On Wednesday, October 3, 1962, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants played the final game of their playoff series. Though the 1962 playoff series is all but forgotten, it was a classic, made so by an epic second game and a dramatic finale. If these two teams had still been in New York, as they were during their legendary 1951 series, I suspect this playoff would still be widely remembered. Indeed, Howard Cosell would still be raving about it from the grave.
For the deciding game, played in Los Angeles, Giants manager Alvin Dark turned to young Juan Marichal (18-11, 3.34 heading into the game). Walter Alston called upon veteran Johnny Podres (15-13, 3.85). Both were pitching with only two days rest. But given the status of both staffs, this made them comparatively well-rested.
The Giants broke through first, in a wild third inning that featured three Dodger errors. Jose Pagan led off with a single. Marichal then reached first when Podres threw wildly to second on his bunt. That brought up veteran Harvey Kuenn, whom Dark had opted to play instead of Willie McCovey against the left-handed Podres (Kuenn batted .323 against southpaws in 1962).
Kuenn promptly singled home Pagan, with Marichal stopping at second base. Chuck Hiller now was at the plate and another bunt was in order. With Marichal straying towards third to get a jump, catcher Johnny Roseboro threw to second. He had Marichal picked off, but his throw was errant and Marichal advanced to third on the error. A few years later, Marichal would disgracefully attack Roseboro with a bat in another installment of the passionate Dodgers-Giant rivalry.
Hiller flied out to left field. The ball wasn’t hit deep enough to score Marichal. But the Dodgers tried to double up Kuenn, who was looking to advance to second if there was a play at the plate. The Dodgers had Kuenn dead until Jim Gilliam’s throw hit him, allowing Marichal to score and Kuenn to return to first base.
Alou followed with a double, sending Kuenn to third. With first base open, the Dodgers walked Willie Mays intentionally. Up stepped Orlando Cepeda, who had driven in more than 260 runs in 1961-62. With his relief pitchers fatigued, and because it was only the third inning, Alston allowed Podres to pitch to the fearsome “Baby Bull.” Good move; Podres induced a double-play grounder. The Giants were up 2-0, but it could have been so much worse.
The Dodgers got a run back in the bottom of the fourth inning. Duke Snider, playing in his last game as a Dodger, doubled and Tommy Davis singled him to third. One out later, Snider scored on a ground ball by Frank Howard.
The Giants threatened to break open the game in the top of the sixth. Cepeda and Ed Bailey led off with singles, and Jim Davenport also singled on a bunt.
That was it for Podres. Alston brought in Ed Roebuck, who had pitched 4 innings in Game 1 and two-thirds of an inning in Game 2. Roebuck’s record was 10-1 with a 2.95 ERA.
Facing the bottom of the order, Roebuck got out of the inning on ground balls by Pagan (which forced Cepeda at home) and Marichal (which produced a double play).
The Dodgers took the lead in the bottom of the inning. Again, the combination of Snider (single) and Tommy Davis (home run) did the damage. 3-2 Dodgers with three innings to go.
The Dodgers added a run in the bottom of the seventh, thanks to Maury Wills. He singled with one out and promptly stole second base. Then with two out, he stole third. This was an unorthodox move, with two out and Wills already in scoring position. But it paid off. Ed Bailey threw the ball away trying to cut Wills down, and the great thief scored. 4-2 Dodgers.
With the Dodgers still up 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Alston made a fateful decision. Marichal walked Tommy Davis and Ron Fairly bunted Davis to second. Frank Howard struck out, while Davis stole third. Dark then ordered Don Larsen, on for Marichal, to walk the next two batters (Roseboro and Willie Davis) in order to get to pitcher Ed Roebuck.
Any modern manager would, I think, have pinch hit for Roebuck. After all, the right hander was roughly the equivalent of a “set-up” man for “closer” Ron Perranoski. And he had already pitched three innings, having also worked the two previous games (including a 4 inning stint), plus 5 of the previous 6 contests.
But Alston wanted Roebuck, a veteran of two World Series, to pitch the ninth. And in fairness to Alston, his thinking was not out of line for the era. In any case, it was not out of line with Dark’s; otherwise he probably would not have walked the bases loaded to get to Roebuck.
The move paid off for Dark. Roebuck grounded out to end the eighth inning.
The Giants had one last chance, and needed to score at least two runs. Matty Alou batted for Larsen and delivered a lead off single. Roebuck then got Kuenn to hit a grounder to Wills, but hustled to first ahead of Gilliam’s relay throw. Alou was out at second, but the Giants still had a runner.
A home run would tie the game, and Dark sent up slugger Willie McCovey to bat for Hiller. McCovey walked, as did the next batter, Felipe Alou. The tying run was now in scoring position and the go-ahead run was on first.
The back-to-back walks seem like a sure sign that Roebuck had lost it, but Alston allowed him to pitch to Mays, no less. Mays smashed the ball up the middle. Roebuck managed to deflect the ball, preventing the tying run from scoring from second. But Kuenn scored from third to make it 4-3 Dodgers, and the bases remained loaded.
With Cepeda up, Alston finally replaced Roebuck with Stan Williams. I don’t know why Alston turned to Williams rather than Larry Sherry, the hero of the 1959 World Series and a solid reliever in 1962. It’s said that Alston contemplated Sherry as the Game 3 starter, but he never appeared at all in this decisive encounter.
Cepeda tied the game with a sacrifice fly. Felipe Alou took third base. Mays stayed at first, but subsequently took second on a wild pitch by Williams, with Alou remaining on third.
With first base now open, Williams intentionally walked Bailey to get to Davenport. But Williams also walked Davenport, which brought Alou home with the go ahead run. Perranoski replaced Williams on the mound. Finally, the Dodgers were using their “closer.” And Perranoski got Pagan to hit a grounder to second baseman Larry Burright, on as a defensive replacement. However, Burright muffed Pagan’s grounder and Mays scored to make it 4-2. The inning ended when Perranoski fanned Bob Nieman, the veteran right-handed batter who was pinch hitting for Mattyy Alou, who had led off the inning as a pinch hitter.
Now it was the Giants who had the 2 run lead and were three outs from the pennant. Dark turned to Billy Pierce, who had shut out the Dodgers in the series opener. Pierce made easy work of it, setting down the Dodgers (Wills, Gilliam, and pinch hitter Lee Walls) one-two-three.
The Giants were National League champions and deservedly so. To be sure, poor fielding by the Dodgers had played a big part. But San Francisco banged out 13 hits compared to 8 for the Dodgers. And for the series as a whole, the Giants scored 21 runs on 33 hits, compared to 12 runs and 18 hits for Los Angeles.
Of course, if Sandy Koufax hadn’t missed more than two months due to injury, there surely would have been no playoff; the Dodgers would have coasted home with the pennant. But this was of no concern to the Giants. Their concern was preparing to play the well-rested New York Yankees in Candlestick Park the very next day, in the wake of this draining playoff series.