On September 18, 1963, the St. Louis Cardinals played a must-win game at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the finale of a three-game series. At the start of the series, the Cards trailed the Dodgers by just one game, having won 19 of their last 20 contests.
But the Dodgers won the first two games, limiting the Cards to one run and seven hits. In the previous 20 games, St. Louis had scored 120 runs.
Two left-handers, Johhny Podres and Sandy Koufax, had shut down the Cardinals in the first two games of the series. Now, St. Louis would face another southpaw, but a much less illustrious one — second-year man Pete Richert, with a modest 3.84 ERA and just 10 starts all year.
St. Louis’ starter was Bob Gibson. At age 27, the former Creighton basketball star had finally become a top pitcher. His record stood at 18-8, with a 3.31 ERA.
St. Louis jumped all over Richert early. They scored two runs and the second inning and knocked him out of the game in the third with three runs. The key blows were a two-run homer by Charlie James in the second and a two-run double by Curt Flood an inning later.
Gibson, once again in fine form, took a 5-1 lead into the top of the eighth. He had retired the last 10 L.A. batters.
To start off the eighth, Dodgers manager called on Dick Nen to pinch hit for pitcher Bob Miller. It was Nen’s major league debut. He flied out to centerfield.
However, Maury Wills and Jim Gilliam followed with singles, and Gibson walked Wally Moon. The bases were loaded with one out for Tommy Davis, who was on his way to back-to-back NL batting titles.
Davis singled home Wills and Gilliam. Now it was the turn of lefty-hitting Ron Fairly.
Cardinal manager Jonny Keane pulled the tiring Gibson and brought in southpaw Bobby Shantz to pitch to Fairly, who was batting under .200 against left-handed pitching. Fairly, though, had doubled against Shantz in the series opener.
This time, Shantz would not face Fairly. Walter Alston sent Frank Howard up instead. Howard drew a walk to load the bases with one out for Willie Davis.
Davis drove home the fourth run of the inning with a sacrifice fly. Moose Skowron then batted for Johnny Roseboro, causing Keane to remove Shantz and call on Ron Taylor to face the right-handed pinch-hitter. Taylor retired Skowron on a ground ball to preserve a one-run lead.
The lead was still one run when the Dodgers came to bat in the ninth. Taylor, in the midst of a fine season, was still on the mound.
With one out, it was Dick Nen’s turn to bat. The debutant had stayed in the game after pinch hitting for the pitcher in the eighth inning.
This time Nen tied the game with his first major league hit (Nen had hit only 9 home runs in 158 games at Triple A Spokane in 1963). The blast reached the roof of old Busch Stadium (previously Sportsman’s Park). Now the score was 5-5. The top half of the ninth ended that way.
Relief ace Ron Perranoski set down the Cardinals 1-2-3 in the ninth, as he had in the eighth. Thus, the game went to extra innings
St. Louis brought on Lew Burdette, hero of the 1957 World Series. He had no difficulty with the Dodgers in the top of the 10th.
Dick Groat led off the bottom of the 10th with a triple off of Perranoski. Stan Musial might have been up next, but he had been replaced for a pinch-runner (and defensive substitute) in the seventh inning, when the Cards held the lead. So instead of Musial, Gary Kolb stepped to the plate. Perranoski won the lefty-lefty confrontation, striking Kolb out.
Ken Boyer and Bill White — the heart of the Cards order — were up next. Alston ordered Perranoski to walk both intentionally to load the bases with one out.
Loading the bases via intentional walks is risky business. It adds a walk and a hit-by-pitch to the ways you can lose. Although Curt Flood’s on-base percentage of .345 wasn’t that good, it was higher than the batting average of Boyer (.291) and White (.309), neither of whom could win the game with a walk or by being hit with a pitch.
Moreover, when the bases loaded the pitcher must throw strikes, making it easier for the batter to drive a pitch to the outfield for a hit or a sacrifice fly. On the other hand walking the bases loaded produces the possibility not just of a double-play, but also a force out at any base.
Alston’s strategy worked. Flood forced Groat at home on a grounder to shortstop and Mike Shannon grounded out to end the inning.
Perranoski and Burdette pitched without much more incident until the top of the 13th, when Willie Davis led off with a single for the Dodgers. Perranoski tried to sacrifice him to second, but struck out.
Dick Tracewski then hit a possible inning-ending grounder to second baseman Julian Javier. But Javier failed to make a play. Davis scooted to third and Tracewski took second.
Now, it was Nen’s turn again. Keane elected to walk Nen to load the bases and face Maury Wills with the double-play in order. But, of course, doubling up the speedy Wills was no easy proposition. And Nen, in spite of his home run, did not pose as much of a threat as Wills and Gilliam (due up next).
Keane’s strategy did not work. Wills obligingly hit a grounder to the second baseman, but Javier’s only play was to first base. Davis scored to make it 6-5. Burdette then retired Gilliam.
When Perranoski took the mound in the bottom of the 13th, he was beginning his sixth inning or work. This was another of those epic relief outings by a “closer” that would get a manager fired these days.
Perranoski was up to the task, though. He set down Shannon, Tim McCarver, and pinch-hitter Jerry Buchek 1-2-3.
The Dodgers three-game sweep ended the pennant race. They went on to win the pennant by six games.
We’ll catch up with them in the World Series next month.
But Dick Nen didn’t play in the World Series, so let’s catch up with this unlikely hero now.
The game-tying home run on this day 50 years ago was Nen’s only big league hit of the 1963 season. He did not play in the majors in 1964, spending the season back at Spokane where he batted .280 with 18 home runs. In 1965, the Dodgers traded him to the lowly Washington Senators along with Pete Richert, Frank Howard, Ken McMullen, and Phil Ortega in a deal for Claude Osteen.
The deal helped the Senators tremendously, but no thanks to Nen. He finished his big league career with a .224 batting average, an OPS of .623, and only 21 home runs.
However, his son, Robb Nen, had an excellent career as a relief pitcher for Florida and San Francisco. He won the World Series with both clubs and pitched in two All Star Games.