When the 1959 season opened, the Milwaukee Braves were favored to win their third consecutive National League pennant. Picked for first by 147 (65 percent) of the 226 writers polled by The Sporting News, they were listed no lower than third place on the remaining ballots.
A similar consensus had the Los Angeles Dodgers pegged for the NL’s second division. Roughly two-thirds of the writers (149) expected the Dodgers, who were seventh in 1958 in their first season after relocating from Brooklyn, to finish no higher than fifth in the eight-team NL; three voters even picked them for last. Only two predicted a pennant for Los Angeles.1
The Braves, as forecast, were at or near the top of the NL standings all season long. But the Dodgers turned out to be much better than expected, thanks to addition of outfielder Wally Moon, acquired in an offseason trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, and the midseason promotions from the minors of shortstop Maury Wills, starting pitcher Roger Craig, and reliever Larry Sherry.
A second unexpected contender, the San Francisco Giants, joined the Braves and Dodgers in a three-team race. On September 17 the Giants—also in their second season after moving from New York—led the other two teams by two games, with each having eight games to play.
All of the Dodgers’ remaining contests were on the road. Beginning with a three-game sweep at San Francisco, Los Angeles won six of its last eight games to finish at 86-68. With only one win during the same period, the Giants (83-71) dropped to third, three games behind the Dodgers and the Braves, who matched Los Angeles with six wins over their final eight games. A best-of-three playoff would decide the winner of the NL pennant.2
On September 28 Los Angeles won the first playoff game in Milwaukee, 3-2. Catcher John Roseboro broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth with a leadoff homer. Rookie Sherry pitched 7⅔ innings in relief to secure the victory.3
The teams traveled to Los Angeles for the next day’s second game. Milwaukee’s 1957 World Series hero Lew Burdette (21-15), pitching on three days’ rest, was matched against 22-year-old Don Drysdale (17-13). The NL’s strikeout leader, Drysdale was also pitching on three days’ rest.4
The Braves took the lead in the top of the first. A one-out walk to Eddie Mathews and a double by Hank Aaron off the fence in left-center put runners at second and third. Frank Torre sliced a single through the hole between third and short, scoring two runs. Dodgers manager Walter Alston had Johnny Podres warming up in the bullpen, but Lee Maye grounded into an inning-ending double play.
With one out in the bottom of the first, Charlie Neal tripled to the gap in right-center. Moon’s line-drive single to left made the score 2-1.
Milwaukee’s Johnny Logan singled to start the top of the second. After a strikeout and a fly out, Burdette lined a single over second baseman Neal’s head. Logan, going from first to third on the hit, scored when Duke Snider’s throw from center skipped past Jim Gilliam into the Braves’ dugout.
The score remained 3-1, Braves, until the bottom of the fourth. Leading off the inning, Neal hit Burdette’s first pitch to deep left for a home run. But Mathews answered in the fifth, driving a 3-and-1 pitch down the right-field line for a homer, putting the Braves back up by two runs, 4-2.5
After Mathews’ home run, Drysdale walked Aaron and was relieved by Podres, who retired the next two batters on fly balls. Neither team threatened again until the Braves came to bat in the top of the seventh inning. With Podres still on the mound, Mathews singled with one out. Aaron followed with a single to right, but Moon’s one-hop throw beat a sliding Mathews to third for the second out.
Aaron took second on the play and advanced to third on a wild pitch by Podres, who walked Torre on the next pitch. Chuck Churn relieved and retired pinch-hitter Enos Slaughter—a September waiver acquisition at age 43—on a popup to third.
