This day in baseball history

On October 6, 1963, the Los Angeles Dodgers completed a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees. It was the first time in their illustrious history that the Yankees had been swept in the World Series in four games. The New York Giants beat them in the 1922 Series 4 games to 0, but there was also a tie game called off due to darkness after 10 innings.

We have seen how the Dodgers, behind Sandy Koufax’s 15 strikeout performance, handily won Game 1. In Game 2, the Yankees’ World Series nemesis Johnny Podres shut them out through 8 innings on the way to a 4-1 victory.

The Dodgers got all the runs they needed off of Al Downing in the first inning on a Maury Wills single and stolen base (he was picked off but beat the throw to second), a Jim Gilliam single, and a Willie Davis double. Bill Skowron provided insurance with a fourth inning home run.

Skowron had been with the Yankees for the previous nine years; indeed he played in Game 7 in 1955, when Podres pitched the shutout that brought Brooklyn its one and only championship. In 1963, Skowron endured a terrible season with the Dodgers, batting only .203 with 4 home runs (a performance that earned him a trade to the Washington during off-season, where he had a more typical Skowron year). But his home run in Game 2 against his old club was the Moose’s third hit and third RBI of the Series, in which he ended up with a .385 batting average.

Game 3 finally delivered a pitchers’ duel. Don Drysdale bested young Jim Bouton 1-0 in game where the two teams combined for only 7 hits. Once again, the Dodgers did all the scoring they needed in the first inning. With Gilliam on first (on a walk) and two out, Bouton wild-pitched Junior to second base. Tommy Davis singled him home for the game’s only run.

So now, the suddenly hitless wonders from New York needed to get the better of Sandy Koufax to avoid a sweep. As in Game 1, Whitey Ford would be on the mound for the Yankees.

The Dodgers’ chances of once again striking in the first inning looked good when Ford began the game by walking Wills, the base-stealing demon. Whitey had the best pickoff move in baseball, so the Dodgers decided to advance Wills via a bunt. But Gilliam popped the bunt up to Elston Howard, who doubled Wills up.

Through 4 innings, the teams had only one hit apiece and the game was scoreless. In the top of the fifth, though, Frank Howard hit a towering 430 foot (or so) home run to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead. With the punchless Yankees down to their last 12 outs against the overpowering Koufax, that might be enough.

But Mickey Mantle would have his say. With one out and no one on base in the top of the seventh, The Mick homered. It was only his second hit in 14 at-bats against Dodger pitching. It was also his 15th home run in a World Series, tying him with Babe Ruth for the all-time lead. Mantle would add three more home runs in the 1964 Series, his last.

Ford was outpitching Koufax at this point, having allowed only two hits. But his defense let him down in the bottom of the inning.

Gilliam hit a grounder to Clete Boyer at third base. It should have been a routine out. But Joe Pepitone, a good fielder and Skowron’s successor as Yankee first baseman, lost the flight of Boyer’s throw in the light-colored shirts of the crowd. The ball glanced off his arm and continued on its way. Gilliam wound up at third base with no outs. Willie Davis promptly drove in the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly to center field.

Now the Yankees were down to their last 6 outs.

Koufax got three of them in the eighth inning. He struck out Boyer (victim number 6) and induced a double-play grounder by Tony Kubek after Phil Linz (pinch-hitting for Ford) had singled.

In the top of the ninth inning, the Yankees still needed just 1 run to tie the game, but had scored only 4 all Series. The heart of the order was due up, but it didn’t include Roger Maris, who must have been ailing as he didn’t play in Game 3 (against the right-handed Drysdale) either.

Bobby Richardson led off with a single, the sixth hit of the game off of Koufax. Tresh struck out looking, bringing Mantle to the plate.

Mantle struck out looking, as well, on an off-speed curve ball. That brought Koufax’s strike out total to 8 (and 23 for his two games, compared to 3 walks). Now it was up to the dangerous Elston Howard.

Howard hit a grounder to Wills in the hole towards third base. Wills made a fine play and threw the ball to second baseman Dick Tracewski on one hop. The throw beat Richardson to the bag and umpire Tom Gorman gave out sign. The Dodgers started to race towards the dugout in joy.

But wait! Tracewski failed to hold the ball, and Gorman reversed his call. Richardson was safe at second, where he represented the tying run. Howard at first represented the go-ahead run.

Hector Lopez, playing instead of Maris, was next up. He hit another grounder to shortstop, this one a slow hopper. Wills threw it Skowron at first, and the Series was over.

The Dodgers had won their second championship in just 6 years in Los Angeles. And Sandy Koufax had finished off a champagne season — 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA in the regular season and 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in the World Series.

The Dodgers sweep of the Yankees shocked the baseball world. The Yankees were the Kings of Baseball, and this team was a strong edition, having won 104 regular season games.

The baseball world drew this lesson — great pitching beats great hitting. I’ll investigate that claim in another post.

Meanwhile, you can watch highlights from Game 4, as well as the end of Game 3, below.

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