Welcome back to another This Week In San Francisco Giants History. After a week off to take care of the present day, we’re back with another peek at a fascinating moment in Giants history.
If you missed any of the previous installments in this series, you can click the links below to check them out.
Willie Mays is the greatest player in the history of baseball. You can’t convince me otherwise. I’m a Giants fan. Always have been, always will be. So, with all due respect to Babe Ruth, Mike Trout and Pablo Sandoval, Mays will always be at the top of the list. I’m subjective, and I don’t care. You try growing up with stories about that man and not feel the same. When my dad talked about Willie, he went to a place of wonderment and joy as he relived the moments he saw in his head from childhood. You could see it in his eyes. I’m biased, and I think I’ve established that.
I mention all this because the realization that Willie had not been featured in one of these trips through the wayback machine yet hit me like a fastball to the face, and it is time to rectify that. Sure, I mentioned him when talking about the first California baseball game. But that was in passing. Willie just happened to be there for that.
On a Tuesday afternoon at the Los Angeles Coliseum in front of 10,000+ fans, Mays had his first of many great games wearing a San Francisco Giants uniform. It was May 13, 1958 and the Giants had gotten off to a good start in their new home out west. They carried a 16-9 record heading in to this game against the rival Dodgers during a season in which they finished with an 80-74 record, good for 3rd place in the National League.
Life in LA did not start out like a fairy tale for the Dodgers. The Giants took 4 of the first 6 games of the season from them, and they never recovered to have a winning record. They finished the season with a 71-83 record, seventh of eight teams in the NL. It was their first losing season in 14 years. Ha Ha.
This was the 4th game of a home-and-home series for the 2 teams. They played twice over the weekend in San Francisco, and this was the second of 2 games in LA. The Giants took the first 3 games and Willie had just been wearing out Dodgers pitching. He was 7-for-12 with 5 home runs and 6 runs scored over the first 3 games and was ready to inflict more damage as the Giants looked for a sweep.
In the top of the first inning, Mays came to the plate to face Don Newcombe. He was no stranger to Willie as they had faced off plenty back in New York and that day Mays treated him like an old friend. He hit a 2-run shot to left field to put the Giants ahead and get his day started. In his career, Mays hit 7 home runs off Newcombe. Amazingly, that’s tied for 14th among pitchers who gave up the most home runs to the Say Hey Kid. Warren Spahn leads that list with 18 if you’re wondering.
The Giants scored 5 runs in the top of the first but proceeded to give 3 of them back in the bottom half. Willie would have none of it as he came to bat in the top of the 2nd and hit another 2-run home run off old friend Newk. That meant, so far in the 4 games of the series, Mays was 9-for-14 with 7 home runs and 8 runs scored. A one-man wrecking crew. The Giants needed the homer too because Ramon Monzant gave up a 3-run homer to Charlie Neal in the bottom of the 2nd inning to make it 7-6 and then Gil Hodges hit a solo shot in the 4th to bring LA even with the Giants at 7 runs apiece.
And then Willie took over again. He led off the top of the 3rd inning with a triple off Fred Kipp and then scored on an Orlando Cepeda single to left. Daryl Spencer immediately followed that with a 3-run homer to give the Giants an 11-7 lead.
In the top of the 5th, Willie could only manage a measly single to right field off Ed Roebuck. He decided to make that exciting as well because, you know, that’s Willie, and he stole second base. Unfortunately, the only time he ran into an out all day was when he literally ran into an out as Mays was gunned down trying to steal 3rd base with one out and Orlando Cepeda at the plate. It makes sense, he wanted to score on a sacrifice fly. Cepeda homered instead to make it 12-7.
It was 13-8 in the top of the 6th inning when Willie stepped in with runners at the corners and one out. Future Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax was in as a relief pitcher to cover some innings during the blowout as he had yet to become the force who won multiple Cy Young awards and pitched the Dodgers to a title. Koufax got ahead of Mays 0-2 and then suddenly decided he wanted nothing to do with him, walking Willie with 4 straight pitches out of the zone to load the bases. Koufax’s wildness stayed with him as he walked the next batter to force in a run before getting a double play to get out of the inning.
Mays was 4-for-4 on the day heading in to his final at bat in the top of the 8th inning. With one out and nobody on, Willie hit a triple to CF and then scored the Giants 16th and final run of the day on a Willie Kirkland single. The Giants wrapped up the 16-9 victory and set a franchise record that day. Their 50 total bases are the most any Giants team has put together in one game. Total bases is the accumulation of bases gained on a hit, so a single is 1, a double 2, triple 3, and home run 4.
The Giants hit 3 doubles, 3 triples, and 5 home runs and 15! singles off Dodger pitching that day for total of 26 hits. And that’s not even counting the 5 walks. The Giants have had more hits in a game and hit more homers, but this game sets the record for total bases in a game in their history.
Willie’s final line on the day was 5-for-5 with 2 home runs, 2 triples, 4 runs, 4 RBI, and reached base in all 6 plate appearances. It was the first time in his career he had 5 hits in the same game. Mays never had more than 5 hits in any game in his career, but he did match it 4 more times the rest of the way. All 5 instances were bunched together between May 1958 and August of 1962. But none of those games had 4 extra base hits like this May game in LA.
The only thing that comes close to that is Willie’s 4-hr game in Milwaukee.
The Giants swept the 4-game home-and-home series with the Dodgers by outscoring them 42-17 and reaching double digits in 3 of the 4 games. The Giants took 16 of 22 games from the blue team in 1958 to win the battle of California teams.
Willie’s line for the 4-game series: 12-for-17 (.706 BA), 7 HR, 15 RBI, 10 R, 2 3B, 1 2B, 10 XBH, 5 BB, 1 K, .762 OBP, 2.235 SLG, 2.997 OPS
I’d venture to say that is one of the best stretches put up by any player in the history of the game. It’s just one of many examples of why Willie Mays is the greatest baseball player of all time.