Before Monday’s Nets-Knicks battle (for first place?!?) that was settled in OT at the Barclays Center, the last game in a major pro sport between a team from Brooklyn and one from Manhattan was September 8, 1957. And just like that, the strains of Neil Young fill my ears, and “I’m driftin’ back….”
It was a Sunday afternoon in the Polo Grounds. The Dodgers, two-time defending NL champs, were trying to get back into the race and hoped to complete a sweep against the foundering Giants. They had a hoss on the hill, and a 4-game win streak that shrank Milwaukee’s lead from 10 games to 7, with a 3-game set in Sudsville just days away.
Brooklyn’s bags-full threat fizzled in the 1st. But in the 2nd, Don Drysdale worked a 2-out walk, and Junior Gilliam put the Bums on top with a rare home run. (Since slugging .417 over his first two campaigns, with a league-best 17 triples in ’53 and 13 taters in ’54, Gilliam’s power had waned; he would slug just .314 with 2 HRs in ’57.)
Drysdale, a month past his 21st birthday, was bidding for his 15th win in his first full year in the bigs. His last outing was a 12-inning, 169-pitch heartbreaker, sent into overtime on a 2-out, 2-run HR in the 9th by Philly rook Harry (the Horse) Anderson. But before that, he had blanked the Jints on 3 hits, giving him 3 wins (2 shutouts) in 4 tries against them, and he laid three more goose eggs on them at the start of this game.
But that changed in a flash. Willie Mays, enjoying his usual brilliant season — he would lead the NL in WAR for the 3rd time in 4 years — began the 4th stanza with a single. Cleanup man Ray Jablonski picked that moment to pole his annual triple, past Skoonj Furillo in RF, bringing up Hank Sauer.
Now 40, the Honker had been dumped by St. Louis the previous fall, but he was reborn with New York, swatting 26 HRs in just 378 ABs. Drysdale had not fanned the former MVP in 13 prior face-offs, and that would not change now. Sauer launched a 2-run HR to give New York the lead.
Drysdale regained his footing and saw no further trouble, but Brooklyn never could get the tying run across. Rallies in the 5th and 7th died in twin-killings. Line drives found leather in the visitors’ 8th, sandwiching a Gil Hodges single, and a rare theft by Gil went for nought when Marv Grissom whiffed Gino Cimoli.
With 2 gone in the home 8th, Mays shot a “three-ball” into right-center, becoming the first player with 20 triples in a season since 1949 (Dale Mitchell), and the last until 1979 (George Brett). Mays was also the 4th of (now) 7 players ever to hit 20 HRs, 20 triples and 20 doubles in a season.
In light of our reason for looking backward, the winning pitcher seems doubly fitting: Curt Barclay, the 6′ 3″ rookie who had declined an offer from the Boston Celtics in order to sign with the Giants. The win gave him a record of 9-7, 3.16, including the only back-to-back shutouts in the final 3 years of the New York Giants. But he would win just once more in his MLB career, victim of shoulder woes that washed him up at 28. Barclay had lettered in basketball at the University of Oregon along with Jim Loscutoff, who won 7 championships in 9 years as a regular with the Celtics.
Leading off the 5th inning, Barclay was hit by a pitch for the only time in his 67 career PAs. Drysdale hit just 7 batters in 221 IP that year, but within 5 seasons he had become the active leader in HBP and held that distinction through his retirement. Only 3 pitchers in modern history have both more HBP and a higher rate than Drysdale: two knuckleballers and one Big Unit.
Both teams’ seasons went south from that day, as perhaps should be expected when the moving vans are in the parking lot. Brooklyn could not gain on the Braves, who cruised to their first Milwaukee pennant. New York dropped 11 of their last 13 games and wound up in 6th place for the second straight year; except for wartime, it was their first consecutive losing seasons since John McGraw took the reins, and a bad start to Bill Rigney‘s managerial career.
Drysdale won his last 3 starts that year to finish at 17-9 with a 153 ERA+, leading NL pitchers in WAR in his first full season. He remains the only Dodger ever to win that many at a seasonal age of 20 or younger. But the first 4 years in LA were a holding pattern for Big D; he won 2 strikeout titles, but his record was just 57-50 with a 3.50 ERA while quartered in the Coliseum. Drysdale fared better at home in those years, but nothing like the dominance to come in Dodger Stadium, where he’d post a lifetime 2.19 ERA (2.45 or less each year from 1962-68).
Five future Hall of Famers participated in that game: Mays for the Giants, and Drysdale, Pee Wee Reese (now playing 3B), Duke Snider, and skipper Walter Alston for the Dodgers. Roy Campanella, in what would become his final season, was getting some time off that day; four months later came the car crash that left him paralyzed. Sandy Koufax might have warmed up in the bullpen; all year he had swung between relief and starting. He would start Brooklyn’s next game, in Chicago, where he was knocked out after one frame. Gail Harris sat on the bench; his big moment was still 2 weeks away.
P.S. The Nets’ win was paced by a trio of players with baseball-sounding names: C Brook “Don’t Call Me Javy” Lopez rang up 22 points, PG Deron
Johnson Williams fired home 14 assists (some from the warning track), and RF PF Reggie Jackson Smith Darrell Dwight Evans harvested 14 caroms. Of course, I think everyone has a baseball-sounding name — even Ndamukong “Gus” Suh(r).