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Tuesday, October 16, 2012
50 years ago today, one of the greatest Game Sevens of all-time took place. It was a game featuring one of the most climatic final seconds of any contest you’ll ever see. Despite that, it’s often an overlooked and underappreciated contest. I do believe it’s also the last great game played that we no longer have surviving footage of. Those last two points are almost certainly linked.
On Oct. 16, 1962, the defending world champion New York Yankees played the NL champion San Francisco Giants in the Bay Area’s Candlestick Park in a winner take all game for the 1962 crown.
On the mound, New York’s Ralph Terry faced off against Jack Sanford, and those two men would dominate the day. Terry led the AL with 23 wins in 1962, and Sanford tallied 24 victories for the Giants (though that was one of the all-time great examples of how W-L records can be deceiving. By park-adjusted ERA, he was a middling pitcher at best).
Regardless, both men pitched like aces today. It wasn’t until the third inning that either team got a hit – when Tony Kubek singled off Sanford. Two innings later Kubek brought home the game’s first run. Though true to the pitching-dominated nature of this game, New York’s run came home on a double play Kubek grounded into.
But that one run looked to be all Terry needed, as he was perfect early on, and even midway through. He retired the first 17 batters he faced. His flirting with a Don Larsen-like perfect game was broken up by – of all people – Sanford, who singled in the sixth. (Again, even when hits were scored, it was still a pitcher dominating).
Heading into the bottom of the ninth, Terry had allowed just two base runners all day – Sanford’s single and a two-out triple by Willie McCovey in the seventh. The slender 1-0 margin still held, and now the Giants had just three outs left.
Leading off the ninth, pinch hitter Matty Alou bunted for a single off Terry for the third Giants safety of the day. However, Terry bore down and struck out the next two batters. One out from yet another Yankee triumph, Kubek’s run-scoring GIDP looked like it was all the offense Terry needed.
However, up to the plate came the one and only Willie Mays. Don’t look now folks, but the game may not be over yet. All Mays had done in 1962 was hit 49 homers, hit .304 and drive in 141 runs. Yeah, that’s all.
Mays swung on a Terry offering and his aim was true. The ball went to the outfield, where right fielder Roger Maris had to make a good play on it to cut it off before it got to the wall. Mays got a double, but Maris’ defense kept Alou from scoring. And now, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in Game Seven of the World Series, the Giants had the tying and winning run in scoring position with the heart of the order coming up.
And what a heart of the order it was! OK, so Mays was already on base. But next up was young Willie McCovey. All he’d done that year was hit 20 homers in 92 games. Plus, let’s not forget he thrashed Terry for a triple just two innings ago.
I guess you could intentionally walk him, but that means that Ralph Terry would have to face another future Hall of Famer, Orlando Cepeda. Folks, Cepeda was the reason McCovey had to fight for playing time. Not only had Cepeda hit 35 homers with a .306 average for him at age 24, but that was actually a bit of a down year for him. In 1962, he smacked 46 homers while hitting .311. So if you walk McCovey, you get a man who is possibly even a better hitter—and you’d have to throw him strikes because a walk would tie the game.
That isn’t a very fun decision for Yankee manager Ralph Houk to make, now is it? Talk about picking your poison! Let’s add this little detail to the mix: this wasn’t the first time Terry stood on the mound in a key moment in Game Seven on the World Series. Two years earlier he’d threw the famous gopher ball to Bill Mazeroski for his walk-off world championship claiming home run. One wrong pitch and Terry would be the goat yet again. No, it wasn’t a very fun decision for Houk to make at all.
But Houk decided to dance with the partner who brung him and trust Terry to get McCovey out. Terry gave it his best shot, and threw a pitch to the young Giants slugger. McCovey swung—and hit a liner.
Let’s pause here. This is the ultimate hair-standing-on-end moment. Once the ball leaves McCovey’s bat, it looks like the World Series will be decided, one way or another. Odds are, it’ll land where no Yankee can get to it, in which case the Alou and speedy Mays both score and the Giants win it all. However, if it goes where a Yankee is, then the Bronx Bombers will have done it again, winning 1-0.
End pause. McCovey’s liner has the oomph to land for a hit—but it just doesn’t have the placement. It goes to second baseman Bobby Richardson, who catches it in self-defense.
