By Sam McPherson
Long before the San Francisco Giants ended a 56-season World Series championship drought in 2010, the club’s first National League pennant winner since the move to the West Coast gave the baseball fans in the City by the Bay quite a thrill ride—all the way to the ninth inning of Game Seven in the 1962 World Series against the defending champion New York Yankees.
The 1962 Giants featured an impressive roster full of notable figures: Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Don Larsen, Harvey Kuenn, Gaylord Perry, Felipe Alou, Mike McCormick and some kid named Willie McCovey. San Francisco finished the regular season tied atop the NL with the hated Los Angeles Dodgers, both teams with 101-61 records.
But the local boys beat the SoCal squad in a three-game playoff—not as epic as the 1951 NL pennant clincher, but pretty close—with a four-run rally in the top of the ninth inning in Game Three that sent the Giants to the World Series for the first time in eight seasons. Little did the San Francisco fans realize it would be 27 years before the team returned to the Fall Classic.
That NL playoff rally is what gave the fans and the team confidence that no matter what, they team could overcome the Yankees in the World Series. These Bronx Bombers were the third of five straight New York teams to win the AL pennant, and this 1962 squad still was a juggernaut featuring Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Ralph Terry, Whitey Ford and a young pitcher named Jim Bouton.
The Yankees took Game One, 6-2, at Candlestick Park behind Ford’s complete game effort, although the Giants did manage 10 hits against him. San Francisco rebounded in Game Two with a 2-0 victory when Jack Sanford threw a three-hit, complete-game shutout—probably the single-most forgotten World Series gem ever thrown by a San Francisco Giants pitcher, actually, simply because the team failed to wi it all.
Game Three went to the Yankees at home, as Bill Stafford tossed a complete-game, four-hit masterpiece and held a Giants rally at bay in the ninth inning of a 3-2 victory. Game Four saw San Francisco even up the Series yet again: The Giants scored four runs in the seventh inning to break open a 2-2 tie game and cruise to the 7-3 win.
However, the pattern continued in Game Five with the Yankees notching a 5-3 win behind Ralph Terry’s complete-game effort. New York scored three times in the bottom of the eighth to snap another 2-2 tie game. Yet here came the Giants again in Game Six, this time back at Candlestick, thanks to Billy Pierce. San Francisco knocked Ford out of the game early on its way to a 5-1 lead, and Pierce held on for the 5-2 victory, a complete-game, three-hit effort.
All this drama set the stage for Game Seven at The ‘Stick, in front of 43,948 fans—the kind of crowd S.F. wouldn’t see a lot of again until the late 1980s. It was Sanford versus Terry for all the marbles, and the game certainly lived up to its hype as a pitching duel. After their matchups in Games Two and Five, both starters were on six days’ rest for the finale.
And what a finale it was! All those fans saw a combined 11 hits and just one run, as the Yankees scored in the fifth inning to take the 1-0 lead. It came down to the bottom of the ninth inning with Terry still on the mound for New York, and the Giants threatening to overcome the deficit like they had against the Dodgers in the NL playoff.
Matty Alou led off with a bunt single, but after Felipe Alou and Chuck Hiller each struck out, San Francisco was down to its last out. Mays came through in the clutch, doubling into deep right field. But Maris was known for his defense and his throwing arm—in addition to his plate prowess—and the Giants held Matty Alou at third instead of testing Maris’ arm.
This proved to be the biggest play of the game and the Series, really, as the young McCovey was up next—and his screaming liner went right into the glove of Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game … and the Series. San Francisco would have to wait another 27 years just to get back to the Fall Classic—and another 48 years to actually win it.
Yet what a thrill it was for the new team in Northern California in 1962 to beat the Dodgers in a playoff and get so close to beating the mighty Yankees in the World Series. It’s something long-time Giants fans will never forget.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball and fantasy sports for many online sites, including CBS, AXS and Examiner.