Today in baseball, the Washington Nationals climbed back into their playoff series against the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 5-2 victory that left both teams with one win. Switch-hitting backup catcher Jose Lobaton hit a three-run homer for the Nats. It was only his second hit of the season batting right-handed.
This day fifty years ago was much worse for the Dodgers. They lost 1-0 to the Baltimore Orioles, enabling the O’s to take the World Series in four straight games.
You may recall that Baltimore won the first two games in Los Angeles and that LA did not score after the third inning of Game One. Even with the Series heading east, the Dodgers must have thought things couldn’t get worse.
But they did. In Game Three, 21 year-old Wally Bunker took the mound for Baltimore against veteran Claude Osteen. With a an ERA of 4.29 during an injury plagued regular season, Bunker looked like the weak link in the Orioles staff. Osteen’s ERA — 2.85 — was nearly a run and a half lower. Plus, Osteen had solid World Series experience, having given up only one run in 14 innings in his two starts against Minnesota in 1965.
Osteen pitched brilliantly against the Orioles in Game Three. But with two out in the bottom of the fifth, he gave up a home run to Paul Blair. Osteen insisted that Blair hit a good pitch. Sometimes it happens that way.
Blair’s homer all the support Bunker needed, as he scattered six hits and one walk over nine innings. Bunker hadn’t pitched a shutout all season, and had only three complete games. But LA failed to score against him and Orioles prevailed 1-0.
Game Four, played on October 9, 1966, featured a rematch of the Game One starters, Don Drysdale and Dave McNally, the only O’s pitcher the Dodgers had scored on (24 innings ago).
Both pitchers were much sharper than in Game One. Through three innings, McNally had given up only a walk to Jim Lefebvre; Drysdale only a single by Brooks Robinson and walk to Curt Blefary.
McNally set the Dodgers down again in the top of the fourth. In the bottom of inning, Frank Robinson tagged Drysdale, his long-time National League rival, for a home run. Boog Powell nearly made it 2-0, but Willie Davis, the defensive goat of Game Two, pulled Powell’s shot back into the ball park with a spectacular catch.
With the help of a double play (off the bat of Wes Parker) and a runner caught stealing (John “Red” Kennedy), McNally faced the minimum number of batters in innings five through eight. However, it took a defensive gem in the eighth inningby Blair, who was an even better defensive center field than Davis, to keep the Dodgers scoreless. He robbed Lefebvre of a home run in the eighth inning. Manager Hank Bauer had just brought Blair on as a defensive replacement.
The Dodgers streak of innings without scoring now stood at 32.
Walter Alston sent up Dick Stuart to bat for Kennedy leading off the ninth. “Dr. Strangeglove” was near the end of his career, but still had a little bit of danger in his bat. He had hit .264 for the Dodgers in 1966 with three home runs in 91 at-bats (plus four more in fewer at-bats for the New York Mets).
McNally struck Stuart out looking. It was the fourth strike out of the game for the ground-ball throwing Orioles pitcher.
Drysdale, who had given up only four hits, was due up next. Double D was an excellent hitting pitcher. In 1965, he had batted .300 with seven home runs. However, his plate production dropped dramatically in 1966 (.189 with two home runs). Alston called on Al Ferrara, a .270 hitter, to pinch hit for Drysdale.
Ferrara delivered a single to center field. This was the fourth hit given up by McNally. Nate “Pee Wee” Oliver pinch ran for Ferrara.
Now it was up to the top of the Dodgers line up. Maury Wills did his job, drawing a walk that put the tying run in scoring position.
Next up was Willie Davis. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, he hit right-handers considerably better than he hit lefties.
Davis made good contact, but his line drive was right at Frank Robinson. Two out.
Dodgers hopes now rested on Lou Johnson, who after being picked up off the scrap heap in 1965, had delivered so many clutch hits during the past two seasons. This time, Johnson did not deliver. He sent a lazy fly ball to Blair in center field for the final out of the Series.
The stats for this World Series are eye-opening. The Dodgers scored only two runs in 36 innings (an all time low). The Orioles pitched to an ERA of 0.50 with three shutouts in four games.
The Dodgers batted just .142, also an all time low. The Orioles weren’t much better. Their team average was .200. You had to go back to the early dead ball era to find another series like this one.
Yet the Orioles managed to score 13 runs. The big difference? They hit four home runs (three by the great Frank Robinson) to the Dodgers one. Two of the home runs decided 1-0 games.
The Dodgers loss would mark the end of an era. Sandy Koufax called it quits and the Dodgers, who had played in eight of the last 15 World Series (winning four of them), would fall into decline.
For the Orioles, whose starting pitchers in the Series were 23, 21, and 20 year old, it looked like the beginning of a dynasty. Depending on how one defines the term, arguably it was.