The sadness that Giants Nation must have felt was best expressed by comic strip legend Charlie Brown in a pair of Peanuts strips. In the first, there are three panel of Brown and friends looking utterly dejected. In the last panel, Brown screams out “Why couldn’t McCovey had hit the ball three feet higher?” The second strip is the same thing, except this time Brown cries in the last panel, “Why couldn’t McCovey hit it just two feet higher?”
Two feet. That’s all that separated a Yankee triumph from a Giants victory. But that two feet went to the Yankees, and it went to them 50 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversaries or “day-versaries” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to skim through things.
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Giants 7, Cardinals 1: Apart from the Angel Pagan homer the Giants dinked and dunked their way to the win in Game 2. The biggest story of the game, however, was the b.s. takeout slide of Marco Scutaro by Matt Holliday in the first inning. No word yet on how bad Scutaro's injury is -- he continued in the game, driving in a couple of runs on a single -- but had to eventually leave.
Bright side: I let my kids stay up late to watch the first few innings, and the Scutaro-Matt Holliday business created a teaching moment in which I was able to explain to them the politics of plunking and retaliation for dirty play. Mookie seemed to grasp it pretty well. I know this because when Holliday came up to bat and wasn't plunked in retaliation for that slide, she yelled "why didn't they hit him?!"
On to St. Louis for Wednesday's matchup of Kyle Lohse and Matt Cain.
After several days in the League Division Series with four games played across 12 hours, we've now had two of the last three days with just one game being played. The days are going to seem so empty when there aren't any games. Cue the obligatory A. Bartlett Giamatti quotation.
Before proceeding to the lone game on the schedule, I should add a little balance to something I said in a previous installment. I related the trivia fact that the Detroit Tigers are the only team to lose a World Series to the Chicago Cubs, in 1907 and 1908. It is also true and noteworthy that the Tigers are the last team to win a World Series against the Cubs, in 1945. Not that Tigers fans need such minutiae to cheer them up right now, but I thought I should mention it.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Cardinals 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 Giants 1 0 0 4 0 0 0 2 X 7 (Series tied 1-1) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Cardinals 17 22 20 6 5 8 2 2 1 Giants 25 5 8 48 3 3 0 1 X WPS Base: 172.9 Best Plays: 45.3 Last Play: 0.0 Grand Total: 218.2
A very good start to this game, but with the Giants' big rally in the fourth, it shot its bolt. Large leads don't sustain much excitement in the WPS system unless the trailing team is either chipping away or making strong rallies that fall just short of scoring. St. Louis did neither from the fifth on.
That's not to say there wasn't an interesting storyline to the game. In the first inning, Matt Holliday came crashing over second base into Marco Scutaro to break up a double play (which he almost didn't, as Scutaro's great throw to first was just late). Scutaro was hurt on the borderline-dirty play, and the sellout crowd on hand began taking it out on Holliday, thankfully with nothing but mounting boos for the rest of the night.
There was potential for something ugly—the umpires appeared to consult at one point over what to do if Ryan Vogelsong buzzed a pitch at Holliday—but it resolved itself far more appropriately in play on the field. When San Francisco put together its fourth-inning rally, the big hit was provided by Scutaro. His single got two runs home, and a misplay of the ball by none other than Holliday in left field allowed a third runner to score.
I am reminded strongly of the Bryce Harper/Cole Hamels incident early this season, when Harper shrugged off a plunking (later admitted to be deliberate) and got his revenge by stealing home on Hamels later that inning. The ending that time wasn't quite so neat—the Nationals ended up losing big—and it wasn't tidy this time, either, as Scutaro would leave the game after five innings to have his hip X-rayed. But his team was the big winner this time, and Holliday never got on base again after the first.
There was another umpiring controversy, though this one had minimal effect on the outcome. In the eighth, Jon Jay made a spectacular catch in right-center, then threw to first in hopes of doubling off Gregor Blanco. Allen Craig took the off-line throw and swiped Blanco on the shoulder as he swerved past, quite possibly leaving the baseline. The umpire called Blanco safe. This was directly responsible for one of the two runs the Giants tacked on that inning.
I'm not saying anything about the obvious need to expand the use of instant replay in baseball. I'm just saying.