By Jon Weisman
As the second week of September began in 1965, the Dodgers had spent all but 17 days of the season atop the National League standings, and never trailed by more than a single game.
That meant nothing a week later.
September had started on an ominous note when the Dodgers were swept by the Pirates on the first day of the month — “faint-hearted Dodger disciples must have felt the club was ready for splashdown after orbiting for most of the season in the NL stratosphere,” wrote Frank Finch of the Times. But Los Angeles still had a share of first place — and immediately went on a four-game winning streak, starting with a sweep of Houston.
“Those other guys have had their winning streaks,” Dodger manager Walter Alston said September 4, after the Dodgers swept the Astros. “I prefer to take mine in the last month of the season.”
The problem was that the San Francisco Giants were listening all too well.
The Giants beat the Cubs on September 4, and again on September 5. They arrived in Los Angeles for a two-game series September 6-7, similar in importance to the one played earlier this month between the rivals.
As was the case in 2015, the first game of the series went deep into extra innings.
With Don Drysdale on the mound, the Dodgers led 4-0 after two innings and 5-2 heading into the eighth, but an RBI single by Willie McCovey and a two-run homer by Jim Hart tied the game. Wes Parker singled home Lou Johnson in the bottom of the inning to give the Dodgers the lead again, but Drysdale — still in the game despite the events of the eighth — “served up a gopher ball to Tom Haller on the first pitch of the ninth inning,” as Finch wrote.
There were several controversial moments in the game, but peak dispute arrived in the 12th. With one out and a runner on first against Dodger pitcher Howie Reed, Matty Alou grounded to Parker.
“Parker handled Alou’s grounder and fired to Maury Wills to launch what looked like a double play,” wrote Finch. “Reed covered first and gloved Maury’s return throw in time, but umpire Bill Williams said Reed’s foot missed the bag. Prolonged oratory failed to change Williams’ mind.”
After an intentional walk to Willie Mays, Alou scored on a Jim Davenport single. Despite two hits in the bottom of the ninth, the Dodgers lost.
Reed was devastated, wrote Times columnist Sid Ziff.
“Reed has a reputation as a good sport, a guy who can take the bitter with the sweet, but this was too much for him,” Ziff wrote. “In his stocking feet, a glass in one hand, his uniform hanging loose, he stalked back and forth like a caged lion.”
Later, Reed pleaded his case with Times sports editor Paul Zimmerman.
“I dug my foot right down the side of the bag,” Reed said to Zimmerman, who noted three other calls that had gone against the Dodgers in the fourth, fifth and 11th innings. On the reverse side, the Giants disputed a seventh-inning homer by John Roseboro when the ball bounced back onto the field.
When Hart hit another two-run homer the next night to put the Giants ahead to stay, San Francisco moved into first place for the first time all year — and didn’t stop there.
The Giants left Los Angeles for Houston, beating the Astros while the Dodgers were idle September 8, to move a half-game ahead. The Dodgers won their next three games — including Sandy Koufax’s perfect game September 9 — to keep pace while San Francisco extended its winning streak to eight on September 11.
Then the Dodgers nearly fell out of contention entirely. While the Giants extended their winning streak to 13 by winning five games in four days, the Dodgers dropped three games in a row. On September 12, top Dodger reliever Ron Perranoski surrendered a 2-1, eighth-inning lead to Houston for a 3-2 defeat. After an off day, the Cubs’ Bob Hendley won his September 14 rematch with Koufax, 2-1.
And in what had to seem a like a dagger, the Dodgers gave Drysdale a 3-0 first-inning lead at Chicago on September 15, only for Ernie Banks to drill Drysdale in the ankle with a line drive, forcing him out of a game that the Dodgers would lose, 8-6, to fall 4 1/2 games behind San Francisco.
Amid the grim developments, the Dodgers remained resolute.
“Sure, we feel bad, but nobody’s giving up,” Alston told Finch. “This team isn’t about to crack.
“I called a meeting before today’s game and we talked about the facts of life in the National League but you can’t win ball games in the clubhouse. … I told my players to keep playing the way they did when we were on top — aggressively and daring. This club can’t pussyfoot and win.”
Said Koufax: “Every time we get beat it’s that much tougher, but we haven’t tossed in the towel.”