How Often Did the 1960s Dodgers ‘Steal’ 1-0 Victories?

The answer is probably surprisingly less often than you might think.

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Maury Wills
Image via Focus On Sport/Getty Images

Claim

The Los Angeles Dodgers of the Koufax/Drysdale era often won 1-0 games in which Maury Wills scored the lone run.

Rating

Origin

At the beginning of 1962, the Los Angeles Dodgers were poised to become the premier team in baseball’s National League, just as their forebears in Brooklyn had been in the years between the end of World War II and the team’s move to California (1946-57). Having shed of most of the stars from their glory days in Brooklyn, and ensconced themselves in Dodger Stadium, a brand-new ballpark that favored pitching over slugging, the Dodger squads of the early 1960s seemed ideally suited to their news environment.

Indeed, over the next five years, led by the pitching duo of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale (who won four Cy Young Awards between them from 1962-65) and speedster Maury Wills (who captured six straight stolen base titles from 1960-65), the Dodgers captured three National League pennants, missed a fourth title by a single game, and brought home two World Series championships.

With our tendency to reduce memories to simple, easily-remembered nuggets, those mid-1960s Dodgers squads are now usually recalled as the “Koufax-Drysdale-Wills” Dodgers, nomenclature that reflects the popular image of a weak-hitting team which triumphed by scratching out runs with speed and guile while their two predominant starting pitchers shut down opposing hitters.

Sandy Koufax

Certainly this image is based on reality. During the five-year period from 1962-1965, Dodgers pitchers led the National League in ERA all five years, and Dodgers baserunners led the league in stolen bases for four straight years (and then finished second the fifth year), but in total runs scored the Dodgers offense ranked second, sixth, and then eighth three times (in a 10-team league).

Unfortunately, this bare-bones description obscures that those Dodger teams boasted some very good pitchers other than Koufax and Drysdale (Johnny Podres, Claude Osteen, reliever Ron Perranoski, and future Hall of Famer Don Sutton), some bona fide heavy hitters sluggers (Frank Howard and Tommy Davis), and some fine fielders (catcher John Roseboro, first baseman Wes Parker, shortstop Maury Wills, and outfielders Wally Moon and Willie Davis all won Gold Glove Awards during their tenures with the Dodgers).

But ask a Dodgers fan from that era to describe the Los Angeles teams of the 1960s, and you’re likely to get a response similar to the following:

Maury Wills would come up in the first inning, get on base with a walk, steal second, then somebody’d bunt him over to third, and he’d score on a sacrifice fly — a run without a hit! Meanwhile, Sandy or Big D would shut out the other team, and we’d win 1-0.

Indeed, Wills himself described much the same scenario in his 1991, On the Run:

We had no one to hit home runs except Frank Howard, [and] Tommy [Davis] … was our only .300 hitter. But we’re winning games 1-0 because I’m getting on by an error or a walk or a fielder’s choice and I’m stealing the bases and scoring the runs.

But how often did this scenario play out in real life? How many times did the Dodgers win games by relying on Maury Wills to somehow score a first-inning run even when the team couldn’t come up with a hit, and then counting on their pitching staff to make it stand up?

Don Drysdale

We examined this question by checking the results of all regular-season Los Angeles Dodgers games contested during the five-year span from 1962 to 1966 (the period in which Koufax, Drysdale, and Wills all played together in Dodger Stadium) and trying to identify how many games met the following criteria:


  • The Dodgers won by a score of 1-0.
  • The Dodgers’ lone run was scored in the first inning.
  • The Dodgers’ lone run was scored by Maury Wills.
  • The Dodgers’ lone run was scored without the benefit of a hit.
  • The Dodgers’ lone run involved one or more stolen bases by Maury Wills.

What we found was that the facts didn’t quite match the legend. Not one Dodger victory between 1962 and 1966 met all five of the criteria outlined above, and only one game met even four of the five. Never in those five years did the Dodgers win a 1-0 game on a run scored by Maury Wills without the benefit of a hit. Only once in that timespan did the Dodgers win a 1-0 game in which their single run was produced without the benefit of a hit, and it did not involve Maury Wills. And only once in those five years did Maury Wills set up the lone run in a 1-0 Dodgers victory by stealing a base.

