Coming off a World Series win in 2020, the Los Angeles Dodgers were expected to easily win the National League West Division for the ninth straight time. But, for reasons that confound many baseball experts, the Dodgers’ archnemesis, the San Francisco Giants, stubbornly hold on to first place. And so, another chapter in the West Coast version of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry will be written.
Since both teams moved to the West Coast and transplanted their New York rivalry, the Dodgers and Giants have had some memorable pennant races with each other. There’s not enough room for all of them, but here’s a sampling.
1959 - The First West Coast Race
After both teams had subpar years in their first seasons on the West Coast, the Dodgers and Giants, along with Milwaukee were in a pennant race that saw each team with a chance to take control. Starting on September 10, the Giants led the race by three games with 16 to play and made plans to open Candlestick Park early for the World Series. But, San Francisco would win just five more games. The Dodgers and Milwaukee each went 10-5 to finish tied for first with the Giants in third. The Dodgers would win the tiebreaker playoff series and go on to win the World Series over the Chicago White Sox in six games.
1962 - A Los Angeles Tragedy in Multiple Acts
In their first year in their new home (and this is a fine time for me to recommend Eric Nusbaum’s book Stealing Home, which came out in 2020 and may be one of the best books written on the topic of the construction of Dodger Stadium and the destruction of the existing neighborhood), the Dodgers had one of their greatest seasons, winning 101 games in the regular season.
The Dodgers were having a tremendous year with Maury Wills stealing 104 bases and pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale turning into superstars. The Dodgers led the National League in runs scored, but couldn’t hit in its final three games at home, getting swept by St. Louis while scoring just two runs. The Giants, with future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, and Gaylord Perry, were able to tie the Dodgers on the last day.
That set up a best of three tiebreaker series.
The Giants won the first game in San Francisco and the Dodgers were able to force a decisive third game with a laborious 8-7 win.
Now it’s October 3, 1962. Although it was not overly hot, smog levels in Los Angeles were very high and all reports of the game say it was a miserable day. (Kids ask your grandparents about smog in the 1960s and 1970s. It was horrible.) The Dodgers had scraped out a 4-2 lead going to the ninth and appeared to be headed to the World Series.
Then… stuff happened.
Dodgers reliever Ed Roebuck came out for his fourth inning of work. He was tiring, but so was the entire Dodgers bullpen. Roebuck gave up a single and two walks and then gave up a run when he couldn’t catch a line drive back to him off the bat of Willie Mays. Dodgers manager Walter Alston went to the bullpen for someone new. Most people expected Drysdale. But it was Stan Williams, a hard thrower who had control issues. The 45,000 fans squirmed uncomfortably in their seats. Some gasped for air. Then they realized that it was really smoggy and they were stuck with that.
Williams came in with the bases loaded and gave up a game-tying sacrifice fly. Then he threw a wild pitch. That led to an intentional walk. That was followed by an unintentional walk that forced in the go-ahead run for the Giants.
Ron Perranoski came in to relieve Williams. He got Jose Pagan to hit a ground ball to Larry Burright at second, who booted it for an error and the Giants tacked on a sixth run. The Dodgers went out meekly in the ninth.
The Giants would go on to lose the World Series to the Yankees in seven games. The newspapers called for Alston’s firing in the days following the loss to the Giants. But, Alston stayed on the job through 1976 and won two more World Series.
1965 - The Unstoppable Force
The 1965 Dodgers relied on the otherworldly pitching of Sandy Koufax as well as the extremely good pitching of Don Drysdale. The team didn’t score much and hit just 78 homers.
San Francisco led the Dodgers and the Reds by 4 ½ games on September 14. But the Dodgers won 13 straight games, giving up no more than one run in 10 of the games. They clinched the league on the second to last day of the season and won the World Series over Minnesota in seven games.
1982 - The Giants Spoil Things
The 1982 NL West was a three-team race, with the same teams as 1959, except for Milwaukee having moved to Atlanta.
Atlanta led the Dodgers and Giants by one game entering the final three days of the season. Atlanta was at San Diego, while the Dodgers and Giants played at Candlestick Park.
The Dodgers eliminated the Giants by winning the first two games. Atlanta gave the Dodgers a chance to tie them on the last day with a loss to the Padres.
The teams were tied 2-2 in the 7th in San Francisco. The Giants had two on and two outs with Joe Morgan due up. Dodgers reliever Terry Forster threw a pitch that Morgan deposited over the right-field fence and the Dodgers were done.
1993 - The Dodgers Spoil Things
The 1993 Dodgers were an average team. The 1993 Giants were great and coming into the final game of the season at Dodger Stadium they had 103 wins. But that was only good enough for a tie with Atlanta. The Giants were hoping to finish a four-game sweep of the Dodgers and play a tiebreaker game the next day.
But, the Giants were short of starting pitching and manager Dusty Baker turned to a rookie named Salomon Torres to start.
Torres wasn’t up to the task and the Dodgers knocked him out of the game in the fourth and won in a 12-1 rout.
2004 - A San Francisco Tragedy in Several Acts
Although the Giants had gone to the World Series in 2002 and won the division in 2003, they had some issues in 2004 as their pitching staff, especially the bullpen, had problems. The Dodgers were unexpectedly in first place and could clinch the division by winning just one of the final three games at Dodger Stadium against the Giants.
The Giants won the first game 4-2. In the second game, the Giants led 3-0 in the ninth inning. They needed three outs to set up a chance to tie on the last day with their ace, Jason Schmidt pitching. But of those three outs, the Giants could only get one.
The Dodgers tied the game with two singles, three walks, and a big error by Giants shortstop Cody Ransom. The Giants cycled through four pitchers, each of them less effective than the one before him.
Eventually, it was up to a lefty named Wayne Franklin, with an ERA over 6.00 to face Dodgers center fielder Steve Finley with the bases loaded. Franklin threw one strike and then on pitch two, in the words of Vin Scully:
“High fly ball to right field, wherever it goes, the Dodgers have won! And it’s also a grand slam home run!”
The Dodgers would go on to lose to St. Louis in the playoffs in four games.