Sunday, February 9th, 2003
10:04 am - Top of the Seventh  
Still working my way through Sandy Koufax, A Lefty's Legacy. Leavy has structured the book around Koufax's perfect game in September '65, presenting the story of the game as seen through the eyes of the participants (except for Koufax himself), and some of the other folks who were there. Each inning of the game gets a chapter, which she then alternates with more conventional chapters recounting each stage of Koufax's career, starting with high school. So far, I'm through the sixth inning of the perfect game, and into 1964 in his career.

I suppose it's hard not to pick a perfect game as the showpiece of a pitcher's career, but I've never really thought of that game as his best. It wasn't his only or his first no-hitter, it was his fourth. It was against the Cubs, a terrible team that, although Banks, Santo, and Billy Williams were all in the lineup, had two players making their first major league at bats in the game because of September call-ups from the minors. His no-hitters against the Giants in '63 and the Phillies in '64 are probably more impressive efforts, despite not being 'perfect.' You could choose the first game of the '63 World Series, where he struck out the first five Yankees he faced (Kubek, Richardson, Tresh, Mantle, and Maris), and went on to strike out fifteen, a World Series record. (Bobby Richardson had only struck out 22 times in 630 at bats in '63, but Koufax got him three times in that game.) You could pick the seventh game of the '65 Series, when after winning game five with a four-hit shutout, Koufax came back on two days rest and pitched a three-hit shutout to finish off the Twins.

It's not that the game isn't interesting, but except for it being a perfect game, the points of interest don't have much to do with Koufax. The most interesting thing to me is that through six innings, Bob Hendley, the opposing pitcher, is also throwing a no-hitter. I didn't remember Hendley at all. He wasn't an awful pitcher, just a journeyman. In seven years in the show, he won 48 games, lost 50, with 25 complete games, 6 shut outs, and 522 strike outs. (By comparison, Koufax in the 1965 season alone won 26, lost 8, throwing 27 complete games, 8 shut outs, and 382 strike outs, but Koufax was as good as a pitcher could be.) Sadly for Hendley, even though he's also throwing a no-hitter, he's losing the game because he walked Lou Johnson in the fifth, who advanced to second on a sacrifice, then stole third, and scored when the catcher's throw to third sailed into left field. One run scored without even an official at bat! Ultimately, Hendley throws a one-hitter, probably the best game of his career. I feel for Hendley. You're not supposed to lose one-hitters.

The other interesting thing is that Koufax hadn't won a game in almost a month, since the middle of August. Two things had happened in the interim that Leavy postulates may have had an effect. First were the Watts riots, among the worst in US history, which occurred not all that far from Dodger Stadium, and had all the players on edge. The other was the incident in which Giants' pitcher Juan Marichal attacked Dodger's catcher John Roseboro at home plate with a baseball bat in a game that Koufax was pitching. Roseboro was Koufax's regular catcher throughout his best years, and they had developed the sort of rapport on the field where each knew what the other was going to do without even giving it a conscious thought. Roseboro missed some games following the brawl, and that probably threw Koufax of some. How much is hard to tell, because Roseboro didn't catch the perfect game, either. Jeff Torborg (the current Florida Marlins manager) did. (Note: there's a nice remembrance of John Roseboro here. Only Bill Dickey caught more Hall of Famers than Roseboro did.)

Anyhow, we're going to the seventh inning, and although both pitchers are pitching well, I'm pretty certain Sandy is going to win this one.
 
 
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