Norm Larker singled to start the seventh for the Dodgers, but Roseboro grounded into a double play, first to short back to first. Larker’s slide into Logan injured the Braves shortstop, who was taken off the field on a stretcher.6 Felix Mantilla moved from second to shortstop, and Red Schoendienst—Slaughter’s teammate on the 1946 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals but appearing in only his fifth game of 1959 after recovering from tuberculosis—replaced Logan, playing second.7
The Braves pushed their lead to three runs when Del Crandall tripled off the screen in left-center with one out in the eighth, and scored on Mantilla’s sacrifice fly. Up by a score of 5-2, Burdette retired the Dodgers in order in their half of the inning. Sandy Koufax came in to pitch the top of the ninth. After a strikeout and a groundout, the 23-year-old lefty walked the next three Braves, all on 3-and-2 pitches. Clem Labine relieved and struck out pinch-hitter Mickey Vernon.
Burdette was back on the mound in the ninth, three outs from an even series, with the third game scheduled for Los Angeles the next day.8 But the Dodgers loaded the bases with none out on consecutive singles by Moon, Snider, and Hodges.
Don McMahon relieved Burdette.9 Larker’s line-drive single off the screen in left field scored two runs and advanced Hodges to third. It was now a one-run game. Warren Spahn—still Milwaukee’s staff ace at age 38, and the Braves’ likely Game Three starter if the series went that long—relieved and Carl Furillo batted for Roseboro.
Aaron caught Furillo’s fly against the wall in right, with Hodges tagging to score the tying run. Wills singled, putting runners at first and second. Joey Jay relieved and Ron Fairly, hitting for Labine, grounded into a force out at second. With runners at first and third, Gilliam’s drive to the wall in right was caught by Aaron to end the Dodgers’ threat, and the game moved into extra innings with the score tied, 5-5.
Stan Williams came in to pitch for the Dodgers in the 10th, retiring the Braves in order. In the bottom of the inning, Moon reached first on a one-out error by shortstop Mantilla,10 but Jay retired the next two batters to keep the score even.
With one out in the 11th, Williams walked Mathews. Aaron’s grounder forced Mathews at second. A passed ball charged to Joe Pignatano, who had replaced Roseboro at catcher in the 10th, advanced Aaron to second. With the count 3-and-1, Torre was intentionally walked. Pinch-hitter Al Spangler walked, loading the bases. The Braves’ fifth pinch-hitter of the game, Joe Adcock, grounded to short for an inning-ending force out.
Jay hit Pignatano to start the home half of the 11th. Furillo bunted past Mathews, who was charging in from third, for a single. After two fly outs to left, Gilliam walked on four pitches. With the bases full, Bob Rush relieved. His first pitch retired Neal on a grounder to third.
Williams set the Braves down in order in the 12th, striking out Rush for the final out. The Dodgers appeared headed for a similar fate in the bottom of the inning when Rush set down the first two batters on a pop fly and a foul out. But Hodges walked and moved to second on Pignatano’s single to left.
Furillo hit a grounder up the middle. From his shortstop position, Mantilla fielded the ball behind second. With no chance for a force play, his throw to first arrived too late to beat Furillo and bounced past Torre. The error, charged to Mantilla, allowed Hodges to score the winning run, securing the pennant for Los Angeles.
In the Braves dressing room, Torre claimed Mantilla’s throw had Furillo beat. “If the ball had taken a normal bounce, sort of a skid, I could have dug it out,” he said. “But, as it was, the ball hit a ridge or stone and bounced over my head.”11
“I was off balance when I grabbed the ball,” explained a distraught Mantilla. “I thought I might have a force play at second when the ball was hit. But it took a crazy bounce and pulled me across the bag before I got it.”12
Furillo believed he had Mantilla’s throw beat. “Jocko [Umpire Conlan] thought so, too. But I just gave it all I had and slid for the bag and just said to hell with my leg,” referring to the sore leg that limited his playing time during the season.14
Hodges described the play from his perspective, “I knew it was a close play at first, but as I came barreling into third base Pee Wee [Reese] hollered to ‘keep going.’ I couldn’t understand it until I rounded third and saw the ball bounce off the ground and hit [first-base coach Greg] Mulleavy. Then I just trotted home. Whatta feeling.”15
Alston said he “knew we had the makings of a pennant winning team” as the season progressed. “The turning point though, was that three-game sweep in San Francisco. That’s when we really picked up momentum. Certainly, no season gave more of a thrill than this one.”16
This article was fact-checked by Kevin Larkin and copy-edited by Len Levin.
