There is nothing quite so beautiful to the baseball fan as the sight of his favorite ball club doing everything right, getting the right hit at the right time, making the spectacular catch or throw just at the moment it's needed most, coming through with masterful pitching whenever masterful pitching is called for.
It's a wonderful feeling, very much akin to that experienced by the small boy at the Saturday movie, thrilled to the spine with unutterable delight at the brilliant, resourceful way his hero comes safely through one perilous situation after another. It's the way New York Giant fans felt last fall during the World Series when their heroes galloped with unerring skill through four straight wondrous victories over the formidable Cleveland Indians.
And it's the way Brooklyn fans felt last week as their old, fat, graying Dodgers, playing like a bunch of lively kids who just found out what fun baseball could be, stretched their season-opening winning streak to 10 fabulous games, more than any other team in modern major league history has ever won in succession at the start of a season. The record had been nine straight, set originally in 1918 by the (oh, how sweet some victories taste!) Giants and tied in 1940 by the Dodgers and again in 1944 by the St. Louis Browns.
But despite the magic of the streak and the vicarious satisfaction of victory after victory, it was not winning itself that meant so much to the Brooklyn fan as it was the way the victories were achieved—deftly, surely, smartly, dramatically. The Dodgers may not win the 1955 pennant. It is possible that they may not even be a serious contender for the pennant later on in the year. But for 10 days at the start of the 1955 season they were a dream team, the best in baseball, the smartest, the most resourceful, the most commanding, the most satisfying to watch. They won 10 straight games because they played better baseball than their opponents for 10 straight games. They played so well that anyone who has ever liked baseball had to like the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In the very first game of the year, played against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Ebbets Field under a fog bank before a miserably small, chilled crowd of 6,999, the Dodgers were alive with ability and imagination. This was the game in which Jackie Robinson invented his double-play stopper that may send the Baseball Rules Committee into executive session any day now: he deliberately let a batted ball hit him for an automatic one-out to prevent the Pirates from making a very likely two (see drawing next page).
In that same game, with two out in the seventh, men on first and third and the score only 2-1 Dodgers, Robinson crossed up the Pirates with a perfect bunt past the mound for a base hit, driving in another run. Carl Furillo followed with a home run, and the Dodgers won 6-1 to start things off.
The next day in the Polo Grounds against the Giants, Gil Hodges made the fine cutoff play diagramed above; Duke Snider made a marvelous one-handed catch in deepest center field; and Roy Campanella hit a three-run home run off the man the Dodgers love to hate: the sinister Sal Maglie. These three gave the Dodgers the needed edge in the wild 10-8 victory.
The third day Billy Loes humiliated the Giants by picking Willie Mays off third base to crush a Giant rally (see drawing next page). Duke Snider hit a tremendous home run over the 460-foot marker in the farthest corner of right field in the vast Polo Grounds. And Loes spiked Leo Durocher's secret weapon—pinch hitters—by stopping five of them dead, including the legendary Dusty Rhodes. It was a 6-3 win and a delightful sweep of a Giant series for Brooklyn.
The fourth day the irritable Russ Meyer pitched a two-hit, 6-0 shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, aided by another implausible catch by Snider—this one made at top speed in deep center field, with his back to the plate—and by a variety of smart offensive plays, including a Robinson bunt hit and a Furillo extra base on a throw to the plate from the outfield.
The next day was Sunday in Pittsburgh, and the Dodgers won twice, 10-3, 3-2. A double victory over the Pirates (who barely avoided tying the National League record for losing most games in succession at the beginning of the season) is nothing particularly remarkable, but the impressive way the Dodgers did it is. Young John Podres pitched an efficient six-hitter in the first game, while his teammates demonstrated their hitting versatility with seven doubles, two base-hit bunts and two home runs. In the second game, with the score 3-2 in favor of the Dodgers, George Freese of Pittsburgh singled and Dale Long tried to sacrifice him to second. But First Baseman Hodges charged in, grabbed the bunt and threw to second to catch the front runner and ruin the sacrifice. It saved a run, because Jack Shepard singled later in the inning, a hit that would have tied the score if Hodges had not kept the potential run off second base. Instead, the Dodgers won, and it was six straight.
