When we last looked in on the 1966 pennant race, it was mid-September. The Los Angeles Dodgers had overcome a mediocre August and moved into first place, two and half games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates and three ahead of the San Francisco Giants.
In the second half of September, the Dodgers maintained their lead, but couldn’t shake the competition. When Sandy Koufax beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 on September 29 (for his 26th win of the season), LA led the Pirates by two games and the Giants by three and half heading into the final series of the regular season.
One Dodgers win in their three game series with the Philadelphia Phillies (on the road) would be enough to hold off Pittsburgh unless the Bucs swept their three game series with the Giants, in which case the teams would end the regular season tied and a playoff would be required.
The Giants were on life support. Unless they swept the Pirates (in Pittsburgh) and the Phils swept the Dodgers, they would be done. If both sweeps occurred, the Giants would play a make-up game against Cincinnati. A win in that contest would tie them with the Dodgers and force a playoff.
It almost came to that.
The Pirates and the Giants were rained out on Friday night. In Philadelphia, the Dodgers could clinch a tie with the Pirates and eliminate the Giants with a win.
However, the Phillies scored two runs early off of Claude Osteen, added three more against Ron Perranoski on a three-run homer by Bill White, and rode Chris Short’s pitching to a 5-3 win.
On Saturday, Philadelphia and Los Angeles were rained out. The Giants and Pirates played a double-header to make up for their Friday rain out. The weather must still have bad because only 18,928 attended this make-or-break encounter.
In the first game, the great Juan Marichal faced Woodie Fryman. In 1960, Fryman had rejected baseball for farming because the Pirates refused to pay him a $20,000 signing bonus. In 1965, with federal tobacco subsidies curtailed, he agreed to join the Pirates farm team in Batavia, New York for $400 a month. When the 1966 season began, he was a major leaguer.
On this day, the Giants chased him early and took a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning. Then, the Pirates came to life against Marichal, scoring three runs on a bunt single by Matty Alou, a single by Manny Mota, a double by Roberto Clemente, and a single by Donn Clendenon.
The Bucs still led 4-3 entering the eighth inning. Pete Mikkelsen, last seen on Power Line being rocked by the Dodgers, was on the hill.
He walked Jim Ray Hart, the lead off batter. Len Gabrielsen bunted Hart to second. Ollie (Downtown) Brown doubled home Hart. Manager Harry (the Hat) Walker stayed with Mikkelsen, as he had in that loss to the Dodgers. Haller was walked intentionally to get to Jim Davenport. The veteran third baseman singled home the go ahead run.
Marichal was still pitching for the Giants, though he had given up eleven hits in seven innings. The right-hander had pitched 80 innings in his last last nine starts, and this day wasn’t going to be different.
Clendenon led off the Pirates half of the eighth with a single. Two outs latter, he was on second base with Jesse Gonder at the plate. Gonder singled off of Willie McCovey’s glove. Clendenon tried to score from second. He was out at the plate.
Marichal set the Pirates down in order in the ninth. The Giants were 5-4 victors.
As things now stood, the second game would eliminate the loser. It turned out to be pitchers duel between a pair of 10 game winners — Bob Bolin and Tommie Sisk. The game was scoreless until the top of the eighth inning.
At that point, Bolin (a .170 hitter) won the game with his bat. His double drove in the first run and he scored the second on a Tom Haller sacrifice fly.
Now only the Giants could catch their bitter rivals, but the odds remained very much against them. To avoid elimination, they had to beat the Pirates again and the Dodgers would have to lose both games of the Sunday double-header in Philadelphia. To make matters worse, the Dodgers were pitching Don Drysdale in the first game and (if necessary) Sandy Koufax in the second.
The Giants needed 12 innings to take care of their business. After tying the game in the top of the ninth, when down to their last out, on a pinch hit single by journeyman Ozzie Virgil, they won it in the 12th with four runs. A two-run McCovey homer was the big blow.
In Philadelphia, Dodgers manager Walter Alston was counting on Drysdale to beat the Phillies. That way, he wouldn’t need Koufax in the second game, meaning that his great ace could pitch Game One of the World Series.
Drysdale was having his worst big league season. Many blamed his famous spring holdout. Unlike Koufax, his partner in labor negotiations, Double D had failed to keep himself in shape, or so it was said.
By September, though, Drysdale was in excellent form. He had won four straight and knocked half a run off his ERA in one month.
However, this was not his day. He allowed two runs in the first inning and Alston pulled him in the third after the first two batters reached base.
The Dodgers gained the lead in the sixth thanks to a three run homer by Ron Fairly. They took the 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning.
In that frame, the Dodgers committed two key errors (one by pitcher Bob Miller on a bunt; the other by third baseman Dick Schofield). The tying run came home on Schofield’s error; the go-ahead run on a single by Clay Dalrymple.
Chris Short, who pitched all nine innings in the victory Friday night, had come on in the top of the eighth. He now stood to be the winning pitcher if he could set the Dodgers down in the ninth. This would make him the Phillies first 20 game winner since Robin Roberts in 1955.
Short did set the Dodgers down — in one-two-three fashion. Koufax would have to pitch the second game on two days rest.
Philadelphia manager Gene Mauch did not intend to make things easy for Koufax and his club. The Phillies starting pitcher would be Jim Bunning, trying for his 20th win after winning 19 games in both of the previous two seasons. The crowd of 23,000 would get to witness a match-up of future Hall of Famers with the pennant on the line.
Bunning didn’t have it. He gave up four runs in five innings.
Koufax had it in spades. But in the fifth inning, with LA up 4-0, something popped in his back at the base of his neck. Between innings, the trainer popped his slipped vertebra back in place. He could continue pitching but, according the trainer, had difficulty turning his neck to check baserunners.
Phillie runners were few, however, and Koufax took a 6-0 lead into the ninth inning.
By now, Koufax was just about out of gas and his defense, among the best in baseball but faltering in this series, didn’t do him any favors. Richie Allen opened the inning by reaching on an error by Jim Lebebvre.
Then came singles by Tony Taylor and Harvey Kuenn, and a double by Bill White. Suddenly the lead was down to 6-3 with the tying run in the on-deck circle and nobody out.
In spite of the barrage of hits, Alston stayed with his meal ticket. Koufax rewarded him by striking out Bob Uecker, getting Bobby Wine on a grounder, and striking out Jackie Brandt.
The grueling pennant race was over. The Dodgers would play the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.
For the second year in a row, Koufax wouldn’t be starting the first game (and this time for reasons having nothing to do with his religion). Drysdale, who had worked only two-plus innings on Sunday, would once again be one the mound in Game One.