Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Last Milwaukee (HOME) Run

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Who made the final out for the Milwaukee Braves in the teams final game in Milwaukee?  

In 1966 the Pittsburgh Pirates brought up a young left-handed pitcher who announcers said hadn't seen much of the big city being from Ewing, KY. Woody Fryman made the most of his rookie season in Pittsburgh, winning 12 and losing 9. Fryman failed to improve in Pittsburgh and was traded after the 1967 season to Philadelphia. He bounced around the majors pitching until he was 43 years old. His final record was 141-155.

 Gene Oliver pretty much spent his entire major league career in the 1960's. The journeyman catcher, outfielder and first baseman had some milestones along the way but there was one moment in time you could call "that moment." It was pretty significant at the time, but over the years it's gone the way of a newspaper in the sun - faded.

It was a fairly nice night at County Stadium in Milwaukee where 12,577 fans would watch their beloved Braves play for the very last time. Wednesday, September 22, 1965 would mark the final time the Braves would dress for a game in the place where less than a decade earlier they had gone on to play in back to back World Series.
The club had fallen hard. After the Series' there were back to back second place finishes and then they were mired around the middle of the pack. This season they would finish in fifth place, but a respectable 10 games above .500. 

Still, the likes of Henry Aaron, Joe Torre and Eddie Mathews were moving on to Atlanta for the 1966 season. There they would build the foundation which later on would set records for the most divisional titles. 

For now, however, it was playing out the string and the string included facing Sandy Koufax as the Dodgers came to town. Koufax was having an amazing season. He would win 26 games in 1965 and set a record with 382 strikeouts. His ERA was 2.04. However on this night, he was no match for the battling Braves. He would face another lefty, Wade Blasingame. Neither would be around for the final out.

Oliver was having his best season by far and would smash a career high 21 dingers, drive in 58 and hit a respectable .270. Tonight it was his night.

Koufax mowed the Braves down in order in the first and after the Dodgers scored to take a 1-0 lead, the fire balling lefty couldn't find his way to start the second. Three straight singles by Torre, Oliver and Mathews loaded the bases for light hitting Frank Bolling. Bolling who'd been the regular second sacker for the Braves for a decade was in his final season as the full-time second baseman. He was a career .254 hitter and hit just a few homers over the years. He could still reach the seats and it's exactly what he did here.
He promptly smashed a Koufax pitch out of sight for a grand slam, 4-1 Braves. Koufax retired the side after that. Meanwhile, Blasingame was nearty setting the Dodgers down. 

In the third after Mack Jones led off with a homer and Aaron singled, Koufax was gone. Howie Reed came in and forced Torre to bang into a double play. Then came Oliver. Not known for his speed he would use all of it in this at bat. 

Reed served up a pitch which Oliver hit into left on a rope. Lou Johnson wasn't known for his defense and the ball skipped away cleanly. As it did, Oliver turned on the speed and rounded the bases ahead of a throw home for an inside-the-park home run, making the score 6-1. It was the last Brave's homer in Milwaukee.

It was no. 19 on his way to 21. He would get another single and a walk before the game ended, going 3-4. Never mind Jimmy Lefebvre, the rookie second baseman for the Dodgers would hit the final homer at County Stadium against the Braves. It was a 2-run shot to left off Blasingame.  

Blasingame would start to falter in the 5th and after giving up a total of six runs gave way to Billy O'Dell. The game went into extra innings before the Dodgers won it in the 11th. The aforementioned Lou Johnson singled in Maury Wills with the winning run. After three hours and 38 minutes the final game in Milwaukee for the Braves, came to an end. 
Just imagine the conversations in the clubhouse after that. 

Oliver retired after the 1969 season. Beginning in 1966 his average dipped below .200 often and never really got un-tracked again. He went on to Philadelphia, Boston and the Cubs ending his career with 93 home runs and a .246 lifetime BA.  

It was a milestone year certainly for Oliver and the Braves. With his 21st homer the Braves set a new NL record with six player hitting 20 or more in a season. On June 8th Torre, Mathews, Aaron and Oliver hit 10th-inning home runs in a Braves victory over the Cubs, setting a major league record for most home runs in an extra-inning game.

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