Following is a breakdown of all 1-0 Dodger victories from 1962 to 1966, with notations indicating how many of the five criteria each one met (since they were all 1-0 games, they obviously all met at least the first criterion):


18 June 1962: Sandy Koufax bested St. Louis Cardinals pitching ace Bob Gibson in a thriller, as Los Angeles won in the bottom of the ninth on a one-out, walk-off home run by Tommy Davis.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

12 September 1962: Ed Roebuck picked up a victory over the expansion Colt .45s in Houston with 5-1/3 innings of shutout relief, as Frank Howard bombed a fifth-inning homer for the Dodgers’ only run.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

17 April 1963: Bob Miller blanked Chicago for nine innings at Dodger Stadium but left the field without a victory, as Cub southpaw Dick Ellsworth did the same to the Dodgers. Ellsworth ended up the loser, though, as the Dodgers pushed across a run with two out in the tenth inning on consecutive singles by Lee Walls, Frank Howard, and Moose Skowron for a walk-off victory.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

16 May 1963: More last-minute heroics: Johnny Podres shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates for nine innings but didn’t emerge as the winner until the Dodgers scratched out a walk-off run with two out in the bottom of the ninth on a single by Jim Gilliam, a sacrifice bunt by Ron Fairly, a groundout by Tommy Davis, and a run-scoring single by Johnny Roseboro.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

19 May 1963: The Dodgers tallied their second 1-0 victory in four days as Sandy Koufax two-hit the hapless New York Mets in the first game of a Dodger Stadium double-header. The Dodgers scored their only run with one out in the first inning as Jim Gilliam walked, took third on Ron Fairly’s single, and scored on Tommy Davis’ sacrifice fly.

Criteria met: 2   (1-0 victory, first-inning run)

2 July 1963: Los Angeles topped St. Louis at Dodger Stadium for the first time in over a year as Don Drysdale outpitched lefty Curt Simmons. The Dodger run came in the seventh inning as slugger Frank Howard blooped a single in front of the backed-up Cardinal outfield, took second on a groundout by Moose Skowron, and lumbered home as Ron Fairly dribbled a single up the middle.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

5 July 1963: For the second time in 1963, the Dodgers won two 1-0 squeakers in a four-day span as Johnny Podres pitched a two-hit gem against the Cincinnati Reds at Dodger Stadium. Frank Howard provided the margin of victory with a seventh-inning homer.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

10 July 1963:

Johnny Podres triumphed in his second straight 1-0 victory, scattering four hits against the Mets at the Polo Grounds. Once again the margin of victory was a solo home run, this one a sixth-inning shot by Johnny Roseboro.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

25 September 1963: With Los Angeles having clinched the National League pennant with six games to go in the regular season, manager Walter Alston rested some of his regulars for the upcoming World Series against the Yankees, pulling Sandy Koufax after the Dodger ace pitched five innings of shutout ball against the Mets at Dodger Stadium in his final start of the regular season. Bob Miller and Ron Perranoski blanked New York over the final four innings, sending hard-luck Met hurler (and former Dodger) Roger Craig to his fifth 1-0 defeat of the season. The lone Dodger run came in the first inning when Wally Moon and Tommy Davis singled with two out, and then Moon scooted around to score from second as a wild pickoff throw by Craig sailed past first base.

Criteria met: 2   (1-0 victory, first-inning run)

26 April 1964: One of the closest matches we found to our target scenario was this early-season 1964 game in which Phil Ortega blanked the Braves in Milwaukee on four hits for his first complete-game victory in the majors. The Dodgers scored a single first-inning run in what the Los Angeles Times described as “typical Dodger fashion”: Maury Wills led off the game with a single, Jim Gilliam walked, Wally Moon moved both runners up with a sacrifice bunt, and Wills came home on a sacrifice fly by Frank Howard.

Criteria met: 3   (1-0 victory, first-inning run, run scored by Wills)

22 July 1964: The day after Don Drysdale lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to Houston on an eighth inning solo homer, Sandy Koufax won his 11th straight game as he checked the Colt .45s on four hits at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers’ lone run came in the third inning on doubles by Derrell Griffith and Ron Fairly.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

23 August 1964: Phil Ortega claimed his second 1-0 victory of the 1964 season when he hurled a three-hit shutout against the Cincinnati Reds in Los Angeles. The Dodgers scored on a second-inning double by Nate Oliver and a single by Dick Tracewski.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

11 August 1965: The Dodgers went nearly a year between 1-0 wins from August 1964 to August 1965, finally racking up another one as Don Drysdale blanked the Mets at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers scored the game’s only run in the seventh inning on singles by Maury Wills and Jim Gilliam, followed by a passed ball charged to New York catcher Chris Cannizzaro.

Criteria met: 2   (1-0 victory, run scored by Wills)

14 August 1965: After a nearly year-long drought, the Dodgers squeezed out two 1-0 victories in the space of four days as Sandy Koufax and Pittsburgh Pirate hurler Don Cardwell both threw goose eggs at their opponents for nine innings. Unfortunately for Cardwell, Koufax retired the Bucs without incident in the top of the 10th, but after the Pirate pitcher got two quick outs in the bottom of the inning, he walked Sandy Koufax and Wes Parker, and right fielder Roberto Clemente then dropped Jim Gilliam’s line drive for an error as Koufax came around to score the winning run.

