By Sam McPherson
After the San Francisco Giants won the National League West in 1971, it would be 16 long seasons before the team could replicate that feat. In fact, the once-proud franchise that had won five World Series in New York City finished no higher than third place in the six-team NL West between 1971 and 1987.
There wasn't a lot to cheer about for the Giants back then: San Francisco finished an average of 19 games out of first place for 15 straight seasons, never even making it to runner-up status in the division. The best finish in all those years came in 1982, when the Giants finished third, trailing the division-winning Atlanta Braves by just two games.
However, it wasn't that fact that excited Giants fans for years after the end of the 1982 season. No, it was the win in the final game of the season against the hated Los Angeles Dodgers—the defending champions, no less—that kept the Southern California squad from tying the Braves for first place. After all, if S.F. couldn't make the playoffs, the next best thing was knowing it had kept L.A. out of the postseason, too.
That's exactly what happened on Sunday, October 3, 1982, at Candlestick Park. The Dodgers had won on Friday and Saturday to keep pace with the Braves. Atlanta had beaten the San Diego Padres on both Friday and Saturday to stay one game ahead of Los Angeles, but the Pads won, 5-1, on Sunday—and everyone at Candlestick was aware of the situation entering the seventh inning.
The Giants and the Dodgers had exchanged runs in the second inning, and it was tied still, 2-2, as the seventh-inning stretch concluded. Reliever Greg Minton had just escaped a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the top of the inning to keep the score tied, notching a strikeout of Bill Russell and inducing a groundout from Jorge Orta.
San Diego had been ahead of Atlanta all afternoon, so the tension was thick at The 'Stick—San Francisco had no chance to win the division, but the club still had a chance to do the next best thing: Eliminate the Dodgers. L.A. Manager Tommy Lasorda had removed starter Fernando Valenzuela in order to get Orta to the plate, so now he had to go to his bullpen.
Catcher Bob Brenly, who would later manage the Arizona Diamondbacks to the World Series title in 2001, led off the inning with a single against Dodgers reliever Tom Niedenfuer, and Giants pinch hitter Champ Summers then delivered a double with Brenly stopping at third. With no outs, S.F. was in a perfect position to end the Dodgers' season.
Minton hit for himself and struck out, though, putting the pressure on another S.F. pinch hitter, Jim Wohlford. Lasorda countered with lefty Terry Forster, going deeper into his bullpen with the season on the line. When Forster struck out Wohlford for the second out, it looked like Lasorda had gotten the best of Giants Manager Frank Robinson.
Enter Joe Morgan.
The future Hall of Fame second baseman was 38 years old, but he was having his best season since 1977. With a .289 average, 14 home runs and 24 stolen bases, Morgan was still a viable threat at the plate and on the base paths. Jack Clark, the Giants big righty and power hitter, was on deck, so Forster had to pitch to left-handed hitting Morgan.
The S.F. second baseman actually hit lefties better than righties that season, but Forster hadn't surrendered a home run to a lefty all season—and only two HRs to righties. Of course, all Morgan needed was a single, but the Dodgers southpaw was stingy there, too: lefties hit only .205 against Forster in 1982.
Everyone knows what happened next: Morgan took Forster deep to right field, and the Giants went up, 5-2. Yes, Los Angeles scored a run in the top of the eighth to make it a two-run ballgame, but it didn't matter. The wind had been taking out of their sails, and San Francisco had ruined the Dodgers' chances of seeing the playoffs and defending their World Series title from 1981.
Robinson's decision to keep Minton on the mound paid off, as he retired the final five L.A. hitters to secure the 5-3 victory—and knock the Dodgers out of it. Meanwhile, Lasorda looked like a man who had been punched in the stomach by his own kid. Over 47,000 fans were at Candlestick that afternoon for Game 162, and most of them went home very happy.
That glee would last for years.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball and fantasy sports for many online sites, including CBS, AXS and Examiner.
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