The Dodgers left Pittsburgh, went to Philadelphia. Humorists talked of 154 straight. After the game, talk was just a little more serious. How could the Dodgers lose? Everything they did dovetailed into a pattern of victory.
In Philadelphia after five innings the Dodgers trailed 2-0. But in the sixth inning before anyone was out, Junior Gilliam, Robinson and Snider combined a triple, a walk and a towering home run to put the Dodgers quite suddenly in front, 3-2. And instead of stopping with that, Brooklyn kept on. A hit and two walks loaded the bases with two outs and Pitcher Carl Erskine at bat. Pitchers don't hit, usually, but that night Erskine did. One run scored, and that seemed all as Outfielder Peanuts Lowrey fielded Erskine's single. But Manager Walter Alston, coaching at third, sent Base Runner Sandy Amoros on past third to what seemed a certain out at home. Lowrey's throw was in plenty of time, but far, far wide of the plate, and Alston's gamble paid off in an extra run—that extra run that repeats itself in the Dodger 10-game-victory fabric like a bright golden thread. That extra run was a comfort from the last half of the sixth on, when Relief Pitcher Ed Roebuck took over for an uncertain Erskine. Relief pitching was one of Brooklyn's prime weaknesses last year, particularly after Jim Hughes was overworked into inefficiency. Young Roebuck made his major league debut in Philadelphia, did not allow a hit or a run and left the Dodgers with seven straight victories, enthusiasm and high hopes for a bright future.
The next night in Philadelphia, Roebuck came to the rescue again with gilt-edged relief pitching, stopping the Phillies cold after they had scored six runs in the seventh and eighth innings off Starting Pitcher Newcombe and Relief Pitcher Hughes to close the score to 7-6, a performance terribly reminiscent of Dodger pitching foldups in 1954. Roebuck, however, served to remind Phils and Dodgers alike that this was 1955, and that the Dodgers had won their eighth straight game.
Back came the Dodgers to Brooklyn to their storied home—Ebbets Field—to go after the games that would tie and break the consecutive-game record. Back they came to the most inexplicable thing that occurred in their entire run: almost nobody in Brooklyn came out to see them play.
That night, as they utilized seven walks, three hit batsmen and a wild pitch, all donated by Steve Ridzik of the Phillies, to edge Philadelphia 3-2 and tie the record, just 9,942 fans were in Ebbets Field. It was a cold night and television sets in Brooklyn are warm and cozy, and that might have explained it. But the next afternoon the Dodgers went after the new record against Robin Roberts, whose first two appearances of the season had resulted in decisive victories over the Giants. Here was a superb baseball situation, a fine team at the top of its form coming against a great pitcher in peak condition. Surely, now the Flatbush Faithful would jam into Ebbets Field.
Exactly 3,874 came out for the big game. The Dodgers, as proud of their record as good players naturally would be, were stunned.
"What's happened to the crowds?" said Pee Wee Reese. Ten straight wins, and a bush-league attendance in a park that Billy Herman once described as being "like the World Series every day," because the crowds were so big and so noisy. It was unexplainable.
POOR ROBIN ROBERTS
Perhaps in anger, perhaps in resentment, perhaps because they were still playing great baseball, the Dodgers raged against the great Roberts, pasted him with 10 hits, including three home runs, and won the record-breaking 10th straight by a resounding 14-4 score. Once again, an extra bright light shone in Brooklyn, this one held high by Relief Pitcher Joe Black, who had been the Dodgers' key man in the 1952 pennant race but who has had almost nothing on the ball since then. Black relieved starter Russ Meyer in the third and pitched six and two-thirds innings of splendid baseball to gain credit for the win.
It was a glorious day indeed, except for the crowd.
The bubble burst the next night, in a furious, fog-swept game with the Giants. The crowd came out, even though it was raining at first, enough to prompt Duke Snider, still resentful of all the empty seats on the previous day, to say, "To hell with them. I hope it rains till midnight. They don't deserve a ball game."