Criteria: 1   (1-0 victory)

9 September 1965: In what might be the quintessential Dodgers game of the 1960s, Chicago Cub pitcher Bob Hendley threw a complete game one-hitter against Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium … and lost, because he had the misfortune to pitch his gem on the same evening that Sandy Koufax famously hurled a perfect game (his record-setting fourth no-hitter).

To add insult to injury, the lone Dodger hit had nothing to do with the scoring — outfielder “Sweet” Lou Johnson drew the only walk off of Hendley in the fifth inning, was sacrificed to second base by Ron Fairly, stole third, and scooted home as Cub catcher Chris Krug’s throw sailed into left field. The only hit by either team was a bloop double by Johnson in the seventh inning.

Criteria met: 2   (1-0 victory, run scored without hit)

18 September 1965: Sandy Koufax racked up his third straight 1-0 victory of 1965 by blanking the Cardinals in St. Louis on four hits. The Dodgers managed only three hits themselves, but they pushed across a run in the sixth inning when Don LeJohn walked and gave way to pinch-runner John Kennedy, who took second on Koufax’s bunt and third on Maury Wills’ ground-out, then scored as Wes Parker lined a single to center.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

26 September 1965: The Dodgers pulled into a first-place tie with the San Francisco Giants with seven games to go in the 1965 season as Don Drysdale pitched Los Angeles to their ninth straight victory, a 1-0 blanking of the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium. This was the game that came closest to matching our original scenario, with Big D making a first-inning run following a Maury Wills stolen base stand up.

The game’s only score was a slightly farcical one: Wills reached safely on a bunt single and was then picked off first base by St. Louis pitcher Ray Sadecki, but unfortunately for Sadecki, first baseman Bill White’s throw sailed over second base and into the outfield, allowing Wills to make it all the way around to third, whence he scored as Jim Gilliam lined a single to right field. Wills was credited with a steal of second base on White’s errant throw, however, so only the lack of a hitless run kept this one from being a five-criteria entry.

Criteria met: 4   (1-0 victory, first-inning run, run scored by Wills, run set up by a Wills stolen base)

1 June 1966: The Dodgers’ first 1-0 win of 1966 came at the beginning of June, as Sandy Koufax blanked the Cardinals in St. Louis. The Dodgers scored their run in the seventh inning when Willie Davis tripled and raced home as Cardinal outfielder Bobby Tolan threw the ball back to the infield badly and was charged with a run-scoring error.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

5 July 1966: Sandy Koufax gave up ten hits, but he still managed to best Cincinnati flamethrower Jim Maloney by shutting out the Reds at Dodger Stadium for his 15th win of the season. The Dodger run came in the second inning on a walk to Jim Lefebvre, a single by Johnny Roseboro, and another single by John Kennedy.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

6 July 1966: Claude Osteen not only pitched the Dodgers to a second straight 1-0 victory over Cincinnati; he drove in the game’s only run himself. After John Kennedy led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a double, Osteen failed in two attempts to bunt Kennedy over to third and then swung away and singled to right field to drive in the winning run.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)

10 September 1966: The Dodgers pulled within a half-game of the San Francisco Giants in a tight pennant race as they broke through for a run with two out in the bottom of the tenth inning to defeat the Houston Astros, 1-0. Los Angeles put together the only run of the game on Maury Wills’ single, Jim Gilliam’s sacrifice bunt, Willie Davis’ ground-out, and Al Ferrara’s walk-off pinch single.

Criteria met: 2   (1-0 victory, run scored by Wills)

11 September 1966: The Dodgers pulled into first place for good in the 1966 pennant race by sweeping a double-header from Houston, completing a string of four straight shutout wins over the Astros. After Sandy Koufax blanked Houston in the opener by a 4-0 score, Joe Moeller, Bob Miller, and Phil Regan combined to shut out the Astros by a 1-0 score in the second game. John Roseboro’s pinch-hit single drove in Ron Fairly with the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Criteria met: 1   (1-0 victory)


Regardless of the results of this little exercise, our fondness for the skillful Los Angeles Dodgers teams of the 1960s remains undiminished. In the end, all that matters is that those Dodgers squads did win, and not whether they did so in precisely the fashion that popular image now ascribes to them.

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Sources

Finch, Frank.   “Sandy, Tommy Double-Deal Cards, 1-0.”
    Los Angeles Times.   19 June 1962   (p. B1).

Finch, Frank.   “Howard’s Homer Defeats Houston.”
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Wolf, Al.   “Dodgers Win, 1-0, in 10th Over Cubs.”
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Finch, Frank.   “Roseboro’s Hit in Ninth Gives Podres 1-0 Victory.”
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Wills, Maury amd Mike Celizic.   On the Run: The Never Dull and Often Shocking Life of Maury Wills.
    New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1991.   ISBN 0-88184-640-6   (p. 29).