The Brooklyn Dodgers had finished a tough late-season stretch to stay on the fringe of the 1945 pennant race. The stretch included a tough four-game series in Pittsburgh where the Dodgers were happy to emerge with a split, featuring two extra-inning games and a 17-5 blowout loss. In spite of the tough series, the Dodgers stayed within 7½ games of the first place Cubs with 23 games left to play. From September 2 through 8, the Brooks played extra innings four times.
As much of a grind as the Dodgers were going through, their next series was a five-game set in three days against the Reds at Crosley Field in Cincinnati. While five games in three days are pretty demanding, the Reds were a pretty sorry team in 1945. They had just finished a stretch dating back to August 1 where they lost 31 out of 41 games and had fallen 30 games out of first place. If not for the hapless Phillies, the Reds would have been the cellar dwellers. This gave the Dodgers hope that a potential five-game sweep in Cincy would put the third-place Dodgers in a great position to take on the Cards and Cubs the upcoming week, the two teams in front of the Brooks in the standings.
The series began with a Sunday twin bill. Game one featured a matchup between Dodgers youngster Ralph Branca and veteran hurler Vern Kennedy for the Reds. The Dodgers were familiar with Kennedy having faced him several times as a reliever for the Phillies, including their Opening Day victory at Ebbets Field. The Bums had some success against Kennedy as a reliever, plating a run in each of his appearances. However, Kennedy started an August 8 outing for the Reds at Ebbets Field and was the tough luck loser of a 1-0 complete game.
The Dodgers wasted no time scoring on Kennedy in the top of the first thanks to a leadoff walk to Eddie Stanky and a Goody Rosen single. Augie Galan’s flyout to center field preceded walks to Dixie Walker and Big Ed Stevens scoring Stanky and giving the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. With the bases full and one out, Luis Olmo grounded into a 6-4-3 double play ending the Dodgers rally and getting Kennedy out of a dicey situation.
The Reds struck back in the bottom of the third when Branca walked Reds pitcher Vern Kennedy with one out. He then walked Dain Clay and Steve Mesner to load the bases. Rookie right fielder Al Libke’s fly ball scored Kennedy and advanced Clay and Mesner. With first base open and two outs, Branca wisely walked the Reds’ most dangerous hitter, Frank McCormick, and struck out Hank Sauer to end the Reds threat.
The Dodgers threatened in the top of the fourth when Mike Sandlock hit a one-out double and moved to third thanks to a Branca sacrifice bunt. Unfortunately Stanky’s popout to second left Sandlock stranded at third.
The Dodgers broke through in the fifth when Rosen reached thanks to Frank McCormick’s miscue at first base. Galan’s double put runners on second and third with no outs. After Walker popped out to second, a walk to Stevens brought Olmo to the plate again with the bases loaded and one out. Unlike the first inning, Olmo hit a bases-clearing double and gave the Dodgers a 4-1 lead. After stealing third base, Olmo scored off of a Tommy Brown single. Sandlock’s single kept the rally alive for the Brooks. However, Kennedy struck out Branca and induced a fly ball to center field off of Stanky’s bat that landed harmlessly in Clay’s mitt minimizing the damage done. Kennedy’s line was complete. He surrendered five runs (all earned) on nine hits and four walks. The Dodgers had at least one base runner in every inning Kennedy pitched.
Branca on the other hand cruised, retiring 13 consecutive Reds hitters since his intentional pass to Frank McCormick in the third inning, and 16 out of 17 entering the bottom of the ninth. Through eight innings, Branca struck out 10, surrendering only one hit.
Things went haywire in the ninth when Branca walked the first two batters (McCormick and Sauer) and launched a wild pitch putting runners on second and third with no outs. Eddie Miller’s first hit of the game was a double to left scoring both McCormick and Sauer and narrowing the Reds deficit to 5-3. Branca retired the next two batters before giving up walks to Eric Tipton (pinch hitting for relief pitcher Earl Harrist) and Clay loading the bases again. Dodgers manager Leo Durocher had seen enough and pulled Branca for 15-game winner Hal Gregg. This was a curious move by the Lip as he pulled Branca for his wildness and replaced him with a pitcher who led the NL in walks (he had 137 in 1944 and would go on to lead with 120 in 1945) as well as wild pitches, hit batsmen, and earned runs allowed in ’44. Steve Mesner, whose first-inning double was the only hit Branca allowed prior to the ninth inning, promptly greeted Gregg with a line drive to right field scoring Miller and Tipton knotting the game at five. Tommy Brown took Dixie Walker’s relay throw and nailed Clay at the plate keeping the game tied.
The Dodgers looked to rally in the top of the tenth when Eddie Miller booted a Mike Sandlock grounder to short. It was the fourth time Sandlock reached base in his five plate appearances. Gregg’s sacrifice bunt send Sandlock to second with one out. Stanky’s 4-3 groundout sent Sandlock to third with two outs. Galan’s popout to catcher Al Lakeman left Sandlock stranded at third.
Al Libke led off the tenth with a single and moved to second thanks to a sacrifice bunt by Reds slugger Frank McCormick. After Sauer flew out, Lakeman smacked a double to right field and the Reds walked off with an improbable win against the Dodgers.
Mike Sandlock shined both behind the plate and at bat in the game. He owned the Reds hurlers, with a double, and two singles while driving the ball in all five of his at-bats and reaching safely four times. He tagged out Dain Clay in the bottom of the ninth for the third out on Tommy Brown’s relay, briefly preserving a tie and forcing extra innings. Sandlock was deft behind the plate for all 10 innings, especially so when handling the effectively wild Branca, who struck out 10 and walked nine in 8 2/3 innings.
Game two was similar to game one in that the Dodgers attacked the Reds starting pitcher early and built a four-run lead. Al Lakeman caught both games of the doubleheader and was the offensive hero in game two as well. His homer in the bottom of the fifth broke a 4-4 tie. Lakeman led off the bottom of the eight with a double and scored an insurance run thanks to Kermit Wahl’s single giving the Reds a 6-4 lead that would hold.
The Dodgers remained mired in third place behind the Cubs and Cardinals, dropping to 9½ games behind with 21 games left in the schedule. They would drop three out of five to the Reds. After taking two out of three games from the Cards in St. Louis, the Bums would drop three out of four to the front running Cubs in Wrigley. A grueling stretch of 16 games in 13 days on the road was too much for the Dodgers to overcome.
This article originally appeared in “100: The 100 Year Journey of a Baseball Journeyman, Mike Sandlock” (SABR, 2016), edited by Karl Cicitto.
In addition to baseballalmanac.com, baseball-reference.com. Retrosheet,org, and SABR’s BioProject, the author also consulted:
Back To Baseball. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2015, from http://www.backtobaseball.com/playballregularseason.php?page=0&IDindex=CIN194509091
Burr, H. C. “Crosley Field Still Plagues Dodgers; Need A-1 Hurling to Stay in Grind,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 10, 1945: 11.
Burr, H. C. “Pirates Nose Out Dodgers, 6-5 on Coscarart’s Hit in the 12th,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 9, 1945:16.
Golenbock, Peter. Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1984).