This day in baseball history

A long-time reader files this report from the 1961 baseball season:

On August 16, 1961, the Cincinnati Reds completed a three game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers by winning a double-header, 6-0 and 8-0. Cincinnati outscored the Los Angeles 19-2 over the course of the three games.

Going into the series, the Dodgers led the Reds by two games. Two days later, the Reds led by a game. They would never relinquish first place.

The Reds, having enjoyed an off-day heading into the series, were able to throw their three aces – Bob Purkey, Joey Jay, and Jim O’Toole – at LA. The Dodgers had used Don Drysdale the day before the series began, and so could use only two of their three aces – Sandy Koufax and Johnny Podres – against Cincinnati. Larry Sherry, hero of the 1959 World Series, picked up the other start, his only one of the ’61 season.

In the opener, the Dodgers jumped out to a 2-0 lead. But Cincinnati got to Koufax with two runs in the fifth inning (on a two-run double by Frank Robinson), two more in the sixth (on a Wally Post home run and a single by Eddie Kasko), and another in the seventh (on a double by left-handed hitting Jerry Lynch, batting for the right-handed Post after Koufax had been removed earlier in the inning). Cincinnati starter Joey Jay recovered from his rocky start to win 5-2, completing the game and allowing just six hits.

Purkey topped that the next day with a four-hit shut-out in the opener of the double-header. O’Toole followed with a two-hit shut-out. Robinson and Gene Freese were the hitting stars, Robbie going a combined 3 for 5 with four RBIs and a home run, and Freese blasting two homers and knocking in four runs in the second game.

Cincinnati’s sweep sent the Dodgers into a terrible tailspin. The two losses on August 16 ran their losing streak to four games. They would lose their next six, before finally winning against Cincinnati on August 25. By then, they were three-and-half games behind the Reds, and lucky to be that close.

It was mostly anemic hitting that brought on the downward spiral. The Dodgers were shut out four times in the first six games of the losing streak. In those six games, they scored only three runs. But the pitching was pretty poor too. In those six contests, they received only one strong starting performance – from Drysdale in a 2-1 loss to San Francisco.

The 1961 Dodgers arguably were only a somewhat better than average team, outscoring their opponents by just 38 runs over the course of the season. But it took the strong performances of Jay, Purkey, and O’Toole fifty years ago this week to knock the wind out of their sails and pave the way for Cincinnati’s first pennant since 1940.