Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Podres always the hero

Johnny Podres (above left) moved slowly that night. His legs, which had been giving him trouble, were at it again, and the former major league pitcher with 148 career wins in 15 seasons moved to the dugout at Tropicana Field for a place to sit.

That’s where Podres belonged anyway, sitting in the dugout, spinning tales.

Of course, no tale was bigger than Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, the day Podres shut out the mighty New York Yankees on eight hits at Yankee Stadium to give the Dodgers the only championship in their storied Brooklyn history.

Podres always tired of talking about that game. He’d rather talk of the horses or something else.

But with Podres, the conversation always moved back to Oct. 4, 1955.

Dodgers 2, Yankees 0.

Go crazy, Brooklyn.

The beer flowed through the borough that night.

Podres was at the Trop last June as part of the Tampa Bay Rays' turn back the clock night. The idea was to celebrate Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer’s nearly six decades in baseball.

But with Podres, Carl Erskine and Duke Snider on hand, well, the spotlight barely caught Zim.

Old Brooklyn Dodgers fans flocked to the Trop to pay homage to the original “Boys of Summer.” Snider was the Hall of Famer. Erskine was the steady pitcher. Podres was the hero, though, the only Brooklyn pitcher ever to get the best of the Yankees in the deciding game of the World Series.

On the bus ride from Brooklyn to the Bronx before the game, it was a brash Podres who told his teammates, “Give me one run. That’s all I need.”

Only days earlier, Podres had turned 23. He was born about five hours north of New York City. He grew up a Dodgers fan, rooting for Snider and Erskine while he threw a baseball against the side of his house.

The son of Russian immigrants, Podres escaped the mines to pitch in the big leagues.
That was a familiar story once. No more.

Podres talked of the catch Sandy Amoros made in left field in the sixth inning that saved the day. He talked about Gil Hodges’ two RBIs. He talked about the old Dodgers who had passed, like Gil and Jackie and Pee Wee.

Now, Podres is one of them, having passed away Sunday at the age of 75.

The young lefty wanted one run. The Dodgers gave him two.

Appearing on TV the next morning, Podres looked in the cameras and said, “Bring the Yankees back. I’ll beat them again.”

“That was the champagne talking,” Erskine said.

Podres, as the legend goes, stayed out all night, hitting the TV station on his way home.

You were lucky if you were in the dugout that night in June. The stories were funny, and you wondered how many were actually true, but you laughed anyway.

In 10 years of Rays baseball, there have been a handful of truly great nights at the Trop. That night was right at the top.

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