With his Dodgers up three games to one in the 1959 World Series, Walter Alston had the luxury of using his fourth starter in Game 5. Even if the Dodgers lost, they would still be up 3-2, with the well-rested duo of Johnny Podres and Don Drysdale available to close out the Chicago White Sox.
Alston’s fourth starter happened to be Sandy Koufax. Koufax’s record was ordinary — 8-6 4.06 — but he was no ordinary fourth starter. His 173 strike-outs in 153 spoke voumes about the quality of his stuff, and when he had command of that stuff he was almost unhitable. But the 92 walks he had allowed showed that he frequently lacked command. Nonetheless, Alston knew there was a decent chance his fourth starter would deliver a first-rate performance.
White Sox skipper Al Lopez, on the other hand, had no choice but to use ace right-hander Bob Shaw — 18-6, 2.69.– who had given him six strong innings in Game 2 before faltering in the seventh.
Koufax and Shaw both turned out to be on top of their game, Koufax would walk only one batter on the day. In the fourth inning, however, Fox and Landis led off with singles, and Lollar’s double-play grounder gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead.
Shaw took the 1-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Chuck Essegian, batting for Maury Wills, drew a walk. With two outs (after Duke Snider, batting for Koufax, had forced Essegian), Jim Gilliam singled Essegian to second.
Following Gilliam’s hit, Lopez brought on Jim Rivera to play right field. Remembered today, if at all, for being placed on probation by Major League baseball after being accused of rape, Rivera was a terrific defensive outfielder. Lopez’s move paid immediately dividends when Rivera saved two runs with an outstanding catch to rob Charlie Neal of extra bases.
Even though Shaw by now was struggling, Lopez sent him out in the eighth inning to preserve the 1-0 lead. Wally Moon greeted him with a single and, with one out, Gil Hodges singled Moon to third and took second on the throw to third from Jim Landis. It was the third hit of the day for the red-hot Hodges.
Alston sent up left-handed hitting Ron Failry, only 20 years old, to bat for Don Demeter. Lopez countered with lefty pitching ace Bill Pierce. Alston countered by pinch-hitting for Fairly with veteran right-handed hitting slugger Rip Repulski. Lopez countered by issuing an intentional walk to Repulski. Alston, who no doubt had anticipated this move, countered by sending up the right-handed Carl Furillo to bat for the left-handed Johnny Roseboro. Furillo’s pinch-hit single off of Jerry Staley had been the difference in Game 3.
Lopez wanted a right-hander to pitch to Furillo. He bypassed both of his right-handed relief aces — Turk Lown and Staley — and called on Dick Donovan, who had pitched so well as the Game 3 starter.
50 years later, I still recall Donovan’s post-game quote:
I was used to watching this kind of drama in my living room drinking a cold beer. When I took the mound, my only thought was, “I wish I had that beer now.”
Even without the beer, Donovan retired Furillo on a pop-up. The next batter was Don Zimmer, who had replaced Wills. Having already run through his bench, Alston had to stick with the light-hitting Zimmer. Donovan retired him on a fly ball.
The lead was still 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth. Alston, out of good pinch-hitting options, sent up Larry Sherry, the pitching hero of the previous three games, to bat for reliever Stan Williams. Don Drysdale, a good hiting pitcher who had hit four home runs during the season in 91 at-bats, was also available. But Sherry had batted .219 with two home runs in 37 at-bats, and Alston went with him.
Donovan retired Sherry, Gilliam, and Neal — all on ground balls — and White Sox prevailed 1-0. This was the time in World Series history that three pitchers had combined on a shut-out. Pierce’s contribution was the intentional walk.
The Dodgers would have to keep the champagne on hold. But they still had Podres and Drysdale, both well-rested. The White Sox, by contrast, had used three of their four starting pitchers just to stay alive and take the Series back to Chicago.