SI Vault
Mark Mulvoy
September 29, 1969
When the week started, five teams were in contention for the league title, but by Sunday evening the dust and gun smoke were clearing and two teams, the Giants and the Braves, stood tall over the rest
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September 29, 1969

Knockdown Time In The Wild, Wild West

When the week started, five teams were in contention for the league title, but by Sunday evening the dust and gun smoke were clearing and two teams, the Giants and the Braves, stood tall over the rest

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Still, the game—and, for the Reds, perhaps the season—was not lost until the bottom of the ninth. The Dodgers loaded the bases with one out, and when Nolan went to three balls and one strike on Willie Crawford, Bristol strolled to the mound for some communicating. He decided to remove Nolan and called in Wayne Granger for the seventh straight game. Granger threw ball four to Crawford on his first pitch. However, he got Jim Lefebvre, the next batter, to force pinch runner Von Joshua at the plate. But here the Reds began to join Houston and San Diego as also-rans. Catcher Johnny Bench thought he had a chance to double Lefebvre at first, so he fired down to Chico Ruiz, who had just been inserted for defensive purposes. It was a good throw, but the ball struck Ruiz' glove, caromed off his leg and rolled 20 feet away. Wes Parker scored from third base, and the Dodgers had earned a victory that Gary Nolan found stunning. After the game he sat alone for 20 minutes on the end of the Reds' bench, communicating with his own private hell.

The second game, played to the scoreboard accompaniment of the Giants-Braves doings some 400 miles north in San Francisco (the Giants won 2-0), was practically a video-taped replay of the first. The Reds led 2-1 in the fifth, and they had the bases loaded with only one out. Walter Alston, the Dodger manager, summoned Pete Mikkelsen from the bullpen to face the third and fourth hitters in the Reds' lineup. Mikkelsen struck out Alex Johnson and Tony Perez, and the Dodgers were alive. They tied the game on Wes Parker's double in the sixth, then won it on Parker's single in the 12th inning.

"If we weren't in the race," Parker said, "I'd be tired now. I am tired, really, but I don't notice it. It's harder to sleep these nights, and I don't eat as well as I usually do. That's what the race does to you."

In the Cincinnati clubhouse the Reds were packing for a bus trip to San Diego. "We got to get off the floor," Bristol said. "We go to San Diego and win two, then we'll be all right. I wish it was game time again right now. Right now."

The next afternoon San Francisco lost to Houston (one is tempted to say "naturally," since that is the way things seemed to be going in the upside-down race), and Atlanta took Los Angeles that night. The latter was a sloppy contest for nine innings, with both teams missing bunt attempts, misplaying fly balls and, well, playing mostly like pretenders—not contenders. They went into extra innings, and in the top of the 12th Walter Alston brought in a rookie right-handed pitcher named Ray Lamb.

Potter Palmer, one of the Braves' owners, studied Lamb when he was warming up in the bullpen and concluded, after one practice pitch flew out of the bullpen and over the head of the Dodger leftfielder, that he was wild. He suggested that it might be a good idea if Henry Aaron, the next batter, waited him out. Aaron was thinking the same thing before he saw the third fastball in a row whizzing up to the plate. Never again will Ray Lamb throw three straight fastballs to Henry Aaron. The ball disappeared behind the Dodger bullpen, about 425 feet from the plate, and the Braves were back in first. The Dodgers, though, were not dead.

Maury Wills arrived late in the Dodger clubhouse for Thursday's game against the Braves. For Wills, it has been a long season. He started the year with the Montreal Expos and played so poorly that he decided to quit. He had not been a happy man since Walter O'Malley ordered Buzzie Bavasi to trade him someplace, anyplace, before the start of the 1967 season.

Now the Dodgers had had second thoughts. Al Campanis, who succeeded Bavasi as general manager, and Manager Walter Alston studied their team's young lineup and agreed that they could make a serious challenge for the pennant if they had a leader in the infield, somebody remarkably like Maury Wills. Campanis approached O'Malley and asked him for permission to negotiate for Wills. "I thought it would be prudent to ask him," Campanis said, "because of the way things happened before." O'Malley agreed that Wills could help provide a pennant in a year that originally was scheduled for experience.

Campanis went to Montreal to scout Wills. "I didn't look at him at bat," he said. "I didn't look at him in the field. I just wanted to see if Maury could run. If he could run, then he could do everything else." Wills' legs were not the legs that stole 104 bases in 1962 but they were better than most. A few days later Campanis traded Ron Fairly and Paul Popovich to get Wills and Outfielder Manny Mota from the Expos.

"It was great to have him back," said Wes Parker. "Maybe not everybody missed Maury, but I did and Jeff Torborg did and Jimmy Lefebvre did. I don't know if we could have maintained our spirit and drive if he had not rejoined the team."

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