When we last visited the 1966 National League pennant race, the Dodgers had surged into first place on the strength of four consecutive shutout wins against the Houston Astros. As of the end of play on September 11, they led the Pittsburgh Pirates by one game and the San Francisco Giants by two.
Four days later, as the Dodgers began a three game series with the Pirates, their lead was a game and a half on the Bucs and three games on the Giants. San Francisco could gain ground on one or both rivals if they swept the lowly New York Mets.
The series opener in Los Angeles featured two of the game’s great veterans and nastiest head hunters, Don Drysdale and Vernon Law. “Double D” was struggling through perhaps his worst season ever, at 9-16 with a 3.74 ERA. “The Deacon,” in his last season as a regular starter, was 10-7 with a 4.16 ERA.
On this day in baseball history, Law didn’t make it out of the first inning, in which LA scored five runs. Drysdale cruised into the ninth inning with a 5-1 lead, but with two out gave up home runs to Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell.
Phil Regan came on to retire Don Clendenon and record his 20th save — the most in the NL. A mediocre starer with the Detroit Tigers in the early 1960s, Regan had become the National League’s best reliever due at least in part to his mastery of the spitball.
The Dodgers won the next day 5-1 behind Sandy Koufax. Koufax boosted his record to 24-8 with a 1.78 ERA.
The season finale was a must-win affair for the Pirates. But they trailed 3-2 entering the seventh inning.
Clemente walked and Stargell singled off of reliever Bob Miller to start things off. Walter Alston brought on Regan to face Clendenon, whom he had retired to save the series opener. Regan’s ERA stood at 1.62.
With the season on the line, Clendenon homered to give the Bucs a 5-3 lead. The Pirates added four more runs in the eighth off of another fine reliever, Ron Perranoski (a recurring figure in “This Day in Baseball History”), and went on to win 9-5.
The winning pitcher? Vernon Law bouncing back from his awful start two days earlier to pitch middle relief.
What about the Giants? They were only able to win two of three at home against the Mets.
The Mets victory came in the second game when they scored 3 runs in the ninth to win 5-4. Young Bud Harrelson was the hero for New York, tripling home the second run and stealing home for the third.
It took extra innings for the Giants to win the series the next day. They tied the score in the bottom of the ninth on a pinch hit home run by Jim Ray Hart. In the tenth, Willie Mays singled and Willie McCovey homered (both off of Larry Miller) to keep the Giants within three games of the Dodgers. The Pirates were now two and half game off the pace.
San Francisco and Pittsburgh would have to face each other next at Candlestick Park; Los Angeles had Philadelphia at home. After chasing their two rivals nearly all summer, the Dodgers were finally in charge.