SI Vault
William Leggett
September 27, 1971
The Giants and Dodgers, battling each other and themselves, thrash out a surprise pennant race that brings to mind their brawls of old
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September 27, 1971

Just Who Is Knocking Out Whom?

The Giants and Dodgers, battling each other and themselves, thrash out a surprise pennant race that brings to mind their brawls of old

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The names might easily have been Maglie and Robinson and Furillo and Leo, but they weren't. There was, to be sure, Willie, but there were also Singer and Juan and Buckner and Wills and Johnson, and what these names were doing was fighting. Age and a change of scenery had done nothing to cool passions in baseball's classic rivalry—the Giants against the Dodgers.

Two weeks before, any realist would have said that this would be just another tough series between two old foes, the one already a pennant winner, the other an adequate second. But suddenly the Giants were falling apart and the Dodgers at last were getting together, exactly the way their captain, cheerleader and topkick, Maury Wills (see cover), had said over and over again that they would. While the Dodgers came charging, the Giants developed ninth-inning trouble. Try as they might, they seemed incapable of coming out of the ninth ahead. They lost 11 of 12 games, their once fat lead of 8� games dwindled to one thin game and Candlestick Park was the Polo Grounds again, or Ebbets Field.

Wacky, of course, just the way things always have been with the two. Consider the days leading up to last week's two-game series, their final confrontation of the season. Before facing off at spitting distance, the archenemies produced a stereo of low lights that stunned even them. One evening, for example, Willie Mays dropped a fly ball in center field. On the same night the Dodgers' Wes Parker got picked off second base with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth inning. He was carrying what was supposed to be the winning run.

The two managers, Charlie Fox of San Francisco and Walt Alston of Los Angeles, rode up and down emotional roller-coasters. Fox, growing more dejected by the moment, said, "Balls bounce off the edges of the AstroTurf and over our infielders' heads. Balls come off the edges of the other teams' bats and fall in for hits. When are the edges going to turn our way?" Looking for a solid combination, Alston juggled his lineup and juggled it again and again. In the end he knew that he was no nearer to a solution than he had been in early March at Vero Beach, Fla.

Alston let Richie Allen off work early on Friday night against Atlanta with the Dodgers leading the Braves 2-1. Allen picked up his first baseman's mitt and left the premises and his teammates. They struggled without him through 11 innings and lost 3-2. Fred Norman, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres, threw a complete-game victory against Los Angeles on Thursday and did a perfect backflip on the mound at the conclusion of it. Explained Norman: "When I was with the Dodgers I did some backflips in the outfield one day. Alston noticed it and said that if I pitched a complete game it might be kind of interesting to do one on the mound. So I did." That was not exactly what Alston had in mind.

Los Angeles' surprising rise itself came out of mischance. During the team's final swing through the East almost a month ago the Dodgers lost two out of three games in Philadelphia and, after a delightful interlude in Montreal where they won two of three, lost three straight to the Mets in Shea Stadium. Whipped and saddened, they piled onto the plane to Houston, where in all probability they were going to play out the string.

Alston had a better idea. The following evening he closed the dressing room door in the Astrodome and explained the facts of his and their lives to his players. Drawing on his 18 years of experience as a major league manager, he explained to his basically young team that strange things happen in baseball and that several of the losses could have been wins with just a break here and there. Alston also explained the necessity of not letting down, because such an attitude could linger over into future years. He asked the team to show what it was made of.

Los Angeles went out and won, then won again the next night. The Dodgers took nine of their next 11 games, too, including a three-game sweep of the Giants at Los Angeles that set up last week's fight night at Candlestick.

As if that face-off were not heat enough, San Francisco was boiling. Temperatures in the city rose above 100, the hottest it had been there in almost 70 Septembers. Just about everybody in northern California wanted to go to the games—which was quite a novelty for the Giants, who in the last few years had gone largely uninspected by the local citizenry—but only 31,000 could get into the park. It is being rebuilt to accommodate the 49ers football team and, hopefully, 60,000 followers. Studded with beams, girders and half-finished seats, Candlestick resembled a struck set.

The task facing Los Angeles was formidable. Juan Marichal, the starting Giant pitcher in the first game, was 21-1 against the Dodgers at Candlestick, and even the loss came after 11 innings of struggle. In baseball there is no such thing as a game plan. There are only hopes, and the Dodgers' chief one was to score first and hang on in the expectation that Marichal would be replaced by a pinch hitter after five or six innings. Marichal left on schedule, but under circumstances the Dodgers could hardly have foreseen.

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