In the event that the 1959 National League pennant race is completed before 1960 spring training begins, the time will come when all involved will get a chance to relax and examine the proceedings of these final, frantic weeks with an objective eye.
One discovery they will make is that never did a team lose a game it absolutely had to win. Nor, on the other hand, did a team ever win a game that it could afford to lose. Eventually, of course, probably sometime this final weekend of the season, one of the three contenders will take it upon itself to win the pennant. It says so in the rule book for one thing, and also it would not be fair to keep the White Sox waiting forever. But through all of last week, in the seven big games the Giants, Dodgers and Braves played with each other on the West Coast, as well as in half a dozen other games they played against ball clubs having no more interest in the pennant race than Mrs. Khrushchev, the strange, unreal pattern persisted.
On Monday morning, with 12 games remaining, the Giants were two games out in front. This cushion enabled the Giants to lose a few more games during the week than the other two, which of course they did. It also would have enabled them to wrap up the whole affair with a few strategic victories, but this apparently was unthinkable. The Braves, on the other hand, never won so many that they were in danger of running off with anything, either. The Dodgers followed suit.
On Monday while San Francisco lost to Cincinnati the Braves beat the Dodgers. On Tuesday the Giants beat the Reds and the Dodgers beat the Braves. On Wednesday the Braves beat the Giants and the Reds beat the Dodgers. On Thursday the Dodgers beat the Reds and the Giants beat the Braves. The Braves finally left California entirely, preferring to spend a few days in Pennsylvania rather than take part any longer in such an affair, and the Dodgers, realizing that San Francisco still had a two-game lead, bopped the Giants in both ends of a Saturday double-header. This really snarled things up.
There was enough baseball excitement during the week to last most fans for a lifetime, and not all of it was due solely to the pennant race. There was also some rather unusual—and occasionally very brilliant—baseball which at any time would stand by itself. Two of the best pitchers in the league, Johnny Antonelli of the Giants and Warren Spahn of the Braves, both trying for their 20th victories, were pounded unmercifully. Two of the league's best hitters, Henry Aaron of the Braves and Orlando Cepeda of the Giants, failed time and again, while a kid with a glove named Maury Wills went wild with a bat for the Dodgers. San Francisco's Jimmy Davenport, a third baseman with an injured knee, hobbled off the bench and onto the field to make plays on one leg that few other third basemen could make on two. Willie Mays made an unbelievable catch.
The Dodgers' Don Drysdale walked the bases full with nobody out in the first inning against the Giants, then struck out the side. The Braves' Don McMahon walked two men in one inning, but the second was with the bases full, and that cost Milwaukee a game. Ed Bailey, the Cincinnati catcher, was thrown out of a game for arguing with an umpire, and his replacement, Dutch Dotterer, almost ruined the Giants all by himself. Duke Snider, the Dodgers' big slugger, was thrown out of a game for arguing with an umpire, and his replacement, Ron Fairly, proceeded to tear the Braves apart. Giant and Dodger pitchers struck out a total of 22 batters in one game. Willie Mays dropped an easy fly ball. For the first time in more than a year a game was rained out in San Francisco.
If there were key games during the key week that rose above other key games, they occurred in Los Angeles on Tuesday and in San Francisco on Wednesday, on Thursday and on Saturday night. In the first of these, that three-hour-and-56-minute, 10-inning affair that the Dodgers finally won 8-7 from the Braves, there was a little bit of everything. Five Dodger pitchers gave up a total of 16 hits but left 17 Braves on base. Wills hit four singles and a triple. Joe Adcock hit a 251-foot home run that almost grazed the back side of the infamous Coliseum screen on its way down. Four innings later Adcock hit a ball three times as hard, one that was heading into orbit, but which smacked into one of the screen's supporting towers, rattled around in the cross braces for a while and finally fell, to be caught in an overlap of the mesh for a ground-rule double. The Braves were very unhappy about that, insisting it should have been ruled a home run. Managed Fred Haney and General Manager John McHale even wrote a letter to the league president, Mr. Warren Giles, telling him so.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, were very happy. They had won the game by one run, and they knew Mr. Giles wouldn't pay much attention to the letter. They had to win that one to stay in the race.
"Every game is important from here on in," said the Dodger manager, Walter Alston, "but this was sure a nice one to win."
On Wednesday it was the Braves who had to win, for once again they were two games behind. The Giants were very obliging. They swung at everything Lew Burdette threw their way, missed most of it and lost 2-0. Burdette outpitched Sam Jones in a duel of the league's only 20-game winners, the big Milwaukee right-hander turning in one of the masterpieces of his fidgety career. He kept everything low. He gave up only five hits, no two in the same inning and four of them with two men out. He struck out seven and walked only one. His stuff was so good, whatever it was, that the Giants, to retain their self-respect if nothing else, accused him once again of throwing that nasty pitch, the spitter. Lew just laughed.