Last summer I read a great book about Dodgers Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax by Jane Leavy. In the book she detailed just how bad Koufax was hurting near the end of his career. She really went into detail about the 1965 season, and how much pain he must have been in every time he took the hill. The Dodgers tried to protect him by going to a five man rotation. Of course today this seems normal. After throwing a complete game in Spring Training his arm turned black and swelled up. He was told that he would be lucky to pitch once a week, and that he would eventually loose the use of his arm. Newspapers were predicting the demise of Sandy. Of course he went on to throw 335 innings and strike out a record 382 men. He also led the league in wins and ERA. He also threw a perfect game in September. I guess pain is what you make it. When asked about throwing in pain Koufax just said “my heroism is greatly overstated.” With this in mind it makes it even more improbable that Koufax was pitching in game seven against the Twins. He sat out game one because it fell on Yom Kippur. He the pitched game two, and lost to Jim Kaat. With the series tied at two he pitched a complete game shutout in game 5. With his arm troubles many would have predicted that this was the last time Koufax would pitch in 1965. The Dodgers had another great arm on full rest in Don Drysdale so he would probably get the ball. Manager Walter Alston rolled the dice though and put Koufax on the mound on only two days rest.
What followed during the game was nothing short of a miracle. Today if Koufax had the same arm issues he would have had Tommy John surgery to fix the problem. Tommy was just starting his White Sox career though, and the historic surgery would not occur for almost ten years. Sandy had to use heat and ice to try and keep the swelling down.
I watched this game as part of the Baseball’s Best series on MLB.com. As I have said before $6.95 gets you all the games you can watch for a year. The first thing I noticed as they panned the crowd was the fact that all the fans were dressed up for the game. This is something that you just don’t see anymore even in the World Series. The fans had on nice suits and hats. Vin Scully was also doing the play by play for some of the innings. When I was younger I was not a big fan of him, but over the years I have come to enjoy listening to him. I will watch a Dodger games late at night just to hear the old style of broadcasting. Back then both teams announcers took turns calling the game so when Scully was not on the mike Twins broadcaster Ray Scott was.
When the first batter Maury Wills stepped up to the plate the first thing that I noticed was his helmet. After watching so many games today in the age of the big helmet with the ear flap his helmet looked very small. It really would probably only protect the user from a direct hit on top. Safety has definitely changed over the years. After four hitters the first half inning was over, and the next surprise happened. For some reason they left the commercials in for the older broadcasts. This makes the games take longer to watch, but it was really something to see how the times have changed.
After the commercial break they came back with Sandy on the mound. Part of the draw to watch this game was to see him pitch against Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva. In the bottom of the first he faced both of these Hall of Fame hitters, and walked them both. They would come up a combined six times the rest of the game, and only reach base once more.
The Dodgers scored both of their runs in the fourth inning. Lew Johnson led off the inning with a home run to left field that hit the foul pole. The next batter Ron Fairly hit a double, and scored when Wes Parker knocked him in with a single. The two runs all occurred on three straight pitches.
That would be all the scoring that Koufax would need. He had trouble getting his curveball over the plate as evidenced in the early walks to Killebrew and Oliva. He gave up on it after the second, and pitched the rest of the game with just his fastball. It was enough as he only gave up three hits helping his team to the 2-0 win, and the World Series Crown. He struck out ten during his nine innings included the final two batters of the game. It was a great pitching performance, but was made even greater by the fact that his arm was junk at the time. What would a healthy Koufax have done? Sandy got into trouble in the fifth leading to Don Drysdale getting up, but he never really hit a bump after that. After pitching his second shutout in the series Sandy was awarded the World Series MVP. This really was a great game that allowed me to watch a few Hall of Famers play. I knew going in what Koufax would do, but it was still fun to watch him do it.
Koufax was told before the 1966 season that it was time to retire by his doctor. He was told that his arm could not hold up to another season on the mound. He ended up winning 27 games with a 1.73 ERA on the season. He also pitched again in the World Series, but this time his team did not win. He retired after the season because of his arm troubles. His number was retired by the Dodgers in 1972 which was the same season he was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. He only pitched 12 seasons, but he was dominant during that time.
Here are the scorecards from the game:
Next week I plan to look at the Pete Rose hit over 25 years ago that made him the all time hit king.