In the last season before divisional play, in what would become known as the Year of the Pitcher, there were some incredible performances and – at least in the Senior Circuit – another great pennant race.
The National League race came down to the final weekend of the season once again. And this time a new team emerged as the top dog – the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the incomparable duo of Cy Young winner Sandy Koufax (17-9, 1.54 ERA) and Don Drysdale (17-6, 1.52) churning out yet another in a series of outstanding seasons, the Dodgers’ pitching was good enough to hold off the Cincinnati Reds by three games to claim their first pennant since 1963. LA needed every ounce of pitching to win that pennant – their offense was 8th in a league in a ten teams while Cincinnati boasted the NL’s second-best offense (to San Francisco). Defending champion St. Louis finished third, ten games off the pace.
In the American League, the Yankees turned in a season for the ages, winning 115 games and finishing with a 21-game edge on second-place California. New York’s efforts were certainly bolstered by an off-season trade – a three-way deal with Minnesota and California. The Yankees acquired outfielder Jose Cruz and pitcher Jim Kaat in the deal and Kaat served up arguably the best pitching performance since the deadball era, posting a 31-1 record and a 1.64 ERA. Mickey Mantle copped the MVP award with a .308 average, 43 homers and 134 runs driven in. The Angels won 94 games and proved to be a rising power in what would soon be the AL Western Division. They acquired Harmon Killebrew in the deal in which NY acquired Kaat and added a veteran – and potent – bat to an outstanding young pitching staff.
The Yankees swept the major individual awards, with 2B Davey Lopes (.288, 39 steals) taking the AL Rookie of the Year. The NL award went to Cardinals C John Ellis (.301, 18 HRs). Koufax added the MVP award to his Cy Young repeating his feat of 1963 (only Don Newcombe in 1956 had previously pulled off that feat).
In the World Series, Koufax struggled against the Yankees – in his three starts (including game seven) he was tagged for a 4.86 ERA, surrendering 23 hits in 16.1 innings and gave up two homers. Drysdale, on the other hand, was dominant – posting a 0.66 ERA – but split his two decisions, losing a 1-0 duel to Mel Stottlemyre. Stottlemyre’s team mate – the 31-game winner Kaat – made three starts and won game seven, finishing the series with a 1-1 record but a 0.78 ERA.