50th anniversary: McCovey didn’t hit it three feet higher

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.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since the Angels sign free agent Joel Pineiro.

1,000 days since the Pirates sign free agent pitcher Octavio Dotel.

3,000 days since Aramis Ramirez hits three homers in one game for the second time in his career.

3,000 days since Florida trades Brad Penny, Hee Seop Choi and another player to the Dodgers for Paul LoDuca, Guillerimo Mota, and Juan Encarnacion.

3,000 days since the Royals trade Jose Bautista to the Mets, and that same day the Mets flip Bautista to the Pirates.

3,000 days since Bret Boone plays in his last game.

3,000 days since the Mets trade Scott Kazmir and another player to Tampa for Victor Zambrano and another player.

5,000 days since El Presidente Dennis Martinez announces his retirement.

7,000 days since Baltimore signs amateur free agent pitcher Sidney Ponson.

8,000 days since the Cubs sign free agent pitcher Danny Jackson to a big contract.

9,000 days since Jack Morris throws a one-hitter, allowing just a seventh-inning single by Mickey Tettleton.

15,000 days since Bill Stoneman throws a complete game nine-inning shutout despite allowing 16 base runners. The Expos hurler allows eight hits and issues eight walks against the Phillies, but Philadelphia loses 2-0 anyway.

15,000 days since Bobby Grich hits his first big league home run.

20,000 days since New York Senator Kenneth Keating proposes a ban on baseball telecasts to any place within 100 miles of minor league territories.

20,000 days since the Salt Lake Bees, Spokane Indians, and Phoenix Giants all join the Pacific Coast League.

30,000 days since star catcher Hank Gowdy appears in his final game.

Anniversaries

1886 Baseball executive and Hall of Famer William Harridge is born.

1888 The Boston Braves purchase a flock of stars from a collapsing Detroit Wolverines team. For $30,000 they land: Dan Brouthers, Charlie Bennett, Deacon White, Hardy Richardson, and Charlie Ganzel.

1900 Hall of Fame outfielder Goose Goslin is born.

1912 It’s one of the greatest World Series games ever, ending one of the best Fall Classics ever. In Game Eight (there was an earlier darkness-caused tie, so it’s really Game Seven), the Red Sox top the Giants 3-2 in 10 innings. The Red Sox score twice in the bottom of the 10th when the Giants make a series of errors and miscues, most famously a muffed fly ball by outfielder Fred Snodgrass.

1921 In violation of rules on postseason play, Babe Ruth and two Yankee teammates begin a barnstorming tour. This will earn one of Ruth’s five suspensions in 1922 (yes, you read that correctly – he’ll be suspended five times by the league in 1922).

1941 Tim McCarver is born.

1948 Legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone is born.

1956 St. Louis releases former star slugger Hank Sauer.

1958 Indians owner William Daley says the team will stay in Cleveland, despite wooing by Minnesota and Houston.

1959 Kevin McReynolds, centerfielder, is born.

1960 The National League awards expansion franchises to New York and Houston.

1961 The Phillies sell former super-stud pitcher Robin Roberts to the Yankees.

1964 Both managers from this year’s World Series lose their jobs and the Yankees fire Yogi Berra, and Cardinals manager Johnny Keane resigns. Keane will sign with the Yankees shortly and be on hand for the collapse of the Yankee dynasty.

1968 Old Folks Ellis Kinder dies.

1968 Denny McLain fulfills one of his dreams, playing his Hammond organ on stage in Las Vegas, as the Riviera Hotel hosts him for a two-week gig.

1969 It’s a miracle! The previously hapless Mets are champions of the world, as they beat the 109-win Orioles 5-3 in Game Five of the World Series to complete their upset. The Orioles led 3-0 as late as the middle of the sixth, but the Mets storm back for the win.

1971 The Orioles beat the Pirates 3-2 in 10 innings in Game Six to force an all-important Game Seven.

1973 In Game Three, the A’s top the Mets 3-2 in 11 innings. The A’s score the tying run in the top of the eighth to force overtime. Before the game, team manager Dick Williams tells the team that no matter what happens, he’s quitting at the end of the World Series as he can no longer get along with owner Charles O. Finley.

1984 The Angels hire Gene Mauch as their manager. Mauch resigned from the team after the 1982 season.

1985 St. Louis scores three runs in the top of the ninth to beat the Dodgers 7-5 in Game Six of the NLCS. St. Louis trailed 4-1 after six innings.

1988 Orel Hershiser had a 59 innings scoreless streak to end the regular season, and thanks to today’s three-hit complete game shutout of the A’s in Game Two of the World Series, he has a 18.1 IP postseason scoreless streak. (It’s not 77.1 innings in all, as he’s allowed some runs. Still, the man remains at the top of his game).

1991 The Braves beat the Pirates 1-0 in Game Six of the NLCS to force an all-important Game Seven. Incredibly, it’s the third 1-0 game of the NLCS.

1992 The groundbreaking for Coors Field in Denver occurs.

1992 Bryce Harper, Nationals star, is born.

1999 The Mets beat the Braves 3-2 in Game Four of the NLCS to avoid the sweep. The Mets lead 1-0 after seven innings, but then Atlanta plates a pair in the top of the eighth but the Mets score twice in the bottom half of the frame to reclaim the lead.

2003 Aaron Boone gets a new middle initial: F. He homers off Tim Wakefield in the bottom of the 11th in Game Seven of the ALCS for a 6-5 Yankees win and a walk-off pennant. For many, this is perhaps better known as the game Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in too long.

