By Jon Weisman
Having won nine straight games, coming from 4 1/2 games back 10 days earlier to tie the Giants for the National League lead on September 26, 1965, the Dodgers still had work to do.
Los Angeles had seven games remaining — three against the third-place Cincinnati Reds, then four against the Milwaukee Braves, who were themselves in first place as recently as August 20.
Both the Dodgers and Giants rolled to easy victories on September 27. Willie Davis hit two homers in a 6-1 victory over the Reds, with reliever Ron Perranoski pitching four shutout innings to seal the victory for Johnny Podres, while Tom Haller duplicated Davis’ feat in an 8-4 Giants win over St. Louis.
“He is so relaxed he would stop to brush his teeth and comb his hair if his room caught on fire,” Times columnist Jim Murray wrote of Perranoski, who pitched 104 2/3 innings with a 2.24 ERA in 1965, pushing him for the NL Most Valuable Player Award. “Even if they don’t vote it to him, he should have it,” Murray said. “Ask any batter in the league.”
Podres went five innings after not having pitched in two weeks, and he wouldn’t pitch again in 1965. Dodger manager Walter Alston told reporters that the Dodgers would go to a three-man rotation for the rest of the regular season until the pennant was decided: Claude Osteen, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
On September 28, the Cardinals whipped the Giants in San Francisco, 9-1. That meant that the Dodgers could move into first place by themselves for the first time since September 6. But exactly 50 years before the Dodgers and Giants would play a 12-inning game at AT&T Park, the Dodgers and Reds went 12 innings at Dodger Stadium.
The game was scoreless until the bottom of seventh, when Maury Wills singled home Nate Oliver. Wills stole second but was stranded there when a Jim Gilliam liner was caught. That turned out to be key, because in the top of the eighth, Vada Pinson doubled off Osteen to score Tommy Harper with the tying run.
One night after throwing those four innings, Perranoski relieved and held the Reds at bay for another 3 2/3 innings, carrying the Dodgers into the 12th, when Howie Reed pitched a shutout inning. One out into the bottom of the inning, at 12:04 a.m., “Sweet Lou” Johnson homered into the left-field stands — the Dodgers’ 11th straight win, and the one that them on top.
In 12 days from September 17-28, Perranoski pitched 20 2/3 innings with an ERA of 0.00.
Perranoski wouldn’t be needed the next night, not with Koufax pitching. The great lefty wrapped up the sweep of the Reds with a two-hit shutout, striking out 13, in a 5-0 Dodger victory. Then, Los Angeles held its breath as San Francisco, trailing Bob Gibson 8-0 going into the bottom of the ninth after Gibson hit the first grand slam of his career, actually brought the winning run to the plate.
“The Dodgers turned a little green around the gills listening to the Giants rally for six runs in the ninth inning Wednesday, and the whoop they let out when Willie McCovey went down swinging sounded like they’d just bagged the World Series,” wrote Frank Finch of the Times. “Asked if he had any post-season plans, Drysdale said, ‘I think I’ll lie down and faint for a few days.'”
It was a two-game lead with four to play. One night later, it was a two-game lead with three to play. The Dodgers won their 13th straight game — and seventh by shutout — 4-0, behind Drysdale, who used only 89 pitches in his three-hitter against Milwaukee. Orlando Cepeda brought the walkoff magic the Giants lacked the ninth before, hitting a two-run homer to beat Cincinnati, but the Dodgers’ magic number was down to two.
On October 1, this was the story out of San Francisco from Times writer Charles Maher:
“To show you how perverse the Giants can be, they got murdered Friday night and they still ain’t dead,” Maher wrote. “The Cincinnati Reds, who had lost five consecutive games, lost nothing but baseballs this time. They were held to 21 hits by eight San Francisco pitchers, but somehow made them stand up and flattened the Giants, 17-2.”
With a chance to clinch the pennant, the Dodgers instead saw their 13-game winning streak end with a 2-0 loss to the Braves. That left the Dodgers up by two games with two to play.
Koufax would take the mound on Saturday, October 2 at Dodger Stadium — on two days’ rest. San Francisco did its part to stay alive, beating the Reds, 3-2. It was up to Koufax to prevent a scary Sunday.
Those unbelievable Dodgers made believers of everyone Saturday, and they did it in their typically unbelievable style to win the National League pennant.
They scored three runs with the benefit of only one base hit and made them stand up — rather, magnificent Sandy Koufax did — in defeating the Milwaukee Braves, 3-1, before 41,574 ulcer and coronary cases at Dodger Stadium.
It was Los Angeles’ 14th win in its last 15 games, climaxing one of the great stretch drives in the history of the game.
When Lou Johnson gloved a lazy fly ball by Denis Menke for the third and final out of the game, Los Angeles had won its third pennant in eight years and the hated, if dogged, San Francisco Giants were bridesmaids again.
Koufax allowed a fourth-inning home run to Gene Oliver that tied the score at 1, but went on to pitch a 13-strikeout complete game.
“I was tired from the fifth inning on; my legs more than anything else, but we had to win today,” Koufax told Times sports editor Paul Zimmerman.
Jim Lefebvre had the Dodgers’ only two hits of the game, and scored along with Johnson in the fifth inning, when Johnny Roseboro and Koufax each walked with the bases loaded. The baseball world marveled at how the Dodgers won with the lowest batting average in history for an NL champion.
“Koufax won 26 games pitching for the Dodgers,” an unknown wag said, according to the Times. “Can you imagine what he would have done pitching against them?”