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The first-ever Freeway Series game, on this day in 1962

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The Angels and Dodgers got things started 58 years ago with an exhibition game in Palm Springs.

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Baseball — Los Angeles Angels, 1961 Photo by Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

An annual tradition began 58 years ago today, when the Angels and Dodgers played an exhibition game on April 2, 1962 in Palm Springs. The Freeway Series was born.

This was the Angels’ second year of existence, and the first year they had a full offseason to prepare. The Gene Autry-led group was awarded the franchise on Dec. 6, 1960, and had just over a week to hire a general manager and manager, and prepare for the expansion draft. On Dec. 16, Palm Springs was named as the Angels’ spring training site.

In their first spring training, the Angels and Dodgers didn’t play each other, but planned for the Dodgers on their way back home from Vero Beach. Fla. to play the Angels in an exhibition in 1962.

This was the year Dodger Stadium opened, the regular season home for both the Dodgers and Angels for four seasons before Anaheim Stadium opened in 1966. This exhibition was played eight days before Dodger Stadium opened.

The game was a big deal, in Palm Springs at least. Newspaper accounts describe the 5,181 in attendance as an overflow, record crowd for the smallish ballpark, known then as the Polo Grounds but was later renamed Palm Springs Angels Stadium. Among the fans was former president Dwight Eisenhower, a resident nearby who per the San Bernardino Sun stayed until the end of the game.

Baseball — Los Angeles Angels, 1961
A look at the early days of Angels spring training in Palm Springs.
Photo by Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images

Johnny Podres, who started the regular season opener in Los Angeles, pitched into the eighth inning in the April 2 exhibition game in Palm Springs, because that’s what pitchers did back then. Ken McBride, a 26-year-old who was 11-5 with a 3.50 (110 ERA+) in 1962, started for the Angels, but couldn’t get out of the fourth inning, per the Long Beach Independent, as the Dodgers built a 5-2 lead.

Wally Moon homered for the Dodgers in the first inning.

The Dodgers still held that 5-2 advantage in the eighth, but singles by shortstop Joe Koppe and third baseman Felix Torres gave the Angels a rally. What happened next was a surprise. From the Sun game recap:

The big blow of the game was a three-run homer by little Albie Pearson off Dodger southpaw Johnny Podres in the eighth inning. Pearson’s 383-foot poke, which just cleared the foul pole in right field, pulled the Angels even at 5-5.

Pearson would lead the American League with 115 runs scored in 1962, but it was his listed height of 5’5 that was often used as his descriptor. That the center fielder hit 28 total home runs in his nine major league seasons made his game-tying blow even more of a surprise.

With the game tied in the bottom of the ninth, outfielder Leon Wagner was on second base and Koppe singled him home for the 6-5 walk-off Angels win. How this happened is up for some debate. Dodgers right fielder Ron Fairly talked with Larry Bohannon of The Desert Sun last July:

“I kind of dove for the ball and I couldn’t get to it, and the ball got away from me and that was the difference in the ball game,” Fairly said. “That was the last time that ever happened to me.”

Fairly said he learned the lesson that if you know you can catch the ball, dive for it. If you don’t know you can catch it, let it drop for a single rather that risking a bigger play for the hitter. But was that Fairly play in the Palm Springs game? Well, Fairly thinks so. Well, maybe. It was 57 years ago, after all.

“I remember playing a spring training game against the Angels and there was a ball hit to me in right field,” Fairly said.

I couldn’t find a box score for the game, but thanks to the Bakersfield Californian we know the pitchers of record. Tom Morgan pitched a scoreless top of the ninth for the Angels to earn the win, and Willard Hunter got hung with the loss for the Dodgers.