By Jon Weisman
“Breathing defiance in the face of the Giants’ seemingly insurmountable lead,” wrote Frank Finch in the September 24 edition of the Times, “the doughty Dodgers face the Cardinals tonight to open their final homestand of the gruelling, grinding National League campaign.”
Already, the Dodgers had made progress, trimming a 4 1/2-game deficit to two games. But their defiance was matched, and then some, by the Giants, according to UPI.
“This day off will do us a lot of good,” said Willie Mays as he lolled around his fashionable San Francisco home. “These last 10 games will tell the story but it sure looks like we are in a good spot.”
Len Gabrielson, the midseason acquisition from Chicago who has developed into a steady performer for the Giants, went Willie one better.
“We’re in good shape,” said the talkative Gabe. “They’ve got to catch us and they’re not going to do it.”
Warren Spahn, baseball’s winningest left-handed pitcher, who also has figured prominently in San Francisco’s 1965 success story since coming here from the New York Mets, repeated what he has been saying for a week.
“I said it before and I’ll say it for the benefit of those who haven’t heard it,” said Spahn. “We are going to win this thing because this club has a winning spirit. The two losses to Cincinnati didn’t hurt us that much.”
The teams took the field the night of the 24th: Milwaukee at San Francisco, while Los Angeles hosted Bob Gibson and the Cardinals. For the third consecutive game, the Giants were walloped, losing 8-2.
The Dodgers? With Osteen on the mound, they fell behind Gibson, 3-1, heading into the bottom of the seventh. But a Maury Wills sacrifice fly narrowed the deficit, and in the bottom of the eighth, singles by Willie Davis and Ron Fairly knocked Gibson from the game. After reliever Hal Woodeshick walked Lou Johnson, rookie infielder Jim Lefebvre hit a two-run single that put the Dodgers ahead to stay and within one game of San Francisco.
Sandy Koufax was on the hill the next game for the Dodgers, and in the third inning, he fanned Mike Shannon for his 349th strikeout of the season, breaking Bob Feller’s MLB record. Koufax finished with 12 strikeouts overall in a 2-0 victory — the Dodgers’ eighth straight since falling 4 1/2 back, and called the new record a bigger thrill than his perfect game.
“This is something that you have to work for all season,” Koufax told Times columnist Sid Ziff. “The biggest part of the game is being consistent.”
However, the Giants withstood a Milwaukee rally to hang on for a 7-5 win, ending a three-game losing streak and retaining their hold on first place.
One more day, one more delay. None of it fazed the Dodgers.
On September 26, 1965 — 50 years ago today — in the bottom of the first inning, Maury Wills stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first against the Cardinals’ Ray Sadecki, with old Jim Gilliam on deck.
“Capt. Wills beat out one of his unplayable bunts to get things going,” Finch wrote. “Sadecki then picked him off, but Bill White’s high throw to second base allowed Wills to advance to third, whence he scored as Gilliam lined a sharp single to right field.”
And that was it. That was all the scoring in Dodger Stadium that Sunday afternoon.
Drysdale took that 1-0 lead into the ninth inning, while simultaneously, the Giants were batting in the bottom of the ninth against the Braves, trailing 3-2. From Finch:
White made three of St. Louis’ five hits. Bill prolonged the suspense with a one-out single in the ninth.
By now the fans had their peepers focused on the proceedings in front of them and their ears glued to their transistor radios for a play-by-play account of the cliffhanger in Candlestick Park.
Dangerous Ken Boyer lined to Lou Johnson in left for the second out, and after Lou caught Dick Groat’s fly for the final out, he turned and threw the ball into the left-field pavilion where some lucky fan snagged a souvenir.
The Giant-Brave game was in the last of the ninth as the local contest concluded, and most of the fans stuck around for the final flash from San Francisco.
When it came, it prompted a chorus of huzzahs and a shower of cushions from the happy fans. And joy was unrestrained in the Dodger clubhouse as well, we might add.
The Dodgers have the momentum now, and to a man think they can take it all.
One week to go. Seven games. Dodgers 91-64, Giants 91-64.