This article was written by Kevin Larkin
Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants and Duke Snider of the Los Angeles Dodgers meet before Opening Day on April 15, 1958, at Seals Stadium in San Francisco. (Courtesy of the San Francisco Giants)
From 1885 through 1957 the Dodgers and the Giants had met 20 times on Opening Day. In 1958 for the first time, the two teams met on the West Coast, when the Giants hosted the Dodgers at Seals Stadium in San Francisco. It was the first game for both teams since they relocated to the West Coast after the 1957 season. For the visiting Dodgers, manager Walter Alston chose Don Drysdale as LA’s starter. It was the second time Drysdale had pitched in an Opening Day game. (As a rookie on April 17, 1956, he had been one of five pitchers used in an 8-6 loss to the Phillies at Ebbets Field.)
Giants manager Bill Rigney selected right-hander Ruben Gomez, who was in his sixth big-league season. The San Francisco (previously New York) Giants had future Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda in the starting lineup, while the Los Angeles (previously Brooklyn) Dodgers had future Hall of Fame representation in Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, and Drysdale.
Los Angeles Times sportswriter Frank Finch wrote, “The debut of big league baseball in California was a colossal flop if you happened to be a Los Angeles rooter.”1
In front of 23,448 spectators, Gino Cimoli became the first major-league batter in a regular-season game in California. Gomez made short work of Cimoli, striking him out. Snider became the first baserunner when he drew a two-out walk. Gomez then retired Gil Hodges on a groundout to end the top of the first. Drysdale’s half of the first inning was a little easier: He struck out Jim Davenport, then recorded two groundouts.
The first hit in the historic game came in the top of the second inning when Charlie Neal singled. Dick Gray followed with another single, but Gomez got out of the inning on a groundout and two strikeouts. Drysdale had another easy inning, recording three groundouts.
In the top of the third inning, Gomez allowed a pair of one-out walks to Reese and Snider, but got out of the inning, retiring Hodges on a popout and Neal on a groundout, with no damage done. In the bottom of the third, San Francisco was the first to get on the scoreboard. Danny O’Connell and Valmy Thomas walked. Gomez then recorded the first hit by a San Francisco Giant when he singled to load the bases. When Davenport lined out to Willie Kirkland in right field, O’Connell scored the first California major-league run. Jim King singled to score Thomas and give San Francisco a 2-0 lead.
Gomez then had his first 1-2-3 inning when he struck out Gray, walked Carl Furillo, and got Rube Walker to ground into an inning-ending double play. After Cepeda flied out to left field, Daryl Spencer hit the first major-league home run in California to give the Giants a 3-0 lead. After a walk and a passed ball, Gomez helped his own cause again with a single to score Thomas, giving the Giants a 4-0 lead. After another single, this one by Davenport, Rigney replaced Drysdale with right-hander Don Bessent, who gave up a single to Willie Mays that scored Gomez and Davenport before Mays was thrown out trying for a double, ending the inning with the Giants leading 6-0.
Cepeda added a home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to increase the Giants’ lead to 7-0. In the top of the sixth inning, Gomez got both Snider and Hodges to ground out before allowing consecutive singles to Neal and Gray, putting runners on first and second with two outs. A groundball by Furillo forced Gray at second base to end the inning with the Giants still holding a 7-0 lead. In the seventh, Gomez allowed an inning-opening single to Walker, and pinch-runner
John Roseboro went to second base on a groundout by Norm Larker. Roseboro was out at third on a fielder’s choice grounder by Cimoli. A walk to Reese sent Cimoli to second base. Gomez got out of the jam by getting Snider to ground out to Cepeda at first base.
The Giants threatened to increase their lead in the bottom of the seventh against the third Dodgers pitcher of the game, Ron Negray. Kirkland reached on an error by Hodges and went to second on a balk by Negray. Cepeda fouled out and Spencer lined out. Negray walked O’Connell and Thomas to load the bases, but Gomez grounded out, third to first, to quell the rally.
It was an easy one-two-three inning for Gomez in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the inning, Negray struck out Davenport leading off but walked Jim King. Mays’s second single of the game sent King to second base, and he scored on a single by Kirkland (who was out at second base trying to advance on the throw). The Giants’ lead was now 8-0. Cepeda flied out to left field.
The Dodgers last-chance top of the ninth began with Gomez striking out Furillo. Roseboro grounded out and pinch-hitter Jim Gilliam walked. A single by Cimoli put runners at first and second, but Reese took a called third strike to end the game.
Cepeda’s and Spencer’s home runs were the only extra-base hits in the game. In the loss for Los Angeles, Charlie Neal and Dick Gray each had two hits.
Gomez got the complete-game win, allowing six hits, while walking six and striking out six. Drysdale took the loss, lasting just 3⅔ innings. Don Bessent went 2⅓ innings before being relieved by Negray, who finished out the game for the Dodgers. “The embarrassment of being shut out on opening day — and in a new city — really hit hard,” wrote a Bay Area sportswriter.2
The Los Angeles Times noted, “The only Dodger to get the ball out of the infield was Pee Wee Reese — and Mr. Mays gobbled up that drive with a nice catch in the fifth inning.”3
Mays was excited about the catch. “‘It’s like the World Series,’ [he said, imitating] the broad grins adorning the faces of fans after his triumphant catch.”4 San Francisco manager Bill Rigney was ecstatic in his praise of the three Giants playing in their first major-league game, Cepeda, Davenport, and Kirkland. “How about that,” Rigney exclaimed as he talked about the play of his three rookie ballplayers.5
The papers were generous with praise for the Giants and notes of sadness from the Dodgers. The one bright note for the Dodgers had come before the game from former catcher Roy Campanella. The Dodgers catcher, who was seriously injured in an automobile crash in January, said in a note to his Dodgers teammates: “Although I am unable to be there, I am still with you. Here’s hoping today’s game will start a great team off to a most successful season — Campy.”6
The Dodgers got their revenge the next day, beating the Giants 13-1, and two days later they won their home opener against the Giants, 6-5. The Giants finished their inaugural season in third place, while the Dodgers finished seventh.
In addition to the articles cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites.
1 Frank Finch, “S.F. Beats Dodgers in First Game,” Los Angeles Times, April 16,1958: 1.
2 Bob Brachman, “Sad Dodgers Moan Over Tricky Gomez Screwball,” San Francisco Examiner, April 16,1958: 31.
3 “Don Drysdale Chased in the Fourth,” Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1958: 61.
4 Don Selby, “Mays, Rube, Rookie Trio Earn Rig’s Praise,” San Francisco Examiner, April 16, 1958: 37.
6 “Campy Sends Greetings to Dodgers,” Los Angeles Times, April 16, 1958: 62.