Labor Day ’73 lives forever
Monday, Sept. 5
SAN DIEGO — Fully aware that this has nothing to do with the Giants’ present-day issues, I’m compelled by the calendar to share this reminiscence.
Baseball on Labor Day always shall mean one thing for me: Sept. 3, 1973. The Giants beat the Dodgers, 11-8, overcoming an 8-1 deficit. This game reinforced some basic baseball truths — how momentum can be so fickle and inexorable; why leaving a ballgame early is never a good idea; and how the improbable can become commonplace when the Giants and Dodgers meet.
Moreover, it was simply an unforgettable game.
The Dodgers, who led the National League West by one game over Cincinnati at the time, led 8-1 after five innings. This prompted an older couple to gather their blankets (I should have mentioned that the scene was Candlestick Park) and head for the parking lot. Asked by a neighbor (apparently I was sitting amid a flock of season-ticket holders) why they were leaving so soon, the departing gentleman simply shook his head in disgust.
I wonder how those two felt a few hours later.
The Giants had only three hits through six innings — OK, I looked it up on baseball-reference.com — but roused themselves to score six runs in the seventh inning. That, I recall without fact-checking. I don’t remember much about the particulars of the rally, which included two-run singles by Dave Rader and Tito Fuentes (thanks again, baseball-reference). I do remember that though the Giants still trailed, 8-7, I was absolutely convinced that they’d proceed to win.
The ninth inning validated my belief. After striking out Willie McCovey, Chris Speier and Dave Kingman in a perfect eighth, Dodgers reliever Pete Richert walked Gary Thomasson to open the ninth. Baseball-reference says that the next two hitters, Rader and Mike Sadek, recorded sacrifice bunts and reached base safely. My memory tells me that the Dodgers botched both plays, but detailing how this happened would require deeper research.
The Dodgers summoned their best reliever, left-hander Jim Brewer, to face Bobby Bonds, the Giants’ best player and quite possibly the finest in the entire NL at that juncture. Though the bases were loaded with nobody out, the Dodgers seemed to have a decent shot of escaping the threat. Brewer’s formidable screwball made him tough on right-handed batters as well as against lefties.
But when Bonds performed at the height of his skill, nothing else mattered.
He drove a pitch to left field but hit it so high that I figured it was just a fly ball. Watching Bill Buckner stand helplessly at the fence as the ball disappeared into the seats told me otherwise. Giants fans in the relatively sparse audience of 15,279 — those who remained present, that is — were euphoric. The Giants never seriously threatened the Dodgers or Reds in the division race through the rest of the season. But, for one night, their followers felt as if the team had reached the World Series.
Bonds and the Giants thus issued an essential reminder: Never, ever give up.
Maybe this recollection isn’t so irrelevant after all.
– Chris Haft