown. But with one runner already on base it is highly doubtful that Singer had deliberately hit Speier.
Singer was the leadoff hitter in the top of the fifth, and Marichal's first pitch was a high inside fastball that drove him back, from the plate. Marichal's second pitch did the same, and Umpire Shag Crawford warned him—an official act that carries a $150 fine plus expulsion for any recurrence. The entire Giant infield rushed in to object. After Singer flew out, Wills ducked two inside pitches and then grounded out. Up next was Bill Buckner, a young man with a high potential for hot-dogging and a low boiling point. Earlier in the year Marichal had hit Buckner at Dodger Stadium and the two had come close to blows. Marichal's first pitch now hit Buckner on the elbow and, bat still in hand, the outfielder advanced toward the mound. Although Buckner was stopped before he could reach Marichal, a pushing and shoving match of major proportion developed, with not one decent punch thrown—reminiscent of the old days, too.
Umpire Crawford threw Marichal out of the game, the second time he has done so. (It was Crawford who had worked home plate that afternoon at Candlestick back in 1965 when Marichal hit Dodger Catcher John Roseboro over the head with a bat.) Infuriated, Marichal grabbed at his throat three times, the age-old sign of choking, and kept screaming at the umpire. Just when it seemed that things were about to settle down, Jerry Johnson, San Francisco's best relief pitcher, gave a few choke signs of his own. Crawford bounced him, whereupon Johnson raced off the bench and came full speed at Crawford. Five other Giants had to wrestle the pitcher to the ground, and while they fought among themselves Mays was punched on the head.
Now the Giants were without Marichal, without Johnson and after one more at bat Mays had to leave the game because of aching ribs and the blow to his head. Buckner was evicted also, but the Dodgers had a runner at first. Manager Charlie Fox brought in 23-year-old Jim Barr, a right-handed pitcher with only 29 innings of major league experience, to face the left-handed-hitting Willie Davis. Barr's second pitch ended up in the orange seats beyond the right-field fence and the Dodgers were on their way to a critical win. San Francisco's lead was down to two games.
The second meeting was as exciting as the first, even though the action was strictly baseball. Los Angeles carried a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh when Speier homered for one run and Bobby Bonds followed moments later with a three-run shot to give the Giants a 5-3 lead. Bonds leaped around the bases, poked a clenched fist toward the night sky and threw both arms above his head in joy. Giant fans roared with happiness.
Everything pointed to the Dodgers leaving Candlestick no better off than when they had arrived. But in the ninth inning two hits and a bunt by Wills loaded the bases for Los Angeles. Pinch Hitter Manny Mota walked to the plate. "I had one thing in mind," said Mota. "To hit the first pitch if it was in the strike zone." Although Mota seldom pulls a pitch, he did this one, the first thrown to him. It went down the left-field line, and before any Giant could retrieve it three Dodgers crossed the plate for a 6-5 Los Angeles lead.
Hoyt Wilhelm came out of the Los Angeles bullpen to pitch the ninth. Working slowly, he got the first two men out before walking Willie McCovey, thus bringing Mays to bat. In 1951 Wilhelm had been a pitcher for the Minneapolis Millers when the Giants reached down and advanced a youngster from his club who was hitting .477. Name of Mays. Between them Wilhelm and Mays total 88 years. ("Since I'm only 38," says Wilhelm, "that must mean Willie is 50.") Wilhelm threw a ball to Mays, then a called strike and another ball. When Mays swung and missed the next pitch, the ball got past Catcher Tom Haller and Pinch Runner Jimmy Rosario advanced to second with the tying run. Wilhelm went to the back of the mound, rubbed up the ball and looked in at Mays for a long time. He threw a knuckler and Mays swung and missed, but the ball eluded the lunging Haller. He recovered it while swinging his leg out to block Mays going to first and tagged him for the final out.
The Dodgers returned to Los Angeles leaving some interesting statistics to mingle with the sudden gloom descending on Candlestick. For the first time in two seasons the Dodgers had won eight games in a row. They also had beaten San Francisco eight straight times since July, their longest winning streak against the Giants since the clubs moved West in 1958.
It remained only for the Dodgers to wrap up the title before taking on Pittsburgh in the playoffs. The Giants is dead, as the fellow said long ago, and the television ratings were terrific. (The Giants and Dodgers had easily outdrawn Bob Hope, which never happens in California.) The only trouble was, the Dodgers proceeded to play like Howdy Doody, or, to put it another way, like the Giants. They met San Diego, a team with pitching but the worst record in baseball at the time, and lost twice. They met Atlanta, a team with few pitchers but scads of hitters, and lost the first two of a four-game series before taking twin shutouts on Sunday.
The Giants meanwhile were far from untracked. They lost three of their next five games, but gained a game on the Dodgers. By week's end San Francisco was in first place by 1½ games with nine road games remaining, while Los Angeles had eight games left, five on the road and three at home. The Dodgers, as they proved, are a bad home team. The Giants, if it seems possible, are unluckier on the road than they are at home.
So the Dodgers should take the division title, right? Certainly, except that last week neither they nor the Giants did anything when faced with match point. The Giant hitters looked like they were swinging wet, rolled-up copies of The San Francisco Chronicle. The Dodger pitchers occasionally served up gopher balls. The only team that acted as if it wanted to win was Atlanta, but simple mathematics and Sunday's debacle about did in the Braves.
Who would survive the Wild West show? Somehow somebody would win. Or would they? Or should they? Whoever wins, they must meet the Pirates, who took several pratfalls during the summer but are playing good baseball once again. The Pirates have some names of their own, like Clemente, Stargell, Sanguillen, Ellis and Giusti. They also are rested and ready. None of the Western contenders can make that claim. Sal, Jackie, Carl, Leo. Help!