Jack Sanford: “A Damn Good Buick”

These are dark days for San Francisco Giants fans. Since August, they have had a growing sense of dread that 2011 just wasn’t going to be another miracle year. Missing from their late season roster are not only the high profile Buster Posey, Freddie Sanchez and Brian Wilson but also others who played important roles last year like Nate Schierholtz and Jeremy Affeldt.

As I watched Tim Lincecum Sunday in his final outing, I was reminded of Jack Sanford another bulldog Giants’ pitcher. Although Sanford was the Giants’ losing pitcher in the 1962 seventh game against the New York Yankees, he was one of the best of his era.

Sanford, a right-hander, also pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies, the California Angels and the Kansas City Athletics in his 12-year major career during which he posted a 137-101 record with a 3.69 earned run average.

In his 1957 Rookie of the Year season with the Phillies, Sanford notched a 19-8 record with a league leading 188 strike outs. But Sanford suffered a sophomore jinx and went 10-13 in 1958. Then a post-season trade sent Sanford to San Francisco for pitcher Ruben Gomez and catcher Valmy Thomas in what turned out to be a great deal for the Giants and Sanford.

Sanford pitched seven solid years for the Giants and had his best year in 1962 when he went 24-8, winning 16 straight games and leading the Giants to their first pennant in San Francisco. The Giants beat the Dodgers in a best-of-three playoff series.

During the World Series, Sanford pitched three games against the Yankees whose roster included Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Sanford went 1-2 with a 1.93 ERA. He pitched a three-hit 2-0 shutout in Game 2 and struck out 10 in a 5-3 loss in Game 5.

Game 7 was one of the greatest pitching duels in World Series history. While Ralph Terry carried a perfect game into the sixth inning and a two-hit shutout into the ninth, Sanford was almost as effective. He gave up seven hits in seven innings, the only run coming on a 6-4-3 double play in the fifth inning when Tony Kubek grounded to Jose Pagan to Chuck Hiller to Willie McCovey. For Terry, who won 23 games, his masterpiece redeemed him personally for the 1960 gopher ball he served up to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski.

In a play that longtime Giants have indelibly etched in their memories, McCovey lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game with runners stranded on second and third.

Sanford, who pitched more than 200 innings in each of his first five seasons with San Francisco and topped the National League with 42 starts in 1963, suffered a shoulder injury in 1964 that limited him to 18 games. In 1965, the Giants traded Sanford to the California Angels. Moved to the bullpen, Sanford recorded a league-high 12 wins in relief in 1966.

An excellent hitting pitcher, Sanford went all out on the base paths. “It seemed like he hit a triple in about five games one year, and every time, (reliever) Stu Miller got ready to come in,” retired San Francisco Chronicle baseball writer Bob Stevens once said. “He knew Sanford would be exhausted.”

When Sanford, a notoriously tough competitor, lost a game beat reporters never approached him.

Stevens came up with the classic line that compared Sanford to an automobile.

Here’s the whole quote:

Sanford didn’t get a lot of credit because he wasn’t a classic-looking pitcher. He was a bulky guy who would be a small-size right tackle on the football team. He wasn’t delicate. He was out there to throw the baseball and he did it well. He wasn’t afraid to brush back a hitter. He was an old-school pitcher. He wasn’t a Cadillac but he was a damn good Buick.

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