What is the sweetest way to win a game of baseball against your closest rival? Is it dominating your opponent in their own backyard? Maybe it’s through an impressive individual performance, perhaps coming from an unlikely source. Or is it a gutsy come-from-behind win, culminating in a walk-off hit in front of a full house of partisans?
If it’s the latter, then it’s difficult to imagine a happier set of fans than those of the Los Angeles Dodgers in June of 1974 after one dramatic series versus the rival San Francisco Giants.
Then, as now, the two franchises were heading in opposite directions. Through 1971 the Giants had yet to have a losing season in San Francisco, although they hadn’t captured a World Series championship since heading west. The stars of the 1960s were being moved on, however. Gaylord Perry was traded in 1971, Willie Mays went back to New York in 1972, and Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey were no longer with the club by the end of 1973. The Giants finished in fifth place in 1972, the start of what would become an extended franchise slump.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, had finished as division runners-up in each of the first four years of the 1970s. This represented something of a mini-slump for the franchise; the seven seasons that had passed since their last World Series appearance actually represented the longest gap between Dodgers Fall Classic appearances since the 1930s.
Walter Alston‘s men had looked poised to break their postseason “drought” in 1973. Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey all regularly featured together in the infield for the first time. Outfielder Willie Crawford had the best season of his career, and the rotation was anchored by Don Sutton, Andy Messersmith and Tommy John.
Entering August 31st, the Dodgers held a four game lead in the division, but three consecutive losses allowed the chasing Cincinnati Reds within touching distance. On September 3rd, up by one game in the division, Los Angeles blew a ninth inning lead in San Francisco in calamitous fashion. The Giants loaded the bases on a walk and two fielders choice sacrifice bunts, a comical prelude to Bobby Bonds‘ emphatic walk-off grand slam.
The Dodgers would be swept by the Giants, and continue on a nine game losing streak that ended their postseason aspirations. The Reds took a lead in West that they would not relinquish. Two late September wins by the Dodgers over San Francisco were too little too late.
Despite the miserable finish to 1973, there was no visible hangover in Southern California as the 1974 season got underway. The Dodgers swept the Padres to open the season, scoring 25 runs and allowing just two in the three game series. After April 14th they were in first place for good, despite going 3-4 vs the Giants in their opening bouts.
The Giants, meanwhile, were struggling to stay in touch of .500. A 12-4 loss to the Cubs on May 27th was described by manager Charlie Fox as “possibly the worst I’ve ever seen”. Fox had led the club to the 1971 NLCS, winning NL Manager of the Year honors, but was now under pressure. According to The Sporting News, Fox held the first closed-door player meeting of his tenure after the Cubs game. When asked what was said, Fox replied “nothing that could be printed”.
The Giants arrived in Los Angeles on Friday, June 21st with a 33-36 record. The Dodgers (44-23) had opened up an eight game division lead at the start of the month, but a run of two wins in nine games had cut their lead to five. They entered the three game Giants series having been swept in Pittsburgh.
Injuries had beset San Francisco’s rotation. Regular starters Mike Caldwell and Tom Bradley were out for the series, meaning the Game 1 start was handed to 25-year-old reliever Randy Moffitt. Nicknamed “Billie Jean” by his teammates (not because of a hunch that Michael Jackson would sing about him in eight years time, but rather because his older sister was a somewhat famous tennis player), Moffitt would pitch in 534 games in his career, but this would be his only start.
Opposing Moffitt was Dodgers ace Andy Messersmith, who had thrown four complete games in the month of June, giving up just one earned run. Messersmith was on his way to 20 Wins and in a little over a month’s time would be starting the All-Star Game for the National League.
Despite the gap in starting pitcher experience, it was the Giants who took the lead and Moffitt who scored the opening run. In the third, the Giants starting pitcher reached on a Ron Cey error, and both he and Garry Maddox came home on an Ed Goodson double.
In the top of the seventh Tito Fuentes, the longest-tenured Giant, reached on second baseman Rick Auerbach‘s error. Messersmith picked him off but Fuentes was safe on catcher Steve Yeager’s error. Goodson capitalized again, singling home Fuentes to make the score 3-0. Maddox was out trying to go from first to third.
Through seven, Moffitt had scattered eight hits and a walk to remain unscored upon. But he unraveled in the eighth, allowing three straight hits to Bill Buckner, Jim Wynn and Steve Garvey. Elias Sosa entered in relief but couldn’t stop the rot, allowing a Willie Crawford single that scored Wynn, then giving up a Cey sacrifice fly that tied the game. A Bill Russell ground ball double play kept things tied.
