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When Jim Bouton couldn't quite match Don Drysdale's zeroes

Jeff Gross

These days, when we talk about October baseball, we mean all of October.

But it wasn't always this way. Before 1969, October baseball really meant early October baseball. Today, four American League teams will play just the second game of their first postseason series. But 50 years ago today, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers met in Dodger Stadium for the third game of the '63 World Series.

Jim Bouton started that game for the Yankees, and his memories remain clear and sharp.

Bouton had joined the Yankees in 1962, and pitched well in '62 as a swing-man. Would he pitch in the '62 World Series, though?


Bouton: I did expect to pitch in the '62 Series. We had some sore arms. The Yankees did not announce who would pitch Game 7. I was a rookie, so when they didn't announce the starter, I thought that meant me. In those days, they would wait to tell a young pitcher he was going to start, because they figured he might get nervous if he had time to think about it. But I was excited. I remember waking up at the Jack Tar Hotel, pulling the curtains open, and it was raining like hell. Next morning, same thing. I think we had three extra days of rest. Which meant I wouldn't start.

Whitey Ford, who'd started Games 1 and 4, started Game 6. Ralph Terry had started Games 2 and 5, and would start Game 7. Terry, who'd given up Bill Mazeroski's homer in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, went the distance and beat the Giants 1-0 to clinch the Series. Among the legacies? One of the all-time greatest Peanuts strips.

In 1963, a rookie no more, Bouton went 21-7 and led the Yankees with a 2.53 ERA. This time he would start Game 3 in the World Series. The opener in Yankee Stadium, though, was reserved for Whitey Ford, matched against Sandy Koufax in his postseason debut.

Bouton: I was looking forward to watching Sandy Koufax pitch. It was unbelievable. He had such a graceful pitching motion, almost a lazy motion. It was like one of those jumbo jets. You see them taking off, they're so huge and they look so slow, and then whoom. Mickey just couldn't catch up to Koufax's high fastball.

Koufax beat Whitey Ford in Game 1, and Johnny Podres beat Al Downing in Game 2. The teams flew to Los Angeles for Game 3, the Yankees badly needing a win.

Bouton: Phil Linz was my roommate, and we were walking down the street near Grauman's Chinese Theatre. We came across one of those novelty stores where you could make a fake newspaper headline. So we made one that said something like Bouton Shuts Out Dodgers, and Linz Hits Two Home Runs. And the next morning, on the team bus heading for the ballpark, we were sitting in the back and we unfurled this newspaper. And Frank Crosetti looked back and said, "For Christ's sake, you guys, get serious."

Don Drysdale started Game 3 for the Dodgers, and retired the Yankees one-two-three in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first, Maury Wills led off with a bunt, but Bouton threw out baseball's famous speedster. Jim Gilliam walked, and Willie Davis lined out to Johnny Blanchard in right field. With Tommy Davis at the plate, Bouton threw a wild pitch that sent Gilliam to second base. And Gilliam scored when Davis singled. Later, Bouton and Davis would be teammates with the expansion Seattle Pilots in 1969.

Bouton: When I saw Tommy Davis with the Pilots, the first thing out of my mouth was, "That wasn't a hit! That was an error off Richardson's kneecap." He had to take two or three steps to his right, and the ball hit off his glove or his knee; if you watch the film, it's hard to tell which. It was a play that he would usually make.

Bouton got Ron Fairly to foul out, leaving the score 1-0 after one inning. The Yankees would mount their best threat in the next half-inning. Mickey Mantle led off with a bunt single, and Drysdale hit Joe Pepitone with a pitch. Elston Howard struck out, and Blanchard's ground-out advanced Mantle and Pepitone. That brought up Clete Boyer ... but with Bouton on deck, Dodgers manager Walter Alston called for the free pass to load the bases. Whether Alston knew it or not, Bouton's career batting line to that point consisted of eight hits in 115 at-bats.

Bouton: That was a good strategic move on their part. Drysdale threw a high inside fastball, and I didn't have a chance. I've always thought a good idea would have been to lean into it. I mean, the bases were loaded and this was the World Series. But I had that thought only in retrospect.

I was in a groove after the first inning. My games in '63 tended to be like that, with their best chance to get a run or two early in the game. So I designed a double-warmup for before my games. I would throw for 10 minutes, rest for 5, then pitch for another 10 minutes. Which helped me a lot. My memory is not how I pitched to particular hitters, or how I did against them, but instead just a particular feeling. And I felt good against the Dodgers.

Bouton struck out again in the fifth, this time with nobody aboard. Which was basically the story of the game; after the second inning, only one Yankee managed to reach second base, and he died there. In the eighth, Yogi Berra pinch-hit for Bouton and lined out. In the ninth, with two outs and nobody aboard, Joe Pepitone hit a long fly ball, but Ron Fairly made the catch with his back to the right-field fence and the game was over. Bouton had given up just one run in seven innings in his World Series debut, but the Yankees were down three games to none. Was he disappointed?

Bouton: I'm just happy to be in the big leagues, happy to win 20 games. It was just a thrill. Sure, it was too bad that we lost the game, but damn, what a thrill.

The next day, Koufax would beat Ford once again, and the Dodgers were champions. Bouton would get another shot in the World Series just a year later, and he would pitch brilliantly against the Cardinals. But that's a story for another day. For much more about Jim Bouton, please visit his personal website.