This day in baseball history — Osteen succeeds where Drysdale and Koufax failed

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins. 1965 was only the Twins’ fifth season in Minnesota and they were already in the World Series. In Washington, DC, from whence they came, the franchise hadn’t been the Series since 1933.

This World Series was dramatic in the sense that it went seven games. However, the games themselves didn’t produce much drama.

Here are the runs the losing team scored in the seven games: 2,1,0,2,0,1,0. Meanwhile, the winning team scored more than 4 runs in five of the games and less than 3 runs only in the final game, which LA won 2-0 and in which the Twins got only 3 hits.

On Saturday, October 9, the two teams played Game Three. The Dodgers had lost the first two games in Minnesota, with the Twins handily defeating their two aces, Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.

In Game One, the Twins chased Drysdale (pitching because Koufax would not pitch on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur) with a 6-run third inning, set up by an error by Jim Lefebvre on a bunt by Twins’ pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant. Frank Quillici had two hits in the inning. The Twins cruised home with an 8-2 victory.

Game Two, played on a rain-soaked field, was a bit more dramatic. Koufax and Jim Kaat took shutouts into the sixth inning. Kaat’s had been preserved thanks to a great catch by Bob Allison with a runner on base in the fifth inning.

Koufax lost his shutout when Zoilo Versalles reached second base on a Jim Gilliam error, Joe Nossek bunted him to third, and Tony Oliva doubled him home. Harmon Killebrew then drove in Oliva with a single to make the score 2-0.

The Dodgers answered with a run in the top of the seventh when Johnny Roseboro singled home Lefebvre. With one out and runners on second and third, Drysdale (a .300 hitter on the year, with 7 home runs) batted for Koufax. Kaat struck him out and then retired Maury Wills to preserve the lead.

With Koufax out of the game, the Twins wrapped up the victory with a run in the bottom of the seventh and two more in the eighth. The victim was relief ace Ron Perranoski, who would later pitch for Minnesota after being dealt, along with Roseboro and fellow reliever Bob Miller, for Grant and Versalles following the 1967 season.

The Series then moved to Los Angeles for Game 3 and a pitching matchup of two former Washington Senators, Camilo Pascual for the Twins and Claude Osteen (of the “expansion” Senators) for the Dodgers. Pascual had labored in the Washington/Minnesota organization since 1954. For the period 1959 through 1964, the Cuban curveball artist was probably as effective as any pitcher in the American League, winning 100 games and losing 66 for mostly so-so teams. But now, coming off of a season in which he had battled injury, Pascual was only a slightly above average pitcher.

Osteen, by contrast, was coming into his own. Though his record in 1965 was just 15-15, he posted his first ERA lower than 3.00 (2.79). He also could boast of a 5-0 career record against Minnesota from his days with the lowly Senators.

Now, the Dodgers’ hopes for a championship more or less depended on him. As for the Twins, they knew that if they let LA back into the Series in Game 3, they would have to win another game started by Drysdale or Koufax in order to become champions.

Osteen began the day inauspiciously. Moments after Casey Stengel, a member of the Dodgers’ 1916 pennat winners, threw out the first pitch, Versalles led off with a double. Nossek moved him to third with a ground ball out to the right side. Osteen got another ground ball out, this one from Oliva, with Versalles holding third against a drawn in infelied.

Osteen pitched around the dangerous Killebrew. This brought the much less dangerous Earl Battey to the plate.

With the count 2-0, the slow-footed Killebrew broke for second base. Shortstop Wills cut off Roseboro’s thrown to second and threw home. Versalles, coming down from third, was caught in a run down and retired to end the inning.

I’ve read that this was a botched hit-and-run in which Battey missed the sign. But it’s hard to see why Twins’ manager Sam Mele would call for a hit-and-run since, with two out, there was no question of a double play grounder and since Battey wasn’t a slap hitter. Admittedly, though, a double-steal attempt makes only slightly more sense.

In any event, this was the closest the Twins came to scoring.

The Dodgers took the lead in the fourth inning on a two-run single by Roseboro. They added single runs in the fifth (on an RBI double by Lou Johnson) and the sixth (on an RBI double by Wills).

My most vivid memory of the game is from the seventh inning when Twins’ catcher Battey, running full speed in pursuit of a pop foul, crashed forehead first into a railing associated with LA’s distinctive “dugout seats” for fans. I doubted that the stocky catcher, a favorite of mine since his days with the Senators, would be able to play again in this Series.

He did. Though unable to continue in Game 3, he returned to action the next day.

After the second inning, Osteen faced only two over the minimum number of batters en route to a 5-0 victory. He had succeeded where Drysdale and Koufax (both eventual Hall of Famers) failed.

Years later, Dodgers’ first baseman Wes Parker would say:

Osteen saved us in the 1965 Series. I think the Twins had a better team than the 1966 Orioles team that swept us in the World Series the following year. It wasn’t a good sign when Versalles hit the leadoff double. But sometimes if you can get out of a certain inning, it can change everything.

Osteen went on to win 20 games twice for the Dodgers. But his biggest win came on this day, 50 years ago.