By Jon Weisman
Here’s a game, within a series, within a season, that would have driven Dodger fans on Twitter crazy.
On August 24, 1965, the Dodgers were nursing a half-game lead in the National League as they had the good fortune of taking on the last-place, 39-86 New York Mets.
With the score 0-0 in the top of the third inning, Dodger pitcher Howie Reed walked, and Maury Wills singled him to second base. But on consecutive plays, Reed and Wills were picked off.
The Dodgers fell behind by a run in the fourth, only for “Sweet Lou” Johnson to tie the game in the sixth with a single — then put Los Angeles ahead by two in the eighth with a double.
But after a Jim Lefebvre error to start in the bottom of the ninth, Dodger reliever Bob Miller gave up singles to Ed Kranepool and John Christopher, and bases-clearing, game-winning double to John Stephenson, who had a lifetime batting average at that moment of .181.
It would be the first of three consecutive victories by the lowly Mets over the Dodgers, who managed to stay in first place only because second-place Milwaukee had begun a six-game losing streak.
To add injury to insult, on August 25, John Roseboro played in his first game since Juan Marichal brandished a bat at his head, but had to leave after four innings when a foul tip split the middle finger of his throwing hand.
Not even Sandy Koufax, who had won 13 straight decisions against the Mets, could salvage the series. On August 26, New York topped the lefty, 5-2, with the clinching run coming in the seventh when third baseman Don LeJohn threw wide after fielding a two-on, two-out grounder by 21-year-old Mets pitcher Tug McGraw.
“The Dodgers may have to point to Shea Stadium as the burial plot for their 1965 pennant hopes,” wrote Frank Finch of the Times, exactly 50 years before the 2015 Dodgers were swept at Houston.
“While the other contenders have been spinning their wheels playing one another, the Dodgers figured they could put some distance between themselves and their pursuers by mauling the Mets. Instead, they absorbed three crushing defeats that could prove fatal in the fight for gold and glory.”
Meanwhile, the Mets could hardly have been more loose. McGraw — making his third big-league start — was asked how he felt pitching against Koufax. “Oh, he ain’t much of a hitter,” McGraw said.
Jim Murray captured the prevailing attitude in his August 27 column for the Times.
“Hey Jim,” shouted Don Drysdale gleefully the other night as he was warming up in case he had to pitch short relief out of turn, “would you say this team was like a B-17 limping home out of heavy flak? It’s got two engines afire and a hole on the port fuselage.”
It is a team which should be on morphine. Bob Miller’s arm’s got an ache in it like an impacted wisdom tooth. Ron Perranoski has got a limp. Don Drysdale’s knee caves in from time to time like Leon Errol’s. John Roseboro’s got a hole in his head. Sandy Koufax’s arm comes out of a game so swollen it looks as if he spent 9 innings sticking it in a hornets’ nest.
It took a crazy turnaround in Phiadelphia on August 27 — after Don Drysdale was “mauled,” according to Finch, for four runs in the first inning, to give the Dodgers a respite from the gloom. Los Angeles rallied to take the lead in the third inning, led 9-5 going into the bottom of the seventh … and hung on from there.
“Two fantastic catches” by Willie Davis and Ron Fairly prevented the Phillies helped limit the Phillies to one run in the seventh off Drysdale, who was “exhausted by the heat and stupefying humidity so thick you could cut it with a canoe paddle.”
In a ninth inning that offered echoes of Hugh Casey in the 1941 World Series, the aforementioned Reed struck out Dick Stuart with two out in the ninth, only to have him reach first base when the ball eluded Roseboro for a wild pitch. Clay Dalyrimple doubled in a run and Bobby Wine singled in Dalyrimple to cut the Dodger lead to 9-8, before Reed got Tony Taylor to fly out for the honest-to-goodness final out. It was the Dodgers’ fifth win in their past 13 games.
On August 28, the Dodgers mostly breezed, starting with a five-steal, seven-run first inning in an 8-4 victory over the Phillies, though that game featured the oddity of Koufax coming out of the bullpen to pitch the ninth inning with a four-run lead — and picking up his 2,000th career strikeout in the process.
That was the last win of the month for the Dodgers, who were pounded 13-3 on August 29, idle August 30 and rained out in Pittsburgh August 31. Still, they would end August in first place by 1 1/2 games over the Giants.
Less than 24 hours later, with Koufax and Drysdale on the mound for a doubleheader, the Dodgers would be swept out of first place entirely, losing 3-2 (Koufax giving up a game-winning double in his 11th inning of work) and 2-1 (on an eighth-inning Wills error), and falling .001 behind Cincinnati in the NL standings.
September had arrived, and with it a roller-coaster ride as unimaginable as having a place besides the local bar to talk about it.