This weekend in baseball history, part 1

A long-time reader sends this dispatch from the 1961 baseball season.

On Friday, August 25, 1961, the Los Angeles Dodgers opened a make-or-break weekend series against the home-standing Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field. Readers may recall that Cincinnati had supplanted the Dodgers as League leaders earlier in August by sweeping a series between the two teams in L.A.. The Dodgers went on to lose their next six games, and staggered into Cincinnati trailing the Reds by three and a half games.

In the series opener, Sandy Koufax faced Bob Purkey – a matchup of All Stars. In the bottom of the fifth inning, leading 4-2, Koufax reverted to the wild ways that had stymied him early in his career. He began the inning by walking Purkey, his opposite number. He then hit Elio Chacon and waked Leo Cardenas to load the basis with no outs.

According to the account of Reds reliever Jim Brosnan, in his book Pennant Race, Koufax’s “wildness so disconcerted him that he stomped around the mound looking for control.” With the Reds’ two best hitters, Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson, up next, the Dodgers’ two run lead looked precarious. Dodger manager Walter Alston visited Koufax and tried to calm him down.

Two pitches later, the Dodgers were off the field. Despite Koufax’s wildness, both Pinson and Robinson swung at his first offering. Pinson popped it into foul territory for an out; Robbie bounced it into a double play.

In the top of the sixth, a two-run homer by Frank Howard extended the Dodgers’ lead to four runs. They coasted to a 7-2 victory, with Koufax completing the game. Purkey, who had shut Los Angeles out on just four hits in the previous series, allowed six runs this time.

On Saturday, August 26, Johnny Podres started for the Dodgers. The Reds countered with Jay Hook, an engineering whiz was working towards his advanced degree during the off-season. The following year, Hook would lose 19 games for the expansion Mets. In 1964, having obtained a master’s degree in thermodynamics, he retired from baseball to take a job with Chrysler.

Baseball-wise, Podres vs. Hook was a mismatch. Podres was 15-4 on the season; Hook was 1-2. Moreover, Hook hadn’t started a game in more than two months and his ERA was an unsightly 7.60.

According to Brosnan, there was considerable head-scratching in the Reds dugout about manager Fred Hutchison’s selection of Hook for such a big game. “What’s Hutch trying to prove,” pitching star Joey Jay grumbled.

The concern proved justified. Los Angeles jumped on Hook for four runs in the second inning. The only Dodgers he was credited with retiring were Podres, on a sacrifice fly, and Tommy Davis on a failed stolen base attempt.

By the seventh inning, Los Angeles had added six more runs, to lead 10-1. A Pinson grand slam in the bottom of the seventh chased Podres, but the Dodgers were never seriously threatened. The final score was 10-6.

The Dodgers had closed to within a game and a half of the Reds, with a double-header set for Sunday.

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