By Will Martin
The other day was spent watching playoff baseball while filing reports and uploading podcasts on my computer.
The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers were playing Game 2 of their series. A series the Dodgers went on to win in four games. The date of this game was on October 3rd.
Can history actually repeat? We’re about to find out!
We go back to the 1951 baseball season. One where Joe DiMaggio said goodbye while Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays each said hello as rookies.
That year was interesting in that on August 11th of that year the Brooklyn Dodgers had a 13.5 game lead in the National League over the NY Giants (yes there were THREE teams in New York back then. Hence the term ‘Subway Series’). The Giants that year lost their first 11 games.
August 11th onward the Giants would proceed to win 16 straight games with names like Monte Irvin, Don Mueller, Say Hey, Sal Maglie, Alvin Dark, and Whitey Lockman leading the charge for Leo Durocher. The 1951 season would end in a tie which meant a best of three playoff series with the Dodgers.
Game 1 would be won on a Bobby Thomson home run off Brooklyn reliever Ralph Branca 4-2. Game 2 went to Brooklyn via a Clem Labine 10-0 shutout.
Game 3 was on October 3rd. A game where the Dodgers lead 4-1 going into the bottom of the 9th inning. An inning where only Monte Irvin made an out on a popup. In that last inning you had singles by Alvin Dark and Don Mueller followed by a double by Whitey Lockman. Dark scores, Mueller breaks an ankle sliding into 3rd. Replaced by Clint ‘Hondo Hurricane’ Hartung. Which brings us to a rematch with Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson.
After rifling a fastball past Thomson the next pitch Branca threw was slammed high above the left field fence of the Polo Grounds for a dramatic three run homer and a Giants 5-4 victory. The Giants would then lose to the Yankees in six games.
Fast forward 11 years to the West Coast where once again the Giants and Dodgers would once again become locked in a heated battle for first place. Both teams reached the West Coast in 1958. Many claim the rivalry is as good if not better than the Red Sox and Yankees. An argument for another time. Not only did the calendar days match what fans witnessed in 1951 but once a season that ended in a tie would require another three game playoff.
Led by a staff of Jack Sanford, Billy Pierce, Juan Marichal, and Billy O’Dell San Francisco would have to face off against the likes of Johnny Podres, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, and Stan Williams. Two teams at 101-61 now played another best of three format. Game 1 went to Billy Pierce by the Bay with an 8-0 three hitter and a rare poor performance for Sandy Koufax who only lasted one inning. Willie Mays with a two run bomb in the first was all the Giants needed.
Game 2 and 3 took us to Los Angeles where in Game 2 of the ’62 tiebreaker playoffs. One where 13 pitchers were used. The Giants jumped out to a 5-0 lead through 5 before the Dodger bats exploded for a seven run sixth inning. A four hour game would be tied at seven all in the last of the 9th before Maury Wills reached base and scored on a Ron Fairly sacrifice fly. Dodgers 8-7. Game 3 October 3rd.
Remember how 11 years prior the NY Giants trailed in the last at bat 4-1? This time in 1962 San Francisco trailed 4-2 going into the 9th inning. Despite two intentional walks to Willie Mays earlier in the game he was pitched to with the bases loaded, knocking in two runs with a single and a subsequent 6-4 victory over the Dodgers.
Advantage-Giants 2-0 in tiebreaker playoffs.
Now that in itself would be historical enough. Two dramatic endings on the same day 11 years apart. Would you believe it happened again 20 years later? Yes! In 1982 the Atlanta Braves began the year 13-0. A 2-19 sputter in August all of a sudden had the Dodgers AND Giants neck and neck with Joe Torre’s team. All that had to happen was for the Dodgers to win out their final three game series to insure a playoff for who would win the NL West.
This meant a trip to San Francisco. October 1st and 2nd the Dodgers had no issues with 2-0 and 15-0 victories. Back to October 3rd we return. The Giants had nothing to play for after losing those two games and getting eliminated from the race three game back. Now the Giants would try to play spoiler which is exactly what happened when Bill Laskey and Fernando Valenzuela dueled for six innings and both left a 2-2 game. in the 7th inning Tom Niedenfuer would allow Bob Brenly and Champ Summers to single and double. Tommy Lasorda brought in Terry Forster. Up to the plate came Joe Morgan.
Borrowing from the book of Bobby Thomson, Joe Morgan would drive a Forster pitch deep into the Candlestick Park stands and give the Giants a 5-2 lead and 5-3 victory. San Fran out at 87-75, LA at 88-74 while the Braves entered the playoffs at 89-73. It was an exciting race in 1982!
If you’re keeping score between these teams on October 3rd:
Advantage Giants 3-0!
It was bound to happen. It was bound to come full circle. The laws of karma dictate that nothing ever stays the same, but would you believe the Giants, Braves, and Dodgers would do this little dance again eleven years later? Dusty Baker a rookie manager with the 1993 Giants. A team that won 103 games but…would not get into the playoffs! Why? Well, despite the Dodgers being only a .500 team at 81-81 their season would end in Los Angeles at Chavez Ravine with the hope for the Giants engaging in a one game playoff with the Braves.
That date of series finale? You guessed it, October 3rd! This time it was all Los Angeles. Mike Piazza with two homers off future Mariner Salomon Torres. Raul Mondesi and Cory Snyder also went deep for the Dodgers as they rolled past Team Dusty 12-1. The Giants became the first baseball team since the 1954 Yankees to win 103 games and not get into the playoffs.
Advantage Giants 3-1 in games played October 3rd, 11 years apart, twice in our history.
Pretty amazing stuff for the Fall Classic. This is also why I am a fan. One day I’ll tell you how much I loved the 1978 World Series and still curse what happened during the strike year of 1981. Another topic for another time.