Until early September, it didn’t appear that the 1963 baseball season would offer fans a pennant race. The New York Yankees had the AL crown wrapped up before September. Going into the final week of August, they led second place Minnesota by 11.5 games. On today’s date, September 16, they were 14 games ahead of second place Chicago.
The Los Angeles Dodgers also looked secure at the beginning of September, leading second place St. Louis by 6. And they continued to play well during the first two weeks of the regular season’s final month.
But St. Louis opened September by winning 17 of 18 games. Thus, when the Dodgers pulled into St. Louis on September 16 to begin a three game series, their lead was down to just one game.
The opening contest pitted Johnny Podres against Ernie Broglio. These days, Broglio is remembered as the man for whom the Cardinals received Hall of Famer Lou Brock in a one-sided trade. But in 1963, he was one of the best pitchers in the National League. Going into the showdown series with the Dodgers, Broglio was well on his way to an 18-win season with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Podres, of 1955 World Series fame, was having his usual solid but unspectacular year. His record stood at 13-10 with 3.30.
The game turned out to be a pitchers duel. Heading into the ninth inning, each team had only one run. The Dodgers scored in the sixth on a Maury Wills double, his steal of third base, and a Tommy Davis single. St. Louis tied the game in the seventh on a Stan Musial home run — the last of 475 round-trippers “The Man” belted in his 22-year career.
Pitcher Bob Gibson (.231 batting average at the time) had batted for Broglio in the bottom of the 8th, so Bobby Shantz came on in relief to face the Dodgers in the ninth. Shantz had been a key and heroic figure in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series. A few days shy of his 38th birthday, the veteran left-hander was having another fine year. He seemed like the ideal man to face Dodger lefty hitters Ron Fairly, Johnny Roseboro, and Willie Davis.
But Fairly greeted Shantz with a double. Then, after Roseboro struck out, Davis drove in Fairly with a single.
When Shantz then walked Ken McMullen, Cardinal manager Johnny Keane summoned his righty bullpen ace, Ron Taylor to face Bill Skowron.
The Moose obliged with a grounder to Julian Javier. But Javier failed to make the play. Dick Tracewski, running for McMullen, raced home to give Los Angeles a 3-1 lead.
Ron Perranoski, with his 1.84 ERA, 15 wins, and 18 saves (second most in the League), came on for the Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth. He retired Cardinal stars Dick Groat, Stan Musial, and Ken Boyer without allowing a ball to reach the outfield.
With a two game lead and Sandy Koufax set to pitch the next day, Dodger fans could begin to think about exhaling.