Deserve it or not, they got one, a great one, and the fact that the Dodgers finally lost it, 5-4, may have been the work of the Fates chastising the Flatbush Faithless. The Dodgers managed to maintain their streak and their great playing through seven innings of this 11th game, but in the eighth inning the tide turned, a sliced hit skidded past Left Fielder Amoros, a hurried relay throw by Shortstop Don Zimmer, playing in place of a slightly injured Pee Wee Reese, bounced past Catcher Campanella into the Dodger dugout, and stunningly, irrevocably, finally, the Giants led and went on to win and stop the fabulous Dodgers of 1955.
Brooklyn came back the next afternoon—last Saturday—to beat the Giants 3-1 in a tough, bitter game, marked by jarring base running by Robinson and by Alvin Dark of the Giants, but on Sunday the Giants ended the story of Brooklyn's streak once and for all in a weird game that went into extra innings a 5-5 tie and ended in an 11-10 victory for the Giants.
The streak was over. The Dodgers still held first place, but the season—the long season of mingled victories and defeats—was beginning. The question the Dodgers and Walter Alston faced was twofold: could the enthusiasm and drive that sparked the streak be revived and maintained? Could the surprisingly effective relief pitching of the streak be regained? If so, good days lie ahead for Brooklyn. If not, 10-game streak notwithstanding, 1955 will seem awfully long to Brooklyn, with its brightest days buried back there in the first 10 days of the season.
HEADS-UP BASEBALL during streak is illustrated by this cutoff perfectly executed by First Baseman Gil Hodges against Giants on April 14. With score tied, none out and Thompson on second, Mueller singled to right. As Outfielder Furillo fielded ball, Hodges saw Thompson pass third on way to plate, realized he'd probably beat Furillo's throw. Noticing Mueller scurrying toward second as peg came in, Hodges leaped high, intercepted ball, tossed to Reese at second and Mueller was out. Maneuver saved run, as Westrum followed one out later with hit that would have scored Mueller from second.
RIGHT FIELDER FURILLO RETRIEVES MUELLER'S HIT DOWN THE FOUL LINE AND FIRES TOWARD CAMPANELLA TO CATCH THOMPSON AT THE PLATE
REESE TAKES HODGES'THROW AT SECOND AND TAGS OUT MUELLER
HODGES LEAPS AND MAKES CUT-OFF PLAY
MUELLER GOES TO SECOND BASE ON THROW TO THE PLATE
THOMPSON SLIDES HOME TO BEAT THROW FROM OUTFIELD
GRINNING Manager Alston, as cheerful as the wallpaper in his Brooklyn apartment, crossed his fingers for photographers before Dodgers went after record-tying ninth win. Alston, a prime target of critics throughout hectic spring training season, was well praised during streak.
NOVEL PLAY by Jackie Robinson in opening game still has baseball scholars talking. With one out, Robinson on second and Carl Furillo on first, Roy Campanella hit perfect double-play ball towards Shortstop Dick Groat. Robinson suddenly stopped dead, let the ball hit him for automatic out, killed double play.
RUNNING TO THIRD BASE—ROBINSON PERMITS "SURE" DOUBLE PLAY GROUND
BALL TO HIT HIM IN LEG
BALL IS DEAD AUTOMATICALLY
"SURE" FORCEOUT AVOIDED AT SECOND ON FURILLO AND BATTER CAMPANELLA SAFE AT FIRST—CREDITED WITH A SINGLE
EVEN CAREFREE BILLY Loes made heads-up play, caught Willie Mays off third base. Mays, thinking pitcher had to stay on rubber or balk once he went into stretch, took huge lead. Loes properly brought hands down to rest, fired to third in time to pick off embarrassed Willie.
COACH FRANKS YELLS FOR RUNNER TO RETURN TO BASE
MAYS ON THIRD IS TOO FAR DOWN THE LINE AND AS HE SLIDES BACK TO BAG IS TAGGED OUT
ROBINSON COMES IN FROM FIELDING POSITION TO TAKE LOES PICK-OFF THROW AT THIRD BASE
TWO QUICK STEPS TOWARD THIRD AND LOES THROWS TO ROBINSON
PITCHER LOES COMES TO SET POSITION ON RUBBER