This day in baseball history — a classic game decides the World Series

On October 16, 1962, the New York Yankees and the San Francisco Giants played Game 7 of the World Series at Candlestick Park. This game is generally (and correctly, in my view) considered one of the top 10 World Series games of all-time.

The game is remembered for the line drive that ended it, for the double play that produced its only run, and, by some, for the impact of a great slugger’s throwing arm. In this post, I’ll call attention to several forgotten plays that were also crucial.

The final game featured the third duel between Ralph Terry and Jack Sanford. In Game 2, Sanford had shut out New York in a 2-0 victory. In Game 5, Terry was a 5-3 winner.

Although Terry had won a game in both the 1961 and 1962 Series, he entered Game 7 still laboring in the shadow of the seventh game of the 1960 Series. Then, he had yielded the walk-off home run to Bill Mazeroski that gave the Pittsburgh Pirates a famous 10-9 victory. Now, another Game 7 was in his hands.

It quickly became clear that, unlike in 1960, this Game 7 would be no slugfest. Terry was perfect through the first four innings. During that span, Sanford yielded only a first inning walk to Bobby Richardson and a third inning single to Tony Kubek.

But in the top of the fifth inning, Bill Skowron and Clete Boyer led off with singles. Terry was up next. His mission was to advance the runners with a bunt. However, Sanford walked his opposing number to load the bases with no outs.

Now, the Giants felt compelled to play their middle infielders at double play depth, rather than drawn in further for a play at home plate. In other words, on a ball hit towards the middle they would accept a double play in exchange for a run.

Kubek duly delivered a hard hit grounder to shortstop Jose Pagan. The Giants turned the 6-4-3 double play, with Skowron scoring to give New York a 1-0 lead. Sanford then retired Richardson on a pop foul.

The Giants had dodged a big inning by the Yankees. They had five more innings to get the run back. And the Giants had scored in all but 7 of the 171 games they previously played in 1962. They had not been shut out since August 16, exactly two months earlier. During the regular season, moreover, they produced a major league leading 878 runs. In the three game playoff series against the Dodgers, they added 21. The Yankees had slowed them down, allowing just 21 runs in the first six games. But the Giants must have liked their chances of avoiding a shut out.

Terry lost his perfect game with two out in the bottom of the sixth, when Sanford singled. But Felipe Alou followed with a ground out to end the inning.

The San Francisco bats finally came alive in the seventh. After Chuck Hiller bunted for an out to leadoff, Willie Mays hit a shot to deep left field. Tom Tresh made an outstanding running one-handed catch near the foul line to deprive Mays of extra bases. Then, Willie McCovey tripled.

But for Tresh’s catch, McCovey’s blast would have tied the score and made him the go-ahead run at third base. Instead, there were two out with McCovey on third and the Yankees still leading. Terry then fanned the dangerous Orlando Cepeda to preserve the 1-0 lead.

The Yankees again loaded the base with no out in the top of the eighth on an error by Pagan and singles by Tresh and Mantle. With the left-handed hitting Roger Maris at the plate, Alvin Dark pulled Sanford and brought in southpaw Billy O’Dell, the starter in Game 1. O’Dell induced Maris to hit a ground ball to the second baseman. This time, with no room to allow another Yankee run, the play was at the plate, and the Giants pulled off the home-to-first double play – Hiller to Haller to Cepeda. The Yankee lead remained 1-0.

Terry set the Giants down in order in the bottom of the eighth. O’Dell did the same to the Yankees in the top of the ninth.

O’Dell was due up first in the bottom of the ninth, so the Giants used a pinch hitter. Up came Matty Alou whose pinch hit single to lead off the ninth inning in the deciding game of the playoff with the Dodgers had sparked a four run rally that brought the pennant to San Francisco.

Matty delivered again, this time with a bunt single to the right side of the infield. Terry, who seemed to be looking for the bunt, charged off the mound quickly but to no avail. Alou placed it perfectly, and with enough pace to push the ball past Terry.

Matty’s brother Felipe was the next batter. Clearly, another bunt was in order, this time of the sacrifice variety. A successful sacrifice would put the tying run in scoring position.

Decades later, Alou recalled that he had sacrificed only twice all year. On this occasion, his bunt initially appeared successful, but eventually rolled into foul territory. Looking back, Alou says the notorious Candlestick Park wind pushed it foul.

The Giants then changed things up and tried a hit and run. But Alou fouled that attempt off for strike two. Reaching back for something extra, Terry then struck Felipe out.

Terry also struck out Chuck Hiller, a difficult hitter to fan. With two out, it would be up to Mays whose bid for extra bases had been denied by Tresh two innings earlier in deep left field.

This time Mays went the other way, driving the ball deep and toward the right field line. This surely would be extra bases for the speedy Mays and, with two, out drive in Matty Alou who was also a fast runner.

But Roger Maris raced to the right field line, cut the ball off, and immediately came up throwing. Famous for breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record, Maris also had a fabulous arm. Alou held at third.

If Alou had sacrificed successfully, though, his brother would have scored easily on Mays’ double. Decades later, Alou, who went on to be a successful big league manager, said “you’ve got to be ready to bunt in the World Series; I was not ready.”

Now it was McCovey’s turn. Would manager Ralph Houk have the Yankees pitch to this fearsome batter who had smoked a triple in his previous at bat? If so, would he leave Terry, who had allowed (in addition to the triple) a home run by McCovery in a previous game, in to do it?

Cepeda, like McCovey a future Hall of Famer, was up next, so it was a case of pick your poison. On the one hand, McCovey was a left-handed hitter, so in that sense he was a more difficult match up, assuming Houk didn’t pull his starter. On the other hand, an intentional walk would load the bases, enabling the Giants to tie the game with a walk. But a walk would only tie the game; a base hit (by either McCovey or Cepeda) would win it.

The Yankees decided to pitch to McCovey. Looking at the percentages it’s difficult to second-guess Houk’s decision. McCovey batted .292 against right-handers in 1962. Cepeda’s on-base percentage against right-handers was .368 (on-base percentage being relevant for Cepeda because, as noted, unlike McCovey he could tie the game simply by reaching base). As for Terry, left-handed hitters got hits against him at almost the same rate that right-handers reached base.

Houk could have tried to improve his odds by bringing in a relief pitcher. Left-hander Marshall Bridges (8-4, 3.14 ERA, and 18 saves) had been his most effective reliever during the regular season, and was very tough on lefty batters. But Bridges tended to be wild (48 walks in 72 innings) and had struggled in Game 4. Houk simply didn’t trust him the way he trusted Terry, whom he had managed as far back as 1955 and 1956 (in the minor leagues).

Houk might have turned to Bill Stafford, his number three starter who had pitched so effectively in Game 3, and in the 1960 and 1961 World Series as well. But Stafford had been a starting pitcher all season, and hadn’t pitched in 12 days. Bringing him on in this situation may have seemed too risky to Houk.

So Terry faced McCovey. After hitting a long foul pull to right, McCovey scorched a line drive at second baseman Richardson. A foot or two in either direction, or two feet higher, and it would have scored Alou and almost certainly Mays to give the Series to San Francisco. But Richardson snared the ball to end the game. For Terry, one assumes, any lingering burden he carried due to Mazeroski’s home run now was lifted.

The Yankees were champions for the second year in a row, for the third time in five seasons, and for the ninth time in 14. As for the Giants, they would have to wait 48 more years before bringing the baseball title to San Francisco.

Below, you can view highlights of this legendary game.

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