As soon as he heard Johnny Podres had died, Don Newcombe recalled that famous moment more than a half-century ago. "My mind went back to Yankee Stadium, 1955, the seventh game of the World Series,'' said Newcombe, also a member of that Brooklyn Dodgers championship team. "I thank God for Johnny Podres. I remember how confident he was in the clubhouse before Game 7. (Manager) Walter Alston called a meeting and Johnny said, 'Just give me one run.' Well, they gave him two, and we were champs. He was a man of his word, he lived up to his word, and I appreciate it.''
Johnny Podres, who became a storied figure in Dodgers lore for pitching Brooklyn to its only World Series title before the team moved West, died Sunday January 13th at Glens Falls Hospital in New York. He was 75. His wife, Joan, said he was being treated for heart and kidney problems and a leg infection.
"I lost a dear friend and a former teammate who excelled in big games,'' Dodgers Hall of Fame outfielder Duke Snider said. "He was fun to play behind because he was always around the plate and he threw quality strikes when the game was on the line. He was a tremendous person and I'm going to miss him quite a bit.''
The portly left-hander was picked for four All-Star games and was the first MVP in World Series history, becoming a hero to every baseball fan in Brooklyn when the Dodgers ended decades of frustration by beating the Yankees to win the 1955 World Series.
"He represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character,'' said Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda, who roomed with Podres. "He was a great roomie, a great teammate, and a great friend.''
In 1955, Podres was overshadowed by many of his teammates, which included Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Snider in a star-studded lineup, and Newcombe and Carl Erskine on the pitching staff. And Podres didn't give any indication during the regular season of the greatness that lay ahead. He was injured twice - he hurt his left shoulder and later sustained bruised ribs when struck by the Ebbets Field batting cage while groundskeepers were moving it during a pregame workout - and had a mediocre 9-10 record on a team that won the National League pennant by 13 1/2 games.
The lament of 'Wait til next year' seemed ready to be uttered when the Dodgers lost the first two World Series games at Yankee Stadium. Then, on his 23rd birthday, Podres scattered seven hits, the Dodgers won 8-3 at Ebbets Field, and suddenly there was a ray of hope for the team that came to be known as the Boys of Summer.
The Dodgers won the next two games at home, then lost Game 6 at Yankee Stadium to set up the memorable finale between two left-handers - Podres against Tommy Byrne, who died in December. Hodges drove in two runs to stake the Dodgers to a 2-0 lead. The Yankees mounted a threat when they had runners on first and second in the sixth inning and nobody out, but left fielder Sandy Amoros then made one of the most memorable plays in Series history. Yogi Berra lifted hit a high fly ball down the left-field line that seemed certain to drop for extra bases, but Amoros, a left-handed thrower who had just come into the game to replace the right-handed Jim Gilliam in left field, made a stunning one-handed grab in the corner and doubled Gil McDougald off first base to end the threat. Relying on his fastball and changeup, Podres shut out the Yankees 2-0 on eight hits.
It was the first time a team had won a best-of-seven World Series after losing the first two games, and it was Brooklyn's first World Series triumph in eight tries, including five consecutive Series losses to the Yankees. The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.
"He was one in a million,'' former Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi said. "I've had many good pitchers on my teams during my career, including the best in the business in Sandy Koufax, and I am sure that all these pitchers will agree that if a club had to win one game, it would be Podres that would get the call.''
Podres, also a part of championship teams in 1959, 1963 and 1965, pitched for 15 years with the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres. He retired in 1969 at 36 with a lifetime record of 148-116, an ERA of 3.68, and a 3-1 mark with a 2.11 ERA in six World Series starts.
Podres later served as a pitching coach with the Minnesota Twins and later with Philadelphia.
"Johnny made mound visits very interesting. I came in from first base just to listen,'' said former Phillies first baseman John Kruk, now an ESPN baseball analyst. "We might have had a pitcher on the mound who was getting lit up and Johnny would come out and say, 'You've got great stuff. I don't know how they are hitting you. Just go get them.'''
As a coach, Podres helped develop current Red Sox star Curt Schilling when he was on the Phillies staff.
"No one ever cared about me more, or watched out for me as much as he did,'' Schilling said in a Phillies Magazine story last April. "There is no doubt in my mind that the career I've been blessed to enjoy is a direct result of this man's commitment to me and to my life. I'll be forever grateful for his love and his friendship and hope that when I've thrown my final pitch I'll be able to look back on my body of work and it will have been something he was proud of. The game lost a man that has truly made a difference.''
Besides his wife, Podres is survived by two brothers and two sons.