“Until that inning,” Wynn told the L.A. Times, “it had been very dead on the bench. Very dead.”
Mike Marshall had entered the game in relief for the Dodgers in the top of the eighth, despite pitching in the previous two games. This was nothing new for the rubber-armed Marshall, who had already earned the nicknames “Iron Mike” and the “Human Pitching Machine”. Marshall had topped 65 games played in each of the last three seasons and set a major league record by appearing in 92 games for the Expos in 1973.
Marshall pitched a perfect eight and ninth and, with the score deadlocked at three apiece, pitched a perfect tenth too.
Enter Bill Buckner. The young corner outfielder was having an up-and-down start to his major league career, registering a batting average of .319 as a 22-year-old in 1972, but hitting just .275 in 1973 with no power or accompanying on-base skills.
A brief spell on the bench earlier in June of 1974 had led to Buckner tinkering with his grip. “I hadn’t played for five days before that game,” Buckner said, alluding to a game against the Mets. “You can come up with a lot of goofy ideas in that time.”
As he walked to the plate to lead off the bottom of the tenth, his career home run total sat at 19 in over 1500 career plate appearances. Career home run #20 sent the Dodgers faithful home happy.
“I was due,” said Buckner after the game. “I usually have at least three by the All-Star break.”
Mike Marshall picked up the win; Sosa recorded a blown save and loss. All of the Giants runs were unearned, meaning Messersmith had allowed just one earned run in his last 43 innings.
Despite the division lead the Dodgers had clearly been perturbed by their scoring troubles. “We were beginning to wonder what we had to do to score,” Buckner told the L.A. Times. “We had forgotten how easy it had been for us to get runs earlier in the season.”
The Game 1 loss had done nothing for Charlie Fox’s hopes of hanging on to his job. The Times reported that one columnist from San Francisco had made the journey south to report on the suspected “imminent firing” of Fox.
The starting pitcher matchup seemed to favor Fox’s ballclub for Game 2, however. Los Angeles were sending Don Sutton to the mound, who was mired in a seven game stretch without a win. In those games Sutton had gone 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA, and his ERA on the season had risen from 2.63 to 4.05.
The Giants starter was Jim Barr, who had switched between relieving and starting throughout the season. In his most recent outings Barr had thrown shutouts versus the Cubs and Cardinals.
There was no shutout to be had in this game though, as Jim Wynn smacked a solo home run in the bottom of the first. The Giants later tied the game, and went ahead in the sixth. Sutton walked Maddox after a mix-up between second baseman Auerbach and first baseman Garvey allowed a foul popup to fall and the batter to stay alive. Goodson once again tallied an RBI, scoring Maddox with a double.
Barr had dominated most of the Dodgers lineup, but Wynn was giving him fits. The center fielder had collected two singles in addition to his first inning home run, and with one out in the ninth he tied the game with another solo dinger to left. That was it for Barr, but there was no further scoring in the inning and the game went to extras for the second night in a row.
Marshall had faced the minimum in the ninth and threw a scoreless tenth. The first Dodgers batter in the bottom of the tenth was catcher Joe Ferguson, who had grown up in the Bay Area and was a Giants fan in his youth. Just as Buckner had done the night before, Ferguson hit a walk-off home run, the victim again being Elias Sosa.
“We love to break their hearts,” Ferguson told the L.A. Times with a grin, his loyalties clearly not in doubt. “We try our hardest to beat them.”
It was the second night in a row that the Dodgers had staged a late comeback before walking off in the tenth with a lead-off home run. In both games Mike Marshall picked up the win in relief and Elias Sosa picked up the loss.
Wynn’s 18th and 19th homers of the season put him atop the major league home run leaderboard, and his 56th RBI left him in a tie with Garvey with the NL lead.
The center fielder was glad to help out Sutton. “We needed this one for Don… I think he’s on his way back.”
Said Sutton: “It’s the best I’ve pitched in six weeks.” .Then he smiled. “I’m not a very good cheerleader. I have to make some contribution.”
Game 2 had attracted 45,538 attendees, making L.A. the first team to draw a million total fans in 1974. It was the largest crowd the Giants had played in front of that season, and more than double the attendance of the Giants’ best attended home game. The Giants were bad, and the fans knew it. In fact, at that point in the season the Dodgers had played before more home fans than the Giants had attracted at their home and away games combined.
