Game 7 of the 1962 World Series
In 1962, my first airplane flight was 14 years in the future, and since I lived in Connecticut, it would have been a long drive even if, at the age of nine, I had a license. Further, had I somehow found my way to San Francisco, I would have had a long wait, for the sixth game had been postponed by rain for four consecutive days, the longest series delay since 1911. When the skies finally cleared, the Giants won Game 6, forcing a seventh-game showdown that would feature the third matchup of the series between Giants ace Jack Sanford, a 24-game winner during the regular season, and the Yankees’ Ralph Terry, who’d won 23.
Terry had a World Series legacy, and it was not a happy one. In 1960, he’d surrendered the ninth-inning home run to Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski that won the series for the Pirates. Not only had Terry lost Game 7 that year, he lost Game 4. He also lost Game 2 in 1961 and was knocked out of the box with a big lead in Game 5 of the ’61 series. In 1962, he suffered his fourth straight series loss when he dropped Game 2 to Sanford, before finally gaining a win by beating the Giants’ ace in Game 5. One win, however, did not erase Terry’s reputation as a pitcher who could not win the big game, and while riding the bus to Candlestick Park for Game 7 of the 1962 Series, he heard radio broadcaster Joe Garagiola say that the Giants would win because Terry would choke.
Terry was an intelligent, sensitive young man who’d studied psychology in college. Yet, despite his sensitive nature, he was resilient and emerged emotionally unscathed from the Mazeroski episode. Ralph Branca was never the same after giving up Bobby Thomson’s epic homer, and Mitch Williams was out of baseball shortly after giving up a series winner to Joe Carter, but Ralph Terry bounced back to post a 16–3 record in 1961 and followed with a 23–12 mark the next year, the finest season of his career.
San Francisco’s Candlestick Park
Candlestick Park was always windy, and during Game 7, in the wake of the storm, the gusts blew from left field to right at about 35 miles per hour. Unfortunately for the Yankee fielders, Terry was a fly ball pitcher, and any time the ball was lifted into the air, it was an adventure. Tom Tresh tied a record for left fielders with six putouts. “One of them was just an average fly ball,” he said. “Í called for the ball early, not having factored in the wind. I started running in and pretty soon I’m running harder and harder and harder. I ended up catching the ball with one foot on the infield dirt.”
The wind was so strong that it affected Terry’s pitches. “You’d throw one curve ball,” he said, “and it might break six inches. Another one might break two feet.” Despite the difficult conditions, Terry set down the first 17 Giants before Sanford singled with two out in the sixth. In the meantime, the Yankees had scored in the fifth when Tony Kubek hit into a double play with the bases loaded. With their powerful offense, the Giants were certain one run wouldn’t decide the game and conceded the run by playing their infield back.
1962 World Series Game 7 pitchers Ralph Terry and Jack Sanford.
On this day, however, the Giants found even one run difficult to come by. In the bottom of the seventh, with one out, Willie Mays hit a long drive down the left-field line. Tresh, a shortstop who’d switched to the outfield in August, took off in hot pursuit. The ball was hit so hard that it was cutting through the wind and hooking toward the foul line. Just before Tresh crossed the line, he lunged, caught the ball backhanded in the webbing of his glove, and held onto it when he crashed into the chain-link fence. Given the conditions and Tresh’s unfamiliarity with the outfield, it was an outstanding play.
The next batter, Willie McCovey, tripled, but Terry retired Orlando Cepeda to end the inning and preserve the 1–0 lead. The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth but couldn’t score, and they led by that one precious run entering the bottom of the ninth.
The first Giant batter in the ninth inning was Matty Alou, pinch-hitting for reliever Billy O’Dell. Terry wanted to retire Matty, leadoff hitter Chuck Hiller, and Matty’s brother Felipe in order to avoid the powerful heart of the San Francisco batting order. Following Felipe Alou were three Hall of Famers: Mays, McCovey, and Cepeda.
Alou lifted a high foul toward the Giants’ dugout. Yankees catcher Elston Howard reached into the dugout, got his mitt on the ball, and had it knocked loose by one of the Giants, a perfectly legal maneuver. Given a reprieve, Alou dragged a bunt to the right side and reached first safely.
