Oct

10

 We're getting through the first week of October and just starting the post-season. But it wasn't always like that. The World Series was called the October Classic. These days, though, it's getting close to being the November Classic. But it wasn't always like that. These days, one has pitchers who go maybe 100 pitches ("oops, have to make a pitching change"). But it wasn't always like that.

Fifty years ago, on October 6, 1966, in game 2 of the October Classic, the Orioles were playing in Los Angeles against the Dodgers. The match up was Jimmy Palmer, just days away from his 21st birthday, vs Sandy Koufax, the Dodger ace pitcher. Koufax had had a series of seasons pitching that can perhaps best be described as incredible. Not only did he dominate the NL (if not all of baseball—and you had Whitey Ford and Bob Gibson playing at the time) with multiple Triple Crowns, he was also awarded not only the Cy Young but was also the MVP.

Back in 1965, Koufax had established a different reputation—he refused to pitch game 1 of the Series against the Twins (or Twinkies, if you prefer) because it was Yom Kippur. Across America, Jewish mothers who thought a squeeze play was something you did with an orange and that a hit and run was a type of car accident came to know about Sandy Koufax.

Back to 1966. It was Palmer vs Koufax. Palmer's first World Series game. Koufax's last. The Orioles had had just an OK first game, though they won it and I guess in the end that's all that mattered. But in the middle of game 1, the Birds' bullpen kicked into gear, and from the middle of that game through the rest of the Series, the Dodgers did not score a run. I think it still stands as a record. (Cal Ripken's wasn't the first baseball streak in Baltimore.)

Koufax had had another stunning season in 1966. 27 wins (he started 41—find someone with that kind of stamina today!). A 1.73 ERA. No surprise that he received his third Cy Young Award in 1966. (The story goes that in the 1963 World Series, NYY vs LAD, Yogi Berra (NYY catcher and the key to so many NYY pennants and World Series championships) and Maury Wills (Dodger shortstop) were watching Koufax warm up before the game. Berra said to Wills, "I understand how he won 25 games. What I don't understand is how he lost 5." To which Wills responded, "He didn't. We lost them for him." (1963 was Koufax's first CY Young Award, as well as MVP.)

Coming into that second game, it isn't hard to understand that Palmer may have been a bit intimidated. If so, he didn't show it. The game was a pitchers' duel through the 4th. In the 5th, though, Koufax's defense failed him (shades of Maury Wills from three years before). In that inning, the Orioles scored three times, with Dodger center fielder Willie Davis committing three error—in that inning! (The next day, in Baltimore, Davis was spoken of as the 10th Oriole.) Those runs would be all the Orioles needed. Palmer shut the door, becoming the youngest pitcher to throw a complete game shutout in the Series.

Koufax was pulled after the 6th inning, having given up an additional run. Davey Johnson, the O's second baseman, got the last hit off of Koufax. Andy Etchebarren, the O's catcher, was the last player to ever face Koufax. After the Dodgers lost the Series, Koufax hung up his cleats in an effort not to further injure his left elbow, already arthritic. Thirty years old and retired. Six years later, Koufax would be inducted in the Hall of Fame—the youngest such player, and I think either the least or second least number of wins for a pitcher. The induction, though, surprised no one. It had been well earned.

As for Palmer, over the years when he was announcing on radio/tv, he would occasionally talk about that game, one inning at a time, one inning per game announced (at most), ball by ball.

50 years ago today—Sandy Koufax's last game. Back from when pitchers weren't coddled, they started 40 games in a season, and they pitched complete games.


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