This article was written by Kevin Larkin
“Los Angeles really did it yesterday. It gave its Dodgers the goldarndest, warming, howling, confetti filled, big league welcome it has ever accorded anyone. And the Dodgers responded by winning their home opener, 6-5 before 78,672 in the Coliseum, a figure that broke four baseball records.”1
“The only records that remained in the face of the onslaught of eager Angelenos was a World Series game between the Boston Braves and the Cleveland Indians at the latter’s Municipal Stadium (86,288) and a Cleveland Yankee doubleheader in the same park (86,563).”2
On April 15, 1958, the first-ever regular-season major-league baseball game in San Francisco was played at Seals Stadium. The San Francisco (formerly New York) Giants defeated the Los Angeles (formerly Brooklyn) Dodgers 8-0 in front of 23,448 fans.
Three days later, on the afternoon of Friday, April 18, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Dodgers hosted the Giants in major-league baseball’s first foray into the City of Angels. It is a good thing the game was at the Coliseum, which opened for business in 1923 with a seating capacity of 75,000.
After being embarrassed in San Francisco (the Giants won two of the series’ three games), Los Angeles was looking for revenge and manager Walter Alston sent Carl Erskine to the mound; Erskine was beginning his 11th season in Dodger blue. San Francisco’s manager, Bill Rigney, selected four-year pro Al Worthington to stem the Dodger offense.
The first major-league base hit in Los Angeles came in the first inning, by the Giants’ leadoff batter, third baseman Jim Davenport. The second came off the bat of the next man up, right fielder Willie Kirkland. Erskine was in a bit of trouble right away and needed to find a way out of the jam. He did just that, getting Willie Mays to foul out to catcher John Roseboro and then grabbing a shot by Daryl Spencer and doubling Davenport off second.
With two outs in the bottom of the first, Duke Snider got the first Dodgers hit in Los Angeles when he hit a groundball single to left field. Snider was left stranded when first baseman Gil Hodges took a called third strike to bring the first inning of major-league baseball in Los Angeles to an end.
Erskine got the side in order in the second inning, striking out Orlando Cepeda and Hank Sauer to start the inning. In the bottom of the inning, Los Angeles got runners on first and second with two outs thanks to a single by Charlie Neal and an intentional walk to Roseboro. Worthington then struck out his mound opponent, Erskine, to end the inning.
San Francisco struck for a run in the top of the third inning. With two outs, Davenport singled and went to third base on a double by Kirkland. Mays was intentionally walked, but Spencer worked a walk off Erskine and Davenport came home with the first major-league run scored in Los Angeles. There was no more damage in the inning as Cepeda hit a groundball to force Spencer at second base. The Dodgers wasted little time in mounting a comeback: Jim Gilliam worked Worthington for a walk to open the Dodgers’ third. He took second on a groundout by Pee Wee Reese and scored the first Dodgers on a single by Snider, who advanced to second base on an error by Mays in center field. Hodges struck out swinging, but a single by Neal drove in Snider and gave Los Angeles a 2-1 lead.
Hank Sauer became the answer to a trivia question when he led off the top of the fourth inning with the first major-league home run hit in Los Angeles. It tied the score, 2-2.
The Dodgers returned to the scoring column in the bottom of the fifth when Neal worked a one-out walk off Worthington and went to second base on a single by Dick Gray. Gino Cimoli singled to right field to score Neal. Gray scored as well when Giants catcher Bob Schmidt made an error that also allowed Cimoli to take second base. Mike McCormick relieved Worthington. Randy Jackson pinch-hit for John Roseboro and grounded out to McCormick, Cimoli taking third base. With Erskine at bat, McCormick uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Cimoli to score and give the Dodgers a 5-2 lead.
San Francisco scored in the top of the sixth inning when Schmidt hit a two-out triple. Jim King pinch-hit for second baseman Danny O’Connell and drew a walk. Bob Speake batted for McCormick and Schmidt scored when Erskine uncorked a wild pitch. The score was now 5-3, Dodgers.
Johnny Antonelli came in to pitch for San Francisco in the Dodgers’ sixth. Neither the Dodgers in the bottom of the sixth nor the Giants in the top of the seventh scored. In the bottom of the seventh inning Dick Gray hit a one-out home run off Antonelli to give Los Angeles a 6-3 lead.
In the top of the eighth inning with one out, Hank Sauer hit his second home run of the game to narrow the Dodgers’ lead to 6-4. After a single by Schmidt, Whitey Lockman pinch-hit for Eddie Bressoud and bunted Schmidt to second base. Ray Jablonski, batting for Antonelli, struck out swinging to end the inning with the Dodgers’ lead at 6-4.
In the top of the ninth inning, Carl Furillo replaced Duke Snider in right field for the Dodgers. Davenport led off with a double and Alston called on Clem Labine to take over from Erskine. Willie Kirkland tripled to center field but Davenport didn’t score; he was called out on appeal for missing the third-base bag.
The Los Angeles Times wrote, “There was no cry of ‘we wuz robbed‘ in the Giants dressing room after the fateful ninth-inning play which erased a big run. Davenport, San Francisco’s sensational and rookie third baseman readily admitted he failed to touch third base. Dick Gray, Los Angeles’ equally sensational rookie third baseman, spotted the miscue, called for the ball and Davenport was out.”3
As for Davenport he readily admitted to the mistake. “My feet tangled, causing me to get off stride. … I knew I missed the base and started back. … But there was Willie Kirkland coming in so there was nothing to do but go ahead and hope nobody noticed it.”4
Willie Mays singled to score Kirkland but Labine got Spencer on a fly ball to center field and Orlando Cepeda on a foul out to left field for the final out of the game. The Los Angeles Dodgers got their first major-league win in their home ballpark, 6-5.
Jim Davenport and Willie Kirkland each had three hits with Sauer adding his two home runs for San Francisco. The Dodgers had eight hits off a quartet of Giants twirlers (Worthington, who took the loss, McCormick, Antonelli, and Marv Grissom).
Duke Snider, Charlie Neal, and Dick Gray (home run) each had two hits in the Dodgers triumph. Erskine got the victory, allowing 10 hits while walking four and striking out seven in eight innings on the mound. Labine pitched the final inning for Los Angeles and got the save.
In the first season after big-league baseball expanded to the West Coast, the Milwaukee Braves (92-62) won the National League pennant by eight games over the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. The Giants (80-74) finished third, 12 games behind the Braves. The Dodgers (71-83) finished in seventh place in the standings, 21 games behind the Braves.
In addition to the game story and box-score sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites.
1 Art Ryon, “78,672 See Dodgers Beat Giants 6 to 5,” Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1958: 21.
2 Curly Grieve, “78,762 Fans See Bums Beat Giants,” San Francisco Examiner, April 19, 1958: 1.
3 Al Wolf, “Davenport Admits Skull at 3rd Base,” Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1958: 21.