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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Wiz Kids, Part IX: July 13, 1950 – September 30, 1950 

The days after the All-Star break were tense for the Phillies. It was one of the tightest pennant races in baseball history. The Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers and Braves all sat within four games of each other. The Phillies clung to a slim one-game lead over the second-place Cardinals. The first game after the All-Star Break, Curt Simmons defeated the Cardinals 3-2. Simmons was pitching very well – better than Roberts some believed – but was forced to leave the team. At the end of July, Simmons left the Phillies to join his National Guard unit for training. Prior to the All-Star Break the North Korean Army had invaded South Korea and initiated the Korean War. Afraid of their talented pitcher getting drafted by the Army, the Phillies had told Simmons to join the guard. Simmons left for two weeks for training and wouldn’t return until mid-August.

The race was incredibly close. After losing five straight games following Simmons 3-2 win, the Phillies found themselves in a three-way tie for first with the Dodgers a game out:

July 18, 1950:
1. Boston: 46-34
1. St. Louis: 46-34
1. Philadelphia: 46-34
4. Brooklyn: 44-34 (1.0)
5. Chicago: 37-41 (4.0)
6. New York: 36-44 (10.0)
7. Cincinnati: 34-46 (12.0)
8. Pittsburgh: 29-51 (17.0)

The Phillies continued to plug away. By the end of July, they had reclaimed sole possession of first place:

July 30, 1950:
1. Philadelphia: 58-39
2. St. Louis: 53-40 (3.0)
3. Boston: 52-40 (3.5)
4. Brooklyn: 51-39 (3.5)
5. New York: 45-47 (10.5)
6. Chicago: 40-51 (15.0)
7. Cincinnati: 38-55 (18.0)
8. Pittsburgh: 34-60 (22.5)

The Phillies were largely carried by Del Ennis’ forty-one RBIs in the month of July. With the team struggling with Simmons gone, Ennis provided the crucial runs to give the pitching staff the support they needed to pull out the tight games.

The month of August was an absolute triumph for the Phillies. They went 20-8 and built up a six and a half game lead. The Boston Braves and St. Louis Cardinals had begun to fall off the pace, leaving the race almost exclusively a contest between the Phillies and Dodgers. On September 2, 1950, Curt Simmons pitched the Phillies to a 2-0 win over the Braves that gave the Phillies a seven game edge over the Dodgers. It was the Phillies eleventh win in fourteen consecutive road games. With an eighteen game home stand coming up and a seven game lead, the Phillies looked invincible.

September 2, 1950:
1. Philadelphia: 80-47
2. Brooklyn: 70-51 (7.0)
3. Boston: 68-56 (10.5)
4. New York: 66-58 (12.5)
5. St. Louis: 65-59 (13.5)
6. Chicago: 54-71 (25.0)
7. Cincinnati: 50-73 (28.0)
8. Pittsburgh: 44-82 (35.5)

The Phillies dropped their next five games, including two to the Giants and three in a row to the Dodgers, before pulling out ten wins in their next sixteen games. The Phillies lost Curt Simmons for the season, as his National Guard unit was sent to Germany on September 10th. Injuries to Bubba Church and Bob Miller left the Phillies was a patchwork pitching staff of Roberts, Ken Heintzelman and Russ Meyer.
On September 20, 1950, the Phillies defeated the Chicago Cubs 9-6 and sat seven and a half games in first, with just eleven games left to play.

September 20, 1950:
1. Philadelphia: 88-55
2. Brooklyn: 79-61 (7.5)
2. Boston: 79-61 (7.5)
4. New York: 77-65 (10.5)
5. St. Louis: 72-70 (15.5)
6. Cincinnati: 61-81 (26.5)
7. Chicago: 61-84 (28.0)
8. Pittsburgh: 52-92 (36.5)

Their lead seemed insurmountable.

It was not.

The Phillies would go 3-8 the rest of the way, watching as their insurmountable lead melted away. Three days later the Phillies would drop two consecutive games to the Dodgers 3-2, and 11-0. Their seven and a half game lead was now just five games. The Phillies took two of their next three from the Braves, keeping their lead at five games, but faltered when the team went to the Polo Grounds to play the New York Giants. In a scene that would remind many of the 1964 collapse years later, the Phillies simply wilted under the pressure. On September 27th, they lost both ends of a double-header 8-7 and 5-0. The next day they lost both ends of another double-header 3-1 and 3-1. The Phillies had been out-scored 19-9 and were in a free-fall. Their five game lead was down to three games with two left to play for the Phillies. The next day the Dodgers promptly swept a doubleheader with the Boston Braves to cut the Phillies down to a two game lead. If the Dodgers won the final two games of the season they’d force a three-game playoff with the reeling Phillies. Few people doubted that the red-hot Dodgers would triumph if it came to that.

The next day, on September 30th, 1950, the Phillies fell short again, 7-3. Duke Snider and Roy Campanella hit home runs to lift the Dodgers to the victory. Everything would come down to the next day’s game. If the Dodgers won, they’ve force a playoff and have momentum. The Phillies had to win if they wanted to play in the World Series.

Previous Installments of the Wiz Kids:
Part VIII: The Braves, Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs & Reds.
Part VII: The Giants and Dodgers.
Part VI: Curt Simmons.
Part V: Robin Roberts.
Part IV: The first half of the 1950 season.
Part III: Jim Konstanty.
Part II: Eddie Sawyer.
Part I: The Path to 1950.

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