The author accessed Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org. for box scores/play-by-play information, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting game logs, and other data:
The author also accessed YouTube’s Classic Baseball on the Radio for the radio broadcast of this game by Bob Finnegan and Tony Flynn:
1 Joe Coppage, “Braves Lose Ground in Writers’ Poll—But Keep Majority Vote,” The Sporting News, April 8, 1959: 18.
2 It was the third time the NL season ended with two teams tied for first place, necessitating a best-of-three playoff to decide the pennant winner. In 1946 the Dodgers and Cardinals tied, with St. Louis winning the first two playoff games. In 1951 the Dodgers and Giants needed three games to determine a winner, with Bobby Thomson’s home run in the bottom of the ninth giving the Giants the pennant. Chuck Dressen, now a coach for Los Angeles, managed the Dodgers in 1951, and was a coach for Leo Durocher’s 1946 Dodgers team. Another Dodgers coach, Pee Wee Reese, was their starting shortstop for both the 1946 and 1951 playoffs. Active Dodgers players participating in the previous playoffs were Furillo in 1946 and 1951, and Hodges, Snider, and Labine in 1951. Active Braves with playoff experience included Andy Pafko (Dodgers in 1951), and Slaughter and Schoendienst (Cardinals in 1946).
3 For an account of that game see Greg Erion’s SABR Games Project article, “Dodgers win first game of 1959 NL playoff behind Larry Sherry’s strong relief.”
5 Results of the playoff games counted in a player’s season statistics The home run was Mathews’ 46th of the season, breaking a tie with Ernie Banks of the Cubs for the most in the big leagues. Banks, the major-league RBI leader with 143, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Mathews was second and Aaron, the batting champion with a .355 average, was third. Moon of the Dodgers finished fourth in the balloting.
6 “Had Wind Knocked Out of Me—Logan,” Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1959: 84. Logan suffered a bruised side, but no broken ribs.
7 Schoendienst appeared in in only five games, all in September, with just three at-bats. Schoendienst grounded out to lead off the eighth. After Vernon batted for him in the ninth, Chuck Cottier came in to play second for the Braves. Adcock pinch-hit for Cottier in the 11th, and Bobby Avila played second base for the final two innings.
8 Paul Zimmerman, “Sherry Didn’t Feel Pressure of Situation,” Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1959: 72. Alston named Craig as his starting pitcher in the event a Game Three was needed. Haney hadn’t named a starter, but a likely candidate would have been Spahn, who won the Braves’ next-to-last game of the regular season on September 26.
9 Burdette had thrown 77 pitches over the first eight innings, including only 18 in the sixth, seventh, and eighth. Entering the ninth, he had worked 290 innings during the season, second in the majors to teammate Spahn’s 292 innings.
10 Mantilla had started the game playing second base, but replaced Logan at shortstop when Logan was injured.
11 Mal Florence, “Torre Says Furillo Would Have Been Out but for Crazy Bounce,” Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1959: 81.
12 “Torre Says Furillo Would Have Been Out but for Crazy Bounce.”
13 “Torre Says Furillo Would Have Been Out but for Crazy Bounce.”
14 Bob Thomas, “Old Pro Carl Furillo Center of Celebration,” Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1959: 87. After driving in the tying run, Furillo remained in the game to play right field. Injuries limited the 37-year-old to 50 games in 1959, including only 25 in which he played right field.
15 Bob Thomas, “Old Pro Carl Furillo Center of Celebration.”
16 “Old Pro Carl Furillo Center of Celebration.” Alston managed the Dodgers to their only Brooklyn World Series championship in 1955. The 1959 team had the lowest winning percentage (.564) of any NL pennant winner up to that point. No team had won the NL pennant after finishing as low as seventh in the prior year. Los Angeles defeated the Chicago White Sox in six games to win the 1959 World Series.