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Playoff Memories

Everybody has a first playoffs experience: it might be for their home team or just seeing the World Series and realizing it's something special. For me, it was 50 years ago, not the World Series but a couple of afternoon games between the Milwaukee Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers to decide who would go to the 1959 World Series and face the Chicago White Sox. I was only in my first year of following baseball and I knew most of the players' names from their baseball cards, since baseball was seldom on TV and I didn't own a radio. So baseball cards and boxscores was almost all I knew about the game until Monday, September 28th when the Braves hosted the Dodgers and I got to see most of the game when I got home from school that afternoon.

For the rest of the story ....

The NL pennant race had been a three-team race heading into the final ten games. The San Francisco Giants led by two games over both Milwaukee and LA, but fell apart and went 2-8 and finished three games behind the other two, who each went 7-3. The Braves finished at home with three against the Phillies and won two, including a close Spahn over Roberts 3-2 win on Saturday. The Dodgers took two of three at Chicago to force the first regular-season playoff since the classic Giants-Dodgers match in 1951.

Neither team had its best pitcher ready for game one in Milwaukee. The Braves went with Carlton Willey, with a 5-8 record, one of their fourth starters behind Spahn, Burdette, and Buhl. The Dodgers had to use Danny McDevitt, a starter/reliever with a record of 10-8. I don't remember what inning it was when I started watching but the game was tight - McDevitt was lifted in the second inning when the Braves scored two runs, but Larry Sherry came on and finished the game, giving up four hits and no runs. The Dodgers scored their third run in the 6th inning on a homer by John Roseboro, and the Braves went out meekly with only one baserunner from the 6th inning on. 3-2, Dodgers.

The next day the scene shifted to the Coliseum in Los Angeles. This time the pitchers were Lew Burdette for the Braves and Don Drysdale for the Dodgers. Warren Spahn was waiting in the wings for game three. This one was playoff baseball at its most dramatic. The Braves jumped out to an early 3-1 lead thanks to a two-run single by Frank Torre and an RBI single by Burdette. Charley Neal kept the Dodgers in the game with a triple and homer to account for two runs, but the Braves led 5-2 going into the bottom of the ninth thanks to a homer by Eddie Mathews (giving him the league HR title by one over Ernie Banks) and a key triple by catcher Del Crandall in the 8th. After reliever Sandy Koufax walked the bases loaded in the top of the 9th but the Braves failed to capitalize, Burdette just needed three outs to finish it. He didn't come close. After three straight singles, Don McMahon came in and gave up a two-run single. Tying run on third and no outs. New pitcher for the Braves: Warren Spahn. After a sacrifice fly tied the score, Spahn gave up a single and was taken out (still saving him for game three?). Joey Jay got the last two outs, sending the game into extra innings.

In extras, the Braves left the bases loaded in the 11th , and the Dodgers did the same. Finally, in the 12th inning, after two outs, a walk, a single, and an infield single with a throwing error allowed the Dodgers to walk off with the title. That was it.  Enough excitement to start a lifetime love affair with playoff baseball.

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