The Los Angeles Dodgers entered play on Sunday September 30, 1962 — the last day of the regular season — with a one game lead over the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers could win the National League pennant by beating the St. Louis Cardinals in Los Angeles. And even if the Dodgers lost, the Giants would still need to beat the Houston Colt 45s in San Francisco to force a playoff.
The Dodgers’ starter for this vital game was Johhny Podres, no stranger to big games. Seven years earlier, Podres had shut out the New York Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series to bring the then-Brooklyn Dodgers their first championship. Now, on his 30th birthday, the veteran left-hander would try to bring the Los Angeles Dodgers a pennant.
St. Louis countered with an even more venerable left-hander, Curt Simmons. The 33 year-old’s big league career dated back to 1947, and he had been a mainstay of the Philadelphia Phillies “Wiz Kids” who played in the 1950 World Series.
Meanwhile, the Giants were relying on yet another lefty, Billy O’Dell, who would be seeking his 20th win of the season. His opposite number, Dick “Turk” Farrell, would be seeking to avoid his 20th loss. But, Farrell’s ERA was an excellent 3.04, lower than those of O’Dell, Podres, and Simmons. And in his most recent start, Farrell had beaten the Dodgers 3-2 in 10 innings.
On this day, all four starting pitchers dominated, and both games were tied through seven innings. In LA, the score was 0-0, in San Francisco it was 1-1.
The Cardinals finally broke through against Podres in the top of the 8th on a solo home run by catcher Gene Oliver. And in the bottom of the 8th in San Francisco, Willie Mays smashed a lead off home run to give the Giants a 2-1 lead. If these narrow margins held, a playoff would be required. The Dodgers, though, had two shots left against St. Louis. Houston had only the top of the ninth in which to erase their deficit at Candlestick Park.
Stu Miller had replaced O’Dell, and he made short work of the Colt 45s in the ninth. The Dodgers were equally futile against Simmons who retired them in order in both the 8th and 9th innings.
So after 162 games, the Dodgers and the Giants had identical, excellent records of 101-61. But the Dodgers had lost 10 of their last 13 games, a collapse of near historic proportions, though one that’s almost never mentioned when such collapses (Philadelphia in 1964, Boston in 1978, etc.) come up.
To be fair, the Dodgers lacked the services of the great Sandy Koufax for more than two months. When Koufax went on the disabled list in mid-July, his record was 14-5 with a 2.15 ERA. When he returned in late September, he was ineffective.
But responsiblity for the three-game sweep at the hands of the Cardinals rested with the Dodger hitters. In three games, they managed only 2 runs on 16 hits. And St. Louis pitching held LA scoreless for the final 21 innings of the series.
Now the Dodgers would need to regroup against the Giants in a best of three games series beginning in San Francisco the very next day.