SAN FRANCISCO – Leo Durocher had lived enough baseball to know what the moment demanded: sportsmanship, personal recognition for a job well done by a rival. Jackie Robinson had shown him the way.
Durocher had led the New York Giants in 1951, when Bobby Thomson’s Homer equalized the Brooklyn Dodgers. Even after such a bitter loss, Robinson visited the Giants clubhouse to offer his congratulations.
“I knew Jackie was bleeding on the inside,” Durocher wrote in “Nice Guys Finish Last,” his famous memoir. “I knew he would have preferred to congratulate anyone in the world except me. And yet, Jackie had entered smiling.
It was now 1962, on the West Coast, and once again the Giants rallied in the ninth inning to stun the Dodgers for the pennant, taking the lead in a basics-laden march. Durocher, then coach of the Dodgers, wanted to do the classy thing.
“But I sat there without taking my spikes off, and I just couldn’t do it,” he wrote, listing the many Dodgers who had helped the team to 102 wins. “Seven key players have had the best seasons of their careers, and we couldn’t shake the Giants. “
A team is bound to feel the same emotions Thursday night at 24 Willie Mays Plaza near the San Francisco Bay Area. The pennant-making process is different today than it was in 1962, but those facts are the same: The Giants and Dodgers have had the same number of wins – over 100 each, more than any other majors team – and only one would survive.
In 1962, the teams were tied at 101-61 after 162 games, setting up a best-of-three playoff series with a World Series spot on the line. This year, the teams are both aiming for their 110th overall victory in the final in a series of best-of-five National League divisions.
Considering the strength of both teams, it’s a shame there isn’t more at stake than a date with the Atlanta Braves in the NL Championship Series. But this season has been a real quirk, with the Dodgers tying their franchise with 106 wins, but finishing second to the NL West one game behind the Giants, who set their franchise record with 107.
As a wild-card player in the playoffs, the Dodgers therefore shot the fourth seed. They beat the St. Louis Cardinals last Wednesday to stage this clash with the Giants. The teams alternated results for four games – Giants shutout, Dodgers rout, repeat – to land in a win-win showdown, echoing the days of Durocher, Robinson and Mays.
“In any sport, when you have generational rivals playing a meaningful streak, and in this case a very meaningful play, it brings all that kind of conversation to life,” the Dodgers manager said Wednesday, Dave Roberts. “These generational rivalries are kind of the foundation of the sport and what made it America’s hobby.”
Roberts would know: he played for the Dodgers and Giants, and his stolen base sparked the Boston Red Sox’s return to the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series. Seven-game epics in 2003 and 2004, but for all the star power on their rosters, they weren’t both 100-win teams.
The final of this divisional series between Los Angeles and San Francisco is only the fifth time in baseball history that a pair of 100-winning teams face off in a winner’s playoff game. (The 1962 playoffs were technically part of the regular season.) The Giants and Dodgers are on the roster, one long ago and one recently.
World Series 1912
Game 8 (Game 2 ended in a tie): Boston Red Sox (105-47) vs. New York Giants (103-48), 3-2 in 10 innings
It is part of the short list of the greatest games in baseball history. Christy Mathewson, who had three shutouts in the 1905 World Series, took a 2-1 lead late in the 10th at Fenway Park.
Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass dropped a flying ball, then made a climax-worthy catch (if any climaxes existed then) to save an extra hit. But Mathewson walked the next batter, then canceled second base Fred Merkle on an untouched foul ball. With new life, Tris Speaker won the draw and Larry Gardner’s sacrifice fly won the title for Boston.
World Series 1931
Game 7: St. Louis Cardinals (101-53) vs. Philadelphia Athletics (107-45), 4-2
The As were trying to become the first team to win three consecutive World Series, and they almost did. They held Pepper Martin without a hit – he had gone 12 for 21 in the first six games – but Andy High and George Watkins both scored in the first and third.
The As couldn’t counter until they were one point away, when Doc Cramer scored two points against a tiring Burleigh Grimes. Bill Hallahan, who had two full game wins, came on for the final.
The Cardinals would continue to be fairly regular World Series participants, but the As wouldn’t return for 41 years. At that time, they were playing in Oakland, where they finally got that triple round, winning the championship in 1972, 1973 and 1974.
Game 5: Yankees (100-62) vs. Kansas City Royals (102-60), 5-3
It was bad enough that the Royals lost the best of five ALCSs from the previous year on Chris Chambliss’ home run to Mark Littell in chaotic Yankee Stadium. This time, the Royals were at home and took a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning as they searched for their first pennant.
The Yankees didn’t let him, rallying Dennis Leonard, Larry Gura and Littell again for three points. A Mickey Rivers single led into the tying point, and Willie Randolph’s sacrificial fly put the Yankees ahead. In the bottom of the ninth, Sparky Lyle – who had come on after five and a third relief shutout by Mike Torrez – secured a floor double play to end the game and send the Yankees to the World Series.
Reggie Jackson, who was benched by Billy Martin for that game, made that streak his own with three homers in Game 6 against the Dodgers.
World Series 2017
Game 7: Houston Astros (101-61) vs. Dodgers (104-58), 5-1
This was before the revelations of the theft of electronic panels, which marred the race for the Astros championship. But let’s not forget that Houston won this World Series on the road, without the help of those noisy Minute Maid Park trash cans.
This game was almost decided before the sun set over Los Angeles. George Springer threw a brace on the left, scored on an Astros’ two-run error in the first, then chased Dodgers starter Yu Darvish with a two-run homer in the second.
It was 5-0 Astros by then, and while starter Lance McCullers Jr. didn’t last long either (he hit four hitters), the Dodgers couldn’t resolve Charlie Morton. He closed a 5-1 win with four dominating innings, removing Corey Seager to a field against Jose Altuve to end it.
Seager would have his moment for the Dodgers three years later, against Tampa Bay, when he hit 0.400 to win the World Series MVP award. The Dodgers have had an impressive title defense this season, but couldn’t quite knock down the Giants during the regular season – and Thursday will be their last chance.