This day in baseball history: Dodgers hurl their way into first

Throughout the summer of 1966, the Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers battled for first place in the National League. We’ve peeked in once on this great pennant race.

During most of the summer, the Dodgers were in third place but almost always within two, or at worst three, games of the lead. Heading into the weekend of September 9-11, they were still in third, a game and a half behind the Pirates and a game in back of the Giants.

Over the weekend, the Dodgers would play Houston at home. The Giants had the last place Cubs, managed by their former skipper Leo Durocher, at home. The Pirates had the toughest opponent, taking on the fifth place Cardinals in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh held serve on Friday night with a hard fought 3-2 win in twelve innings. Two great Pirate veterans led the way. Roy Face pitched three innings of scoreless relief to pick up the win. Bill Mazeroski drove in the winning run on a sacrifice fly that plated Matty Alou.

The Dodgers kept pace behind the three-hit shutout pitching of Claude Osteen. But the Giants were shutout by 20 year-old Ken Holtzman, who bested the great Juan Marichal 6-0.

Thus, at the end of play, Pittsburgh was in first with a game and a half lead over Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Dodgers were in second with a slightly better winning percentage than the Giants.

The Dodgers got another shutout on Saturday, a combined ten innings of scoreless baseball by Don Drysdale (eight and a third innings) and Phil Regan (an inning and two thirds). Mike Cuellar, having his first good big league season at the age of 29 (we think), shut out the Dodgers for nine innings, but yielded the winning run in the tenth when Al Ferrara, pinch hitting for Regan, singled home Maury Wills with two out.

The Giants fell to third place when, for the second game in a row, the Cubs rocked a future Hall of Famer. This time the victim was Gaylord Perry who gave up 8 runs in two and a third innings.

In St. Louis, the Cardinals were cruising towards victory with a 5-2 lead against Bob Gibson heading into the ninth inning. But Phil Gagliano, batting for Gibson, led off with a double. Lou Brock singled Gagliano to third and then stole second (a bit recklessly, perhaps, inasmuch as he represented only run number four, though by stealing he did virtually remove the possibility of a double play).

Curt Flood then singled home Gagliano, with Brock stopping at third. Flood promptly stole second, meaning that the tying run was now in scoring position.

Pirate reliever Pete Mikkelsen, who had come on in the ninth, clearly wasn’t fooling anyone. But Face had worked three innings the day before and manager Harry Walker must have had no faith in the rest of his bullpen, because he stayed with Mikkelsen (a right-hander) against left-handed hitting Tim McCarver. (I’m guessing that effective southpaw Billy O’Dell was unavailable for some reason).

Mikkelsen retired McCarver on a ground ball, but Brock scored and Flood took third with one out. Orlando Cepeda then tied the game with a single.

Cepeda reached second when the next batter, Mike Shannon, grounded out. That brought up rookie Ed Spiezio, a late-season call-up.

Walker stayed with Mikkelsen. Spiezo singled home Cepeda for his first RBI of the year. With a four run inning, the Cardinals had taken a 6-5 lead.

The bottom of the ninth featured more interesting managing by Walker. With two out, Gene Alley and Roberto Clemente singled, bringing up Willie Stargell against left-handed reliever Hal Woodeschick.

Stargell was one of the best hitters in baseball in 1966. He batted .315 with 33 home runs and 102 RBIs. His .581 slugging percentage was third best in the National League.

Remarkably, however, Stargell batted only .181 with a .347 slugging percentage against left-handed pitchers.

Walker chose to send up journeyman Andre Rodgers, a former cricket star from the Bahamas, to bat for Stargell. Rodgers, though, was a batting only .200 overall and had worse stats (albeit in few at-bats) against southpaws than Stargell.

To be fair, Woodeshick was considerably more effective against lefties than righties, so perhaps Walker was playing the percentages after all. If so, they didn’t work out for him. Rodgers grounded out pitcher to first. The Pirates lead over the Dodgers was down to half a game. The second-guessing must have been rampant.

On Sunday, the Pirates lost another heartbreaker to St. Louis. Once again, the Cards came from behind late in the game, this time scoring two runs in the eighth off of Bob Veale.

Julian Javier and Brock led off the inning with singles. Walker then pulled Veale and brought in Face.

Flood grounded out, with Javier and Brock advancing to third and second. Sensibly, the Pirates walked the dangerous Cepeda to load the bases and set up the double play.

Shannon was next. He hit a grounder back to Face who threw home for the force out, but no double play.

That left it up to McCarver. He delivered a single that scored Javier and Brock to give the Cards a 4-3 lead.

They held on to win behind rookie Dick Hughes, another late-season call-up who recorded his first big league win. The next season, Hughes would win 16 for the World Champion Cardinals.

The Dodgers playing a double-header, completed a shut-out sweep over Houston. Sandy Koufax won the opener 3-0, yielding only three hits. In the night cap, Ron Moeller, Rob Miller, and Regan combined to blank the Astros 1-0. The lone Dodger run scored in the seventh inning when pinch hitter Johnny Roseboro singled home Ron Fairly.

No one was second-guessing Walter Alston, whose Dodgers had won 1-0 games on successive days on RBI’s by pinch hitters.

These results produced a game and a half swing that propelled the Dodgers into a one game lead over the Bucs.

What about the Giants? They split a double-header with the Cubs.

Ferguson Jenkins got the better of Ray Sadecki, so disappointing since being acquired from St. Louis for Cepeda, 4-3 in the opener. The Giants came back to win the second game 2-0 behind Bob Bolin.

Though they avoided an embarrassing sweep by the last place Cubs, the Giants lost another game in the standings to the Dodgers. They now trailed their arch-rival by two games and Pittsburgh by one game.

All three teams were still very much in the race, but the advantage and the momentum (if one believes in it) had swung to the Dodgers.