Friday, January 15, 2016

Best Postseason Win: Brooklyn Dodgers

The 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers had an interesting season.

In 1941, the Dodgers had won their first pennant in just over two decades. They remained significant contenders after that, losing an all-time great pennant race in 1942 and mostly hanging around the top three of the standings for the next few years despite the upheaval of World War II. The 1946 Dodgers, led by star outfielders Dixie Walker and Pete Reiser, double-play combo Eddie Stanky and Pee Wee Reese, and a steady, balanced pitching staff, won 96 games and lost an end-of-season playoff to the Cardinals for the pennant.

Before the 1947 season started, Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher was suspended for the year due to "association with known gamblers." On the bright side, the Dodgers also added the most talked-about rookie in the league. Despite playing out of position at first base, he still posted a healthy .383 OBP, stole a league-leading 29 bases, and scored 125 runs, second in the NL.

Also, he was the first African American player in the majors in modern baseball history, so there's that.

With Jackie Robinson added to their inordinately balanced offense and a pitching rotation bolstered by a wonderful year from Ralph Branca, the Dodgers took the 1947 pennant by five games. Their reward, of course, was a date with the Yankees in the World Series. (The Yankees weren't actually the only team allowed to win the AL pennant - this was their only Series appearance from 1944-48. But they seemed to make sure to win it every time the Dodgers won the NL.)

The Yanks took the first two games of the series, but Brooklyn won the third back in Ebbets Field, taking a huge early lead and hanging on for a 9-8 victory. That brings us to our entry...

1947 World Series Game 4: Dodgers 3, Yankees 2. Brooklyn started Harry Taylor, whose MLB career included under 400 total innings, nearly half of which were thrown during the '47 season, and a 19-21 record. New York countered with Bill Bevens, who ended up with a comparatively impressive 642.1 innings and a 40-36 mark.

Taylor got into trouble immediately, allowing singles to Snuffy Stirnweiss and Tommy Henrich. Yogi Berra reached on an attempted fielder's choice that resulted in an error by Pee Wee Reese, loading the bases with nobody out, and Joe DiMaggio walked to force in a run.

Taylor then got out of trouble - but only in the sense that he was pulled from the game, so the trouble was no longer his. Hal Gregg took over and induced a popup and a double play, ending the inning with no further damage.

Bevens had issues of his own in the home first, walking Eddie Stanky and Dixie Walker, but two groundouts and a flyout interspersed with the walks prevented any lasting damage. In the second, Phil Rizzuto singled and stole second, and Spider Jorgensen drew a walk in the bottom of the inning, but both runners were left on. DiMaggio drew a two-out free pass in the third; George McQuinn followed with a short ground ball single, and when Brooklyn catcher Bruce Edwards threw the ball into right field on the play, McQuinn advanced to second. But DiMaggio attempted to come all the way around from first, and Walker threw him out at the plate. Stanky walked and advanced on a wild pitch in the home half of the inning, and was once again stranded.

New York expanded its lead in the top of the fourth on a triple by Billy Johnson and a double by Johnny Lindell. Rizzuto's groundout moved Lindell to third, but Gregg retired the next two hitters without allowing him to score. Bevens worked his first flawless inning in the bottom of the fourth, and Gregg returned the favor in the top of the fifth.

The Dodgers finally got on the board in the home fifth, starting with walks to Jorgensen and Gregg. Stanky bunted the runners to second and third, and Reese's grounder to short got Gregg thrown out at third, but still scored Jorgensen. Reese then moved to third on a steal-and-error before being left there when Jackie Robinson struck out.

Each team drew a walk in the sixth (Lindell and Walker) and seventh (Stirnweiss and Arky Vaughan), but none of the four runners made it into scoring position. With Gregg having been lifted for a pinch hitter, Hank Behrman took the mound in the top of the eighth and worked around an error; Bevens responded with a 1-2-3 effort in the home half of the inning.

The Yankees threatened seriously in the top of the ninth. Lindell led off with a single. Rizzuto hit into a force, and Bevens then bunted, with both runners reaching safely. Stirnweiss singled to load the bases with one out, but Hugh Casey relieved, and his appearance went much better than his previous ninth-inning effort in a World Series Game 4; instead of turning a dropped third strike into a game-losing rally, he induced a double play from Henrich to end the inning.

As the ninth inning began, Bill Bevens had yet to allow a hit. That remained true for a while, though Carl Furillo drew a one-out walk. Pinch runner Al Gionfriddo stole second with two away, and Bevens then intentionally walked pinch hitter Pete Reiser - his tenth walk of the game. Cookie Lavagetto was summoned to hit for Stanky, with both the game and the no-hitter on the line.

Lavagetto doubled. Both runners scored, and the Dodgers won. Being the Dodgers, they still went on to lose the Series in seven.

This game is about as good as near no-hitters come. It lasted until there were two outs in the ninth, drawing out the drama to the maximum possible extent. And it was a close game, with the Dodgers having plenty of scoring chances despite their lack of hits (even converting on one of them in the middle innings). All told, it grades out as the second-best playoff win in Brooklyn history even without accounting for the fact that the Dodgers didn't have a hit until the last batter of the game.

More than that, though, the Bevens-Lavagetto matchup was an absolutely perfect baseball moment. The 1947 matchup between the Dodgers and Yankees wasn't necessarily as star-studded as their clashes in the early '50s would be, but you still had DiMaggio and Berra and Henrich and Rizzuto on one side, and Robinson and Reese and Walker on the other. And yet the stars could do nothing but watch as a pivotal game in the series came down to a confrontation between two players whose careers were so ephemeral that neither of them would appear in another major league game after the Series ended. It's arguably the most famous plate appearance ever to feature a pitcher and hitter who were both otherwise obscure.

The one Brooklyn victory that WPL prefers to this one was 1952 World Series Game 5, in which Duke Snider homered in the fifth, singled in the tying run in the seventh, and doubled home the game-winner in the eleventh. (Also some other players showed up, I guess.) Outside of that, their options are mostly either pretty good wins that led to Series losses, or rather milquetoast wins that added up to their only Series triumph before leaving New York.

Speaking of New York, our next entry will also come from the Big Apple, featuring the only NL team currently based there.

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