A Closer Look:
Sherry in the '59 World Series
Dodgers rookie recorded a win or save in all four L.A. victories
By GABRIEL SCHECHTER
October 20, 2009
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Which relief pitcher has had the greatest World Series? That isn't an easy question, partly because traditional statistics don't put the reliever's performance in complete context.
Looking at just saves, the leading nominee would be John Wetteland of the Yankees in 1996. He got the save in all four games the Yankees won to take the title. You can't have more than that. But does that in itself constitute the greatest job ever by a reliever?
|Larry Sherry was an unlikely candidate to have a Major League career. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)|
Actually, Wetteland only worked hard in the last two games of that World Series. He got the save in Game 3 by pitching one inning with a three-run lead, hardly hazardous duty. In Game 4, he got only the last two outs, entering with nobody on base and a two-run lead. He probably didn't even work up a sweat that time.
It got tougher in Game 5, when he again entered in the ninth inning with one out. This time, however, the Yankees led, 1-0, with the tying run at third base. Wetteland retired Javy Lopez and Luis Polonia, stranding the runner on third to put the Yankees up 3-2 in the Series.
Two nights later, Wetteland started the ninth inning with a two-run lead. That gave him enough room to allow a run on three singles before recording the last out to notch his fourth save.
That's good pitching, but not exactly hard labor. By contrast, 50 years ago this month, Larry Sherry of the Dodgers put together what is arguably the finest World Series performance by a reliever. It was strong enough for Sherry to be named the Most Valuable Player of the Series. Let's take a closer look at how he earned that honor.
The most remarkable thing is that 1959 was Sherry's first full season in the Majors. After a four-game apprenticeship in 1958, he started 1959 in the Minors and didn't make his first appearance with the Dodgers until making a start on July 4. He started nine games and relieved 14 times, faring much better in relief with a 0.74 ERA compared to 3.10 as a starter. Still, there was little reason to suspect that the 24-year-old rookie right-hander was about to make World Series history.
After the White Sox drilled five Dodgers pitchers in an 11-0 Game 1 rout, the visitors from L.A. rebounded in Game 2. In the top of the seventh inning, home runs by Chuck Essegian and Charlie Neal gave the Dodgers a 4-2 lead, and in came Sherry.
He got in trouble in the eighth when three singles started the inning, but with the tying run on third, he fanned former batting champion Billy Goodman and got Jim Rivera to pop up, ending the threat. He got the side in order in the ninth, retiring future Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox to preserve the 4-3 victory that squared the Series at one game apiece.
Back in Los Angeles, Sherry found himself in hotter water when he entered in the eighth inning. The Dodgers led 2-0, with two runners on and nobody out. He hit the first batter to load the bases, got a double-play grounder on which one runner scored, and again got Rivera to pop out. Still up 2-1, Sherry struck out three batters in the ninth, allowing only a two-out single by Fox, to save the win that put the Dodgers ahead in the Series.
In Game 4, Sherry got the nod again from Dodgers manager Walter Alston, who wasn't concerned (the way a manager would be today) that Sherry had pitched five stressful innings in the previous two games. This time the score was 4-4 at the start of the eighth inning, and Sherry continued to clamp down on the White Sox's "go-go" offense.
He retired the side with only a walk allowed, and a Gil Hodges home run put the Dodgers up by a run. In the ninth, Sherry got Aparicio, Fox and slugger Ted Kluszewski in order to perverse the victory, this time getting credit for the win.
After the White Sox defeated Sandy Koufax, 1-0, the Series returned to Chicago for Game 6. Thus, Sherry had all of two days' rest when the Dodgers faced another crisis. Staked to a 3-0 lead, starter Johnny Podres fell apart in the fourth inning, allowing three runs. That was all Alston could take, and he responded by bringing in the pitcher who had stifled the White Sox over seven innings pitched.
Sherry ended the fourth-inning jam by fanning Aparicio with the bases loaded. Over the final five innings, he surrendered only three hits -- doubles by Fox and Kluszewski and a single by Aparicio. This extended effort earned him another win in the 9-3 title clincher. For the Series, Sherry led all Dodgers pitchers with 12 2/3 innings pitched, allowing only one run on eight hits. He was nearly a one-man bullpen; the team's other relievers logged only 7 2/3 innings.
"I've never had a pitcher with so little experience," said Alston after the Series, "who was thrown into so many tight situations as Sherry was."
Alston could've also been considering the first game of the best-of-three playoff with the Milwaukee Braves, when he inserted Sherry into a second-inning jam. An unearned run put the Braves ahead, 2-1, but Sherry stifled them the rest of the way, scattering only four singles over 7 2/3 innings. After the Dodgers went ahead, 3-2, in the 6th inning, Sherry retired 12 of the last 13 Braves he faced, notching his fifth relief victory of the season.
So maybe it wasn't that surprising that Larry Sherry successfully carried the Dodgers' hopes during the Series. Maybe the most surprising thing was that he was a Major League pitcher in the first place. He was born with two club feet, endured a series of operations, wore braces until he was 2 and began wearing corrective soles in high school.
"In my kid days, it didn't seem likely that I'd ever wind up a Major Leaguer," he said.
His dream came true, but even Sherry couldn't have dreamt that he'd become the first pitcher to win or save four games in a World Series.
Gabriel Schechter is a researcher for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.