Sunday, June 23rd was Old-Timers Day at Dodger Stadium and an even bigger crowd of 52, 563 turned up to watch. This wasn’t even a top-ten attendance for L.A. in 1974 but it beat the best Giants home attendance by 30,000 fans.
The Old Timers played a two inning game featuring the just-retired Willie Mays, plus Don Drysdale, Jim Gilliam, Sal Maglie, Wally Moon and others. Bobby Thomson hit an RBI double off Ralph Branca but unlike 1951 the Giants were in no danger of winning the pennant.
The game proper saw the Dodgers’ Tommy John square off against San Francisco’s rookie and first round draft pick John D’Acquisto. The Dodgers struck first, Garvey retaking sole possession of the NL RBI lead with a home run. Defensive standout Bill Buckner made a diving catch in left, robbing Ed Goodson of extra bases. When questioned later, Buckner labelled his recent string of spectacular catches as “routine”.
San Francisco took the lead in the seventh, putting up a three spot on John. Goodson tied the game with an RBI single, meaning his hits had accounted for five of the Giants first six runs in the series. Gary Matthews followed Goodson with a two RBI knock, putting the Giants up 3-1.
The Dodgers hit back immediately, knocking D’Acquisto out of the game with a Garvey walk, a Willie Crawford bunt hit (his first of the season in a non-sacrifice situation) and a Cey single. Cey would score on two groundouts and a Manny Mota bunt hit off new pitcher Steve Barber. Mike Marshall entered the game once again, throwing a no-frills eighth and working through a jam in the ninth to keep things tied.
At 44 years old, McMahon was the oldest active major leaguer for the second year running. McMahon had started the season, as he had in previous years, as the Giants pitching coach, but was activated as a pitcher part-way through the season. This was his sixth appearance of the season – all the previous outings had come in losses.
This outing would be no different. McMullen, a 13-year veteran himself and ten years removed from his first at bat versus McMahon, hit the first pitch down the left field line to end the game. “It was the proper finish to Old Timers Day,” said McMullen.
A day that started with Sal “The Barber” Maglie shutting down the Dodgers ended with Steve Barber picking up the loss. McMahon pitched three more times that season, all in losses, before calling it quits for good and returning to coaching duties. The 36-year-old Barber also called it a day at the end of the season.
Marshall picked up the win for the third consecutive game, something even he had never done before.
Giants manager Charlie Fox summed up the series best: “They were just too good for us.”
In the three games the Dodgers had come from behind in the eighth, ninth and seventh innings respectively before walking off in the tenth (twice) and the ninth. It’s the only time in the rivalry that one team has walked off on the other three nights in a row, and the first two games mark the only time either team has beaten the other in extras on back to back days.
Mike Marshall pitched seven innings in the series and won all three games. The series marked games three to five of a stretch in which he pitched in 13 straight games, breaking the previous major league record of nine. Marshall would win the NL Cy Young Award that year (Messersmith finished second) having thrown 208.1 innings, all in relief. His 106 games played set a major league record that stands to this day. Marshall also led the National League in Saves, finishing a Save ahead of one Randy Moffitt.
Charlie Fox resigned on June 28th. Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham described the move as in “the best interests of the club.” Fox, who wasn’t always his charges’ favorite, was largely defended by the players. Bobby Bonds, who had “experienced his share of disagreements with the feisty manager” (The Sporting News), was among those to deflect blame from the manager. Fox, somewhat dramatically, described his feelings as akin to “General Patton when they took the troops away from him.”
The Giants major league scout and former catcher Wes Westrum took charge of the team. His first games at the helm were against the Dodgers in San Francisco. The Giants were swept.
The two sweeps were part of an eight game Dodgers winning streak versus the Giants, tied for the most that either franchise has won in a row against the other since the teams moved west.
The San Francisco Giants would endure a largely uninterrupted slump that they wouldn’t come out of until the late 1980s. Despite the lack of success on the field, attendance never again dropped as low as the 519,987 recorded patrons in 1974 (although 1975 saw only the most minuscule improvement).
The Dodgers won the 1974 NL West at a canter, but lost the World Series to the Oakland A’s. They reached and lost two more World Series in the 1970s before finally winning one with the Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey infield in 1981.
Even with the multiple pennant wins of the ’70s, it can’t have got much sweeter for Dodgers fans than the events of June 21st-June 23rd, 1974.