Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Sandy Koufax's First Record-Breaking Night
He was a wild fireballing lefty that simply hadn’t been given much of a chance to pitch. By late August of 1959, Sandy Koufax had a lifetime record of 26-24 and an ERA with over 4.00. Walt Alston had mishandled Koufax's development and never consistently placed him in the the starting rotation. So frustrated was Koufax with his career development that at the
conclusion of the next season, he dumped his spikes and uniform in the trash, deciding that he was through with baseball.
It was 52 years ago, August 31, 1959, that Sandy Koufax entered the record books with the most strikeouts ever recorded in a National League game. The record was 18 strikeouts at the time. There are those that think that this was the game that put Sandy Koufax on the map. Yes, he had his struggles for a time after this game, but the league took notice that Koufax was a force to be reckoned with.
This game was a crucial one in the midst of a pennant race with the Dodgers entering it being 2 games behind the first place Giants. Though Koufax pitched a masterpiece and broke Dizzy Dean’s National League record, it wasn’t until the bottom of the ninth that Wally Moon sealed the victory with a 3-run Moon shot hit over the left field screen for the victory in the bottom of the ninth.
The Los Angeles Times reports that attendance in the Coliseum this Monday evening was near 83,000. Baseball reference reports that attendance was 60,194. Interestingly the Saturday and Sunday crowds for the first two games of that series are reported as 66,068 and 44,391. These were the largest crowds of the year, even surpassing the final playoff game against Milwaukee when the Dodgers finished the year tied for first. I am assuming that this may have been the labor day weekend, though that is really a guess on my part. Why else would a Monday night game be the third highest gate count of the year?
It could have been even more historic, perhaps the most strikeouts ever recorded in a Major League game.
Koufax, not known for his abilities with the bat, got a base hit in a 2-2 game to help his cause in the bottom of the ninth, meaning that Alston was going to let him continue to pitch beyond the ninth inning. Who knows how many more strikeouts he would have had if the game had gone into extra innings? He struck out the side in the top of the ninth and seven of the last eight outs he recorded were strikeouts.
L.A. Times archives reported the following about that historic August night:
'Sandy Koufax stuck out 18 to break the national league record and tie the Major League record, leading the Dodgers past the Giants in front of nearly 83,000 fans last night at the Coliseum.
And he almost was overshadowed.
Wally Moon hit a three-run homer in the ninth to provide the difference in the 5-2 victory. Koufax and Jim Gilliam singled to set up the Moon shot.
As for Koufax, he said “the Giants must have been anxious. I never saw so many bad pitches swung at in one game.”
The victory pulled the Dodgers within one game of the first-place Giants."
I would be interested in hearing any recollections of fans from that time of this game, one that occurred two years before my birth. It must have been an exciting time, knowing that Koufax had such a high ceiling and promise. How could the kid not be noticed following such a performance? Erratic as Sandy was, 18 Ks against that fine Giant team in the midst of a pennant race was quite a feat. In Koufax's previous start, he fanned another 13 Phillies, making his two game strikeout total 31 k's, a record for the most batters struck out over a two game span.
The current Dodger run of 8 out of 9 wins and a 5-1 homestand is definitely a great thing to see. The downside is as they climb in the standings, their draft pick ranking goes higher and higher. The offense is clicking though. Let's hope they continue it on the road in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Washington, and San Francisco. That's a tough road trip and a lot of miles to be logged. Not to mention, another 18 straight days without a day off. The Dodgers are currently 6 games into a 24 day span in which they don't have a day off.
Dana Eveland gets the start in Pittsburgh tomorrow. It's a well deserved reward for Eveland, who has had a fine year in Albuquerque.