2007 Boston loses Game Four of the ALCS, falling behind Cleveland three games to one. From here on out, though, Boston will outscore the Indians 30-3 to claim the pennant, and then they’ll sweep the Rockies in the World Series.

2008 It’s one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history. Tampa Bay is up three games to one over the Red Sox heading into Game Five tonight, and they take a 7-1 lead by the seventh inning stretch. Instead of folding, though, the Red Sox rally back to win, 8-7, and force a Game Six.

2009 The Dodgers beat the Phillies 2-1 with LA getting both of their runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game Two of the NLCS.

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Comments

  1. InnocentBystander said...

    I didn’t realize there was no video footage. That game would’ve been broadcast, right? Is there a reason it doesn’t exist?

  2. GRL said...

    The television networks generally didn’t do a particularly good job at preserving TV coverage of sports. The earliest World Series for which every game survives complete on color videotape is 1975, and, even with a blend of b/w kinescopes and color tapes, the only World Series pre-1975 to survive complete are 1965, 1968, 1969, and 1970.

  3. Steve Treder said...

    “The television networks generally didn’t do a particularly good job at preserving TV coverage of sports.”

    Yes, videotape was very expensive in 1962.

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  6. yummy said...

    10,000 days ago today one of the greatest knuckleball catchers of all time passed away…Jake Early. His 1943 staff included 4 SP who were knuckleballers.

  7. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    FYI, one of the two outs made in-between haunted the player for his career and into his post-playing career.

    Felipe Alou was attempting to sacrifice his brother to 2B, but because he had not practiced his fundamentals well enough, he was unable to execute the bunt and move the runner up 90 feet.  Had he been successful, and if Mays still had his hit, the game would have been tied and McCovey’s liner would have only been the 2nd out, bringing up Cepeda. 

    That wouldn’t have won the game for the Giants, but it certainly would have given them another chance to win plus at least get them into extra innings.

    After that Felipe concentrated on the fundamentals just in case, and drilled that philosophy into his players once he became manager (don’t know how successful he was in doing that, but he certainly talked about it enough times).

  8. Steve Treder said...

    Great story about Felipe Alou.  Not that I suspect it made Felipe feel any better, but the following hitter, Chuck Hiller, also failed to get the bunt down, and also struck out.

  9. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Thanks Johnny for the video, as depressing as it was…  :^)

    I thought I had seen footage before.  Sounds like Bob Costas narrating parts of the video, along with the announcers of the day.  Also, the voice at the beginning was the long-time voice of This Week In Baseball, but I can’t recall his name, I think he was a long-time Yankees announcer. 

    I would also add to my above comment that Richardson has said in interviews that he moved to that perfect position to catch the ball just moments before (forgot the reason) and stated that had he not moved (can’t recall if he did this before the pitch or during the AB), he would not have been able to get that liner.  Funny how fate works sometimes…

    Also, addendum to the above, ironically, the Giants win of the 2010 World Series was helped along by Aubrey Huff’s bunt, which was executed perfectly (on his decision, not Bochy), despite the fact that he had never bunted for a sacrifice hit in his entire career.

  10. Steve Treder said...

    Mel Allen.

    A nitpick:  even if Felipe (or Hiller) successfully sacrifices, and Mays’ hit drives in the tying run, there are still two outs when McCovey comes up.

  11. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Ah, Mel, yes!

    You are right, I missed that, yes, there would still be two outs.  At least the game would have been tied though and in extra innings!

    Here is a quote from Alou for everyone to read:  http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20121016&content_id=39852966&notebook_id=39865220&vkey=notebook_sf&c_id=sf&partnerId=rss_sf

    About what Dave quoted from Mays, I would note that if Mays was the runner, I’m sure the coach would have sent Mays home too.  :^)

    And wow about the other quotes, I guess the fates just wanted the Yankees to win that one, it seems.

  12. Kevin Finn said...

    Richardson did indeed move position based on where Terry was going to pitch McCovey, and Ralph Houk tried to move Richardson back to his normal position.  Richardson says ‘Ralhpie finally gave in and said, ‘you’ve played `1500 games out here, I guess you know where you should be’ and let Richardson stay in his new slot. 

    Richardson also says he met McCovey at an event some 45 years after that liner (for the first time since) and McCovey says ‘I bet your hand still hurts.’

    a third note, again according to Richardson:  “The second base umpire, right before the last pitch, leaned over and said ‘hey, Rich, can I have your cap for my nephew when this is over?”  Richardson, concentrating on the pitch, just nods.  Meanwhile, the first base umpire asked Moose Skowron the same question and Skowron was so shocked he glanced at the ump as Terry threw the pitch.  Skowron says lates, ‘if McCovey hits that ball to me, the Giants win the Series because I wasn’t looking’.

  13. Dave Smith said...

    I recently read a quote from Mays who said that if he had been Alou there’s no way he would have let the 3rd base coach hold him up at third, no matter how good the play was Maris made in right field.  With two outs he would have forced the Yanks to get him at home.

  14. Jay Roberts said...

    Arnold Hano had this to say in “Willie Mays.”

    Later in a calm, controlled voice, Harvey Kuenn said, “On any given normal day, that ball goes through to the fence.  And Alou scores.”

    But this was the day after six days of rain, and the grass was thick and high and soaking wet.  Roger Maris was able to cut off the ball before it reached the fence.”

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