Don Larsen: Not perfect in ’62, but key contributor to Giants postseason run
Don Larsen will forever be remembered for his perfection in the World Series. On October 8, 1956, Larsen shocked the baseball world and became the first pitcher to throw a perfect game in the World Series. Because of his career record at the time, many say Larsen was the imperfect man who threw a perfect game.
The perfect game is Don Larsen’s greatest achievement in baseball. No one else in the history of the game can stand up and say he threw a perfect game in the World Series. Larsen will forever be remembered in history as the man who pitched baseball’s greatest postseason game. However this one game was not Larsen’s only contribution to Major League Baseball.
In November of 1961, Larsen was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the San Francisco Giants in a six-player deal. It had been more than five years since he had thrown his historic perfect game. He was coming off a solid 8-2 season between the Athletics and White Sox. However at age 32, Larsen knew his career was would soon come to an end. He hoped joining the Giants would help him return to the World Series and pitch for the glory of the game once again.
The 1962 Giants featured stars like Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal. Even Gaylord Perry was beginning his Major League career at the time. The Giants were primed to make a World Series run in 1962.
Don Larsen was no longer a starting pitcher at this point in his career, but a reliever. His first appearance of the season came on April 14 against the Cincinnati Reds. Perry started the game for the Giants, but only managed go to 2.2 innings before being taken out. Larsen came into relieve and got the third out of the third inning. Reds outfielder Wally Post made the final out of the inning by popping out to second base. The game was tied at four after the top of the third inning.
The 1962 Reds had a tough lineup. Frank Robinson had won the National League MVP in 1961 and was in the prime of his career. First baseman Gordy Coleman would hit a career high 28 home runs in 1962. Vada Pinson was another force to be reckoned with after hitting 23 home runs and driving in 100 in 1962. The Reds also had emerging stars like future All-Star Tommy Harper making his major league debut in 1962. They were an offensive machine ready to burst against any opposing pitcher. Larsen would have his hands full if he wanted to keep the game close.
Up for the challenge, Larsen went 6.1 innings and gave up only two runs on three hits. The highlight of the game for Larsen had to be getting Robinson out for the last out of the game. Robinson had one hit against Larsen that day, but also grounded into a double play in seventh inning. It was Larsen’s first win of the 1962 season.
The Giants were fighting tooth and nail the entire season against the Dodgers for the National League crown. During the hot summer of 1962, the bullpen would be crucial for the Giants. Larsen pitched at his best when his team needed him the most. From July 15-August 15, Larsen had a 2.08 ERA and three saves in eleven games. He threw 13.1 innings and only gave up eight hits. He was a crucial part for the Giants, as losing even one game could’ve meant losing their chance at the World Series berth.
The Giants and Dodgers finished the 1962 season tied for first place. A three-game playoff between the two teams would determine the winner of the National League pennant. Don Larsen was one of the key reasons the Giants forced the three-game playoff series. Larsen was 5-4 with a 4.38 ERA in 1962. He pitched 86.1 innings from the bullpen and allowed 83 hits. He saved 11 games for the Giants and proved to be a stopper in the bullpen.
The Giants won game one against the Dodgers. Larsen didn’t pitch in game one, but pitched 1.2 shutout innings in game two. The season came down to one game on October 3, 1962. Larsen was, of course, no stranger to postseason success. He knew how to deal with pressure and the Giants used that to their advantage.
A crowd of 45,693 was on hand at Dodger Stadium to watch a historic game between two of baseball’s greatest teams. The Giants took a quick 2-0 lead in third inning. In the sixth inning, with the Giants up 2-1, Duke Snider hit a leadoff single. Tommy Davis then took starting pitcher Marichal deep to the give the Dodgers a 3-2 lead. The score was 4-2 Dodgers in the eighth inning when Marichal walked leadoff batter Davis. Giants manager Al Dark made the call to the bullpen. With the Giants down 4-2 in a crucial playoff game, who else should get the call but Don Larsen?
Ron Fairly pinch-hit for Wally Moon. Fairly moved Davis to second base on a single, bringing power-hitting first baseman Frank Howard to the plate.
Howard was entering the prime of his career in 1962, hit .292 with 31 home runs and 119 RBI. He finished ninth in the National League MVP voting and was considered one of National League’s most dangerous hitter. With Davis in scoring position and only one out, Larsen would have to bear down and go after Howard.
It was an intense battle between Howard and Larsen. Howard fouled off some tough pitches and made Larsen work hard. The count went to 3-2. Howard looked in and Larsen was ready. On the 3-2 pitch, Larsen got Howard to strike out swinging. Two outs.
Larsen then intentionally walked the next two batters to load the bases and face pitcher Ed Roebuck. Don quickly got ahead 0-2 in the count and then got Roebuck to ground to third base. The threat had ended, but the Giants were still down 4-2.
That changed in the top of the ninth. Mays and Cepeda each drove in runs and the Giants took a 6-4 lead and went on to clinch the NL pennant. Not many people remember that Don Larsen picked up the win in the deciding playoff game.
The Giants faced the New York Yankees in the 1962 World Series. Larsen last pitched in the World Series in 1958 for the Yankees. It must have been a strange feeling for Larsen to face his ex-teammates, but on the field, he was a competitor first and a friend second.
Larsen pitched three games for the Giants in the World Series. He allowed one run in 2.1 innings. He received cheers from the crowd when taking the mound in game two. Larsen even picked up the win in game four after getting one out on a ground ball to second base off the bat of former teammate and 1957 American League Rookie of the Year Tony Kubek.
The Yankees would go on to defeat the Giants in seven games to win the 1962 World Series. Don Larsen would pitch a few more seasons in baseball and retire as a member of the Cubs after the 1967 season. He finished his career with an 81-91 record and a lifetime ERA of 3.81. However, in the playoffs, Larsen was 4-2 with a 2.75 ERA.
The name Don Larsen signifies perfection under the most pressure a pitcher could ever imagine. His perfect game in the 1956 World Series is the reason Don Larsen will be remembered. Yet the perfect game can also be seen as a curse. Very few remember how good a pitcher Don Larsen was. He was one of the greatest postseason pitchers in baseball history. His contributions helped lead the Giants to the 1962 World Series. He may not have been perfect in 1962, but Larsen was important to the Giants’ World Series run; a run that should never be forgotten in the eyes of baseball fans across the different eras of history.