Thursday, September 29, 2016

Last Day 60 Years Ago, September 30, 1956

On Saturday, September 29, the Dodgers swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in a doubleheader at Ebbets Field while the Braves lost a 12-inning heartbreaker in St. Louis. That meant Brooklyn held a one-game lead over Milwaukee going into the final day of the regular season. Win with their ace, Don Newcombe, on the mound, and it wouldn't matter what the Braves didthe Dodgers would be back in the World Series with a chance to make it two championships in a row at the Yankees' expense. Lose, however, and a win by the Braves would mean the Dodgers would be in their third best-of-three playoff series for the National League pennant in eleven years. Only twice before in National League history was a playoff necessary after completion of the 154-game schedule to decide the pennant-winner, the Dodgers were in both, and the Dodgers lost on both previous occasionsto the Cardinals in 1946, and (most famously) to the Giants in 1951.

Last Day
(60 Years Ago, September 30, 1956)

The Dodgers trailed the Braves by half-a-game going into the final day of the season. It was 151 down for Brooklyn and three to go; for Milwaukee, 152 down and two to go. Making his first start since his no-hitter against Philadelphia four days before, Sal Maglie won the opener of Brooklyn's Saturday doubleheader, 6-2. The Pirates wasted no time breaking up any hope of Maglie having a Johnny Vander Meer moment and depriving him of a shutout in the 1st inning when Dale Long singled and Frank Thomas homered. But in the bottom of the 1st, Jackie Robinson drove in the first Dodgers run with a single and came home on Sandy Amoros's 14th home run of the season. Maglie shutout Pittsburgh the rest of the way. 

Indicative of how times were different back then, Dodgers' relief ace Clem Labine pitched a complete game 3-1 victory in the second game. It was only the third start Labine had made all year, all in September. Manager Walt Alston had been using Labine exclusively in relief as his bullpen ace until then. And Clem Labine was excellent in the role, appearing in 59 games with a 9-6 record, league-leading 19 saves, and a 3.34 ERA in 97 innings of relief. He had figured directly in 28 of the Dodgers' first 91 wins as a reliever, and his victory in Brooklyn's 153rd game meant he had now contributed directly to 29 of the Dodgers' 92 wins as they went into the final day.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, after the Braves' Bill Bruton smacked his 8th home run of the year as the second batter in the game, Milwaukee did not score in any of the next 11 innings, even if Hank Aaron did go 3-for-5. Fresh off his 20th win (on the same day Maglie pitched his no-hitter), Warren Spahn shut out the Cardinals through the first five innings before back-to-back doubles with two out in the 6th tied the score. Tied at 1-1 it remained after nine, ten, and eleven innings. 

Spahn was still on the mound in the 12th. Stan Musial, whose propensity to torture the Dodgers at Ebbets Field had long ago earned him the grudging sobriquet "Stan the Man" (as in, here comes "that man" again) from a frustrated Brooklyn resident, doubled with one out. Ken Boyer, having a terrific second season with 26 homers, 98 RBIs, and a .306 batting average, was intentionally walked, after which Rip Repulski touched Spahn for a game-winning walk-off double.

So the Dodgers started the last day of the 1956 schedule with a one-game lead over the Braves. Don Newcombe, taking a 26-7 record to the Ebbets mound, retired the Pirates in order in the 1st, and then happily watched Duke Snider hit his league-best 42nd homer with two runners on before Pittsburgh starter Vern Law had retired anyone. Roberto Clemente's 2-run single in the 3rd cut Brooklyn's lead to 3-2, but Jackie Robinson hit his 10th homer of the year, and the 137th and last regular-season home run of his career, in the bottom of the inning. Newcombe led off the 5th with a double and scored on a sacrifice fly, after which Snider increased his league-lead with another home run, giving him 43. A homer by Amoros in the 6th made it a 6-2 lead.

But four-run leads can be tenuous. Pittsburgh came back with 3 in the 7th, and after Lee Walls touched Newcombe for a homer with one out in the 8th to cut Brooklyn's lead to 7-6, Big Newk was given the rest of the day off. With Labine having pitched a complete game the day before, Alston could not call on his relief ace. Instead he went with second-year right-hander Don Bessent, who had already saved 8 games in 37 relief appearances. Bessent pitched the rest of the game to save Newcombe's 27th win of the 1956 season.

It didn't matter that the Braves beat the Cardinals in St. Louis on that same last day. With 154 games down and none to go, Milwaukee had run out of time. They came up one game short. The Brooklyn Dodgers had won their 9th National League pennant since 1901. It was time to . . . bring on the Yankees.

There were some warnings and minor rumblings, but little did the Brooklyn faithful expect 1956 would be the last time their borough would host a World Series.


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