It was exactly 11 minutes after 3 last Sunday afternoon when that matchless San Francisco outfielder, Willie Mays, lashed violently into a fast ball and turned to watch it disappear into the packed bleachers of Candlestick Park. With this one booming swing in this one explosive moment, Mays threw the most improbable pennant race in years into a tie between those old archenemies, the Giants and the Dodgers. Back came recollections of Bobby Thomson's playoff home run in 1951; of the Giant disaster against Los Angeles the last week of 1959. Now it was the Dodgers' turn to be a baseball basket case again—as they somehow had managed not to clinch what is going to be remembered as The Pennant Nobody Wanted.
With eight days to play and a four-game lead, the admittedly exhausted Dodgers, whose Swift Set actually was trying to steal a pennant, seemed sure winners. But by late Saturday night Los Angeles had lost two to Houston and three to St. Louis. "Golly, they were tight," said Houston Manager Harry Craft, "tight and tired." Yet, needing only a win themselves, or a Giant loss, the Dodgers still looked in.
Sunday dawned sunny in Chavez Ravine, but Dodger Manager Walter Alston was grim. "Anyone with a brain in his head knows we have to do it today," he said. Johnny Podres went to the mound against the Cardinals. The sun shone, too, in San Francisco, where an improbable hope lingered, as it had all week. Day after day the Giants had been receiving stays of execution. Now they needed another. They had to beat Dick Farrell, the Houston fast baller. "I don't intend to lose," said Farrell.
In the fourth inning Giant Catcher Ed Bailey hit a fast ball over the right-field fence fair, just after hitting one foul. "He threw me the same pitch again," said Bailey. "Needless to say, I was grateful." Four innings later, the score was tied 1-1. Now, suddenly, it was 11 after 3 o'clock, Willie Mays Time. He, too, hit that Farrell fast ball. Minutes later the Giants had their 2-1 win and were clustered around a dressing-room radio, listening to the last innings of that beautiful game in Los Angeles, where it sounded like nobody would ever score. "Come on," said Harvey Kuenn, shouting at the radio as if it could pinch-hit for the Cardinals. "My bleeding ulcers!"
It was about then that a squatty Cardinal catcher named Gene Oliver hit a Podres curve into the stands, and the Dodgers were beaten 1-0. Alvin Dark took two stunned steps away from the radio, stopped, threw both hands into the air and said very softly: "Wahoo." Then again much louder: "WAHOO!"
Back at Chavez Ravine the Dodger clubhouse was closed to the press. The Dodgers had lost four straight. They had not scored in 21 innings. A season that had already seemed to have lasted 482 years was now going to last some more.
"Damn it, damn it, damn it," muttered Podres. "Well, we owe the Giants something," said old Duke Snider intently, thinking of 1951. As the Yankees waited, baseball's most bitter rivals went into their own little World Series.
WILLIE WATCHES at the plate and fans wildly wave as winning home run disappears.