Claude Osteen: 1965 World Series hero vs. Twins
The only real connection between the Dodgers and Minnesota Twins is the 1965 World Series, won by Los Angeles in a thrilling seven-game classic. L.A. was in the middle of its most successful era on the field — three World Series appearances between 1963 and 1966 — after losing a heartbreaking playoff to the rival Giants in 1962.
Those early 1960s Dodgers rode the coattails of Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, who between 1962 and 1966 combined for 209 regular-season victories, 267 complete games and 53 shutouts. Following a sixth-place finish in 1964, the Dodgers rolled the dice on a roster makeover by sending power-hitting outfielder Frank Howard to the Washington Senators in exchange for Claude Osteen, a 25-year-old left-hander who had blossomed into a solid starting pitcher for a second-division franchise. Osteen broke into the Majors with Cincinnati in 1957, but his career took off when acquired by Senators at the end of their inaugural American League season in 1961.
Could Osteen stand alongside Koufax and Drysdale and help L.A. become a contender again?
Between 1962 and 1964, Washington posted records of 60-101, 56-106 and 62-100 while Osteen was one of the few pitching bright spots, going 32-40 with a 3.41 ERA. Having lost lefty Johnny Podres to bone chips in his elbow for most of the 1964 season, the Dodgers needed pitching. The Osteen trade was the biggest transaction at the time in L.A. franchise history because the Dodger minor league system had previously produced the majority of starting pitchers.
The Dodgers-Senators transaction involved cash and seven players: Washington sending Osteen, infielder John Kennedy and $100,000 to L.A. in exchange for Howard, pitchers Phil Ortega and Pete Richert and infielders Ken McMullen and Dick Nen.
During the regular season in 1965, Osteen made 40 starts and went 15-15 with a 2.79 ERA. The Dodgers (97-65) won the pennant by two games over the Giants. If Osteen felt overshadowed during the regular season, he suddenly was placed on center stage in the World Series after Minnesota had won the first two home games by scores of 8-2 and 5-1, defeating Drysdale and Koufax.
Returning to the West Coast, Osteen would face Minnesota right-hander Camilo Pascual, who went 9-3 during the regular season as the Twins (102-60) won the pennant by seven games over the Chicago White Sox.
The Twins opened Game 3 with a double by leadoff hitter Zoilo Versalles, who advanced to third on a groundout. Versalles stayed at third when Tony Olivo grounded out to second baseman Jim Lefebvre and Harmon Killbrew walked. With Earl Battey at the plate, Killebrew took off for second base and Versalles attempted to score when catcher John Roseboro threw to shortstop Maury Wills. But the relay throw caught Versalles in a rundown between home and third. Osteen was off the hook and the Twins managed just four singles the rest of the game. Roseboro’s two-run double in the fourth opened the scoring, and the Dodgers beat Pascual, 4-0.
“Osteen saved us in the 1965 Series,” said former Dodger first baseman Wes Parker. “I think the Twins had a better team than the 1966 Orioles team that swept us in the World Series the following year. It wasn’t a good sign when Versalles hit the leadoff double. But sometimes if you can get out of a certain inning, it can change everything.”
Drysdale and Koufax rebounded with victories in their next starts by scored of 7-2 and 7-0, giving Los Angeles the momentum and a 3-2 lead in the series. Although the Twins and Mudcat Grant defeated Osteen, 5-1, in Game 6, the Dodgers were still in a good position with Koufax slated for Game 7. Pitching on two days’ rest, Koufax fired a 2-0 shutout, using only his fastball after the sixth inning.
Osteen remained with the Dodgers through the 1973 season. He won 147 regular-season games with Los Angeles, including 20-win seasons in 1969 and 1972.