Stellar start propels Brooklyn in 1955

Stellar start propels Brooklyn in 1955

LOS ANGELES -- It is said that it's not where you start, but rather where you finish that really matters. For the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, they couldn't have asked for a more perfect finish to their season. With a 2-0 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series, the Dodgers ended years of frustration and captured the franchise's first-ever world championship.

Although not as monumental as the ultimate finish to their campaign, the start the Dodgers got off to in 1955 was quite noteworthy nonetheless.

Coming off a 1954 season in which they compiled a 92-62 record under rookie manager Walter Alston only to wind up in second place, five games out of the top spot, the 1955 Dodgers won their first 10 games out of the gate, serving notice that they were a team on a mission.

"When we left Vero Beach [that spring], we had winning a championship on our minds," said veteran pitcher Carl Erskine.

After their 11th win of 1955 was sandwiched in between a pair of losses, the Dodgers went on another roll, this time going one better by reeling off 11 consecutive triumphs. So, following the streak, the Dodgers possessed a 22-2 mark and a 9 1/2-game lead over second-place Milwaukee. They were well on their way to claiming their fifth National League pennant in nine years as they went wire-to-wire, finishing with a 98-55 record, 13 1/2 games in front of the Braves.

The season started out a day later than planned. The schedule called for Brooklyn to open up by hosting the Pittsburgh Pirates for a two-game series at Ebbets Field, starting on Tuesday, April 12, before heading to the Polo Grounds for a two-game set against the New York Giants.

Rain, however, postponed the opener by one day and when the Dodgers did begin their campaign on Wednesday, April 13, they did so before a crowd of just 6,999 fans at Ebbets Field. Erskine and his teammates didn't disappoint the home crowd. The right-hander hurled a complete-game seven-hitter to turn back the Pirates, 6-1, with right fielder Carl Furillo slugging a home run and knocking in three runs.

The second game of the season saw the Dodgers outslug the Giants, 10-8. Pitcher Don Newcombe, a 20-game winner in 1955, posted his first of 10 consecutive wins and also took part in the offensive onslaught. Newcombe hit a two-run homer and a solo shot for his first two of seven home runs that season. Catcher Roy Campanella, the 1955 NL Most Valuable Player, and Furillo each belted three-run homers.

Furillo's bat stayed hot in game three as he blasted two round-trippers in a 6-3 win over the Giants in which Billy Loes tossed a complete game. Center fielder Duke Snider drove in three runs, hitting his first of 42 home runs on the season.

The Dodgers made it 4-0 on April 16 at Forbes Field as Russ Meyer hurled a two-hit shutout, 6-0, to beat Pittsburgh. That was followed a day later by a doubleheader sweep of the Pirates. In Game 1, southpaw Johnny Podres pitched a complete game and went 2-for-5 with a double and RBI, to tally a 10-3 victory, which also featured a home run, two doubles and three RBI from Campanella. In the nightcap, right-hander Clem Labine yielded just one earned run in eight innings in a 3-2 Dodgers triumph.

Brooklyn's bats really exploded on April 21 when the Dodgers extended their win streak to 10 games with a 14-4 rout of visiting Philadelphia. Don Zimmer was 4-for-4, knocking in three runs and collecting two doubles and one of his club's four homers in the contest. Snider socked a three-run homer and Sandy Amoros and Jackie Robinson also went deep. Furillo added four hits and two RBI while first baseman Gil Hodges went 3-for-5 with two doubles and three runs scored. Meanwhile, right-hander Joe Black picked up the win by allowing two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings of relief.

The Dodgers appeared to be on their way to their 11th win in succession on April 22, taking a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning, only to see the Giants turn it around to score a 5-4 victory.

There were highlights aplenty during Brooklyn's second long winning streak of 1955. On May 2 vs. Milwaukee, with Robinson aboard, Furillo clouted a two-run homer in the bottom of the 12th inning to give his club a 2-0 win, its fifth in a row. Amazingly, Erskine started and pitched the distance, giving up just six hits.

Campanella, who would drive in 11 runs during a five-game stretch from May 4-8, had four RBIs in a 14-4 win vs. St. Louis on May 4. The Dodgers made it seven straight by edging the Cardinals on May 5, 4-3. Labine gave up two runs in six innings out of the bullpen. Labine also hit a home run. Ironically, Labine had just three hits all season and all three were homers.

Newcombe pitched two scoreless innings of relief to earn the decision in Brooklyn's 6-4 win at Philadelphia on May 6. Erskine improved to 5-0 and gave the Dodgers their ninth consecutive win on May 7, outdueling future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and going the distance to top the Phillies, 6-3. Campanella contributed offensively, rapping three doubles and driving in two runs. Win No. 10 in a row, a 9-8 decision against the Phillies, featured a grand slam by Snider.

Brooklyn's 11th consecutive triumph featured a masterful performance by Newcombe. At Wrigley Field, he twirled a one-hitter and allowed just one baserunner, blanking the Cubs, 3-0. Chicago's Gene Baker singled in the fourth inning, but was caught stealing, meaning that Newcombe faced the minimum 27 batters. Snider aided him offensively, hitting his ninth homer in 22 games.

The Dodgers were seemingly in good shape to extend their win skein to 12 games the following night against Chicago. After all, they had Meyer on the mound and he had won his 17 previous decisions against the Cubs and 22 of 23. This time, though, the Cubs prevailed, 10-8, and the Dodgers' streak was over.

No cause for concern, of course. The loss was just one of few bumps in the road for the '55 Dodgers, who were on cruise control. Their first-place lead reached as much as 17 games and no lower than 5 1/2 games. After an 18-9 mark in May, the Dodgers took a 5 1/2-game advantage into June and stretched it to 13 at month's end by going 20-8. In July, they went 19-13 and led by 13 1/2 games on Aug. 1.

Their lead got down to 10 games in late August, but the Dodgers went on another tear to wrap up the flag. From Aug. 27-Sept. 8, they won 12 of 13 games, including an eight-game winning streak from Sept. 1-8.

In the Aug. 27 contest at Ebbets Field, 19-year-old rookie left-hander Sandy Koufax hurled a complete-game two-hitter to blank Cincinnati, 7-0, for his first big league win. The victory that increased their lead to 17 games on Sept. 8 also clinched them the pennant with 16 games remaining. In that game, another rookie, Karl Spooner struck out nine in 5 2/3 hitless innings of relief in a 10-2 Dodgers triumph.

That win touched off a Dodgers celebration. But less then one month later, on Oct. 4, against the New York Yankees, they enjoyed an even greater and historical celebration.