Terry struck out Hiller and Felipe Alou, bringing Mays to the plate with two outs and Matty Alou still at first. Mays hit 49 home runs during the regular season, and one more would give the Giants the title. Did Terry have visions of a reprise of the Mazeroski home run? “No, I never had any thoughts like that,” he said a few years ago.
In the bottom of the ninth inning with New York leading 1-0, Yankees pitcher Ralph Terry faced down Giants sluggers Willie Mays and Willie McCovey.
Terry knew that Mays had great opposite-field power and was afraid that if Willie got a ball in the air toward right field, the strong wind would carry it over the fence. If Mays wanted to hit a home run, Terry was going to make him hit it through the teeth of the gale blowing in from left. His first two pitches missed the plate inside, however, and he had to throw a strike. The third pitch was a good one, low and on the outside corner, but Mays reached out and, with the power Terry feared, sent a line drive into the right-field corner.
Alou, a fast man, rounded second and steamed toward third as right fielder Roger Maris chased the ball down. There were three components to Maris’s task. First, he had to get to the ball before it reached the fence. Then he had to stop without slipping on the grass, still wet from the rain, and finally, he had to make a strong throw to hold Alou at third.
Maris accomplished the first two components, but the third was perhaps the hardest, for he was suffering from a bad arm that the Yankees had carefully concealed. Second baseman Bobby Richardson was running as fast as he could toward Maris in order to shorten the throw. Richardson made a strong, accurate relay to the plate, and Coach Whitey Lockman held Alou at third. It was the right call, for Alou would have been out had he tried to score.
With runners at second and third, Manager Ralph Houk came to the mound to see if Terry wanted to walk the left-handed McCovey to pitch to Cepeda. Terry thought about the deciding Dodgers–Giants playoff game two weeks earlier, when the Dodgers had walked the bases loaded only to see Stan Williams walk in the go-ahead run. He told Houk he wanted to pitch to McCovey.
Houk had a third option, for he had lefty Bud Daley and righty Bill Stafford warming up in the bullpen. Because of the rain, it had been several days since they had pitched, and neither was eager to take the mound with the series on the line. “Oh, man,” Daley thought, “he’s going to bring me in to pitch to McCovey.” Then he had a whimsical thought. “I’ll just walk him and let Stafford deal with Cepeda.”
Houk decided to let Terry stay in the game to face McCovey with the series on the line. His first pitch was an off-speed delivery that McCovey hit foul and the wind blew into the right-field stands. Terry then wound up to throw his 102nd pitch of the game, as Houk gestured frantically from the dugout, trying to move Richardson closer to first base. Richardson didn’t see him.
McCovey hit a wicked line drive right at Richardson. As the ball streaked toward him, the Yankees bench rose in unison. “When McCovey hit that ball,” said Yankee reserve Phil Linz, “every single player on the bench went up. When Bobby leaped (sic) we all leaped. Everyone’s feet were off the ground.”
“Ralph Terry gets set. Here’s the pitch to Willie. There’s a liner straight to Richardson! The ballgame is over and the World Series is over!”
~George Kell calling the last out of Game 7 on NBC Radio.
Richardson caught the ball chest high, and the series was over. A couple of feet higher or to either side and the Giants would have won. Terry took off his glove and threw it high in the air, and then his teammates hoisted him on their shoulders and carried him off the field. From a goat in 1960 to a hero two years later, the tale was almost too unbelievable for fiction, but it had happened to the nice young gentleman from Larned, Kansas. “Win or lose,” he said recently, “I was thankful for a second chance. You don’t often get another chance to prove yourself, in baseball or in life.”
Back in Connecticut, I savored the fact that in my first season as a baseball fan, my team had won the World Series. Being a Yankees fan, I thought it would happen every year, but it turned out to be 15 years before they won again. I went out in our backyard with my friend Dave, and we threw a tennis ball at a barrel we’d set up as a target. I was Ralph Terry, and Willie McCovey was standing to the left of the barrel. It wasn’t until 1986 when I saw my first World Series game in person, and it was a doozy, the sixth game that was decided by a ground ball through Bill Buckner’s legs. But that’s a subject for another column.
1962 World Series MVP Ralph Terry