COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Few batters had much success against the incomparable Sandy Koufax.
And 48 years ago this week – at least for one inning – the Cincinnati Reds had no success at all.
The Dodgers’ fireballing left-hander etched his name into the record books yet another time on April 18, 1964, when he became the first National League pitcher to strike out the side on nine pitches twice in his career. Koufax remains the only National Leaguer to accomplish this feat more than once, and one of just three other pitchers – including Lefty Grove and Nolan Ryan – to record a perfect inning twice.
“You name a better left-hander in the history of baseball,” said Hall of Fame outfielder Harry Hooper said of Koufax, “and I’ll eat my hat.”
By 1964, Koufax was in the midst of what may be the greatest five-year stretch of any pitcher in history. He had become just the 11th pitcher in big league annuals to strike out the side on nine pitches when he blanked the Mets on June 30, 1962. Less than two years later, he did it again – this time fanning the Reds’ Leo Cardenas, Johnny Edwards and Jim Maloney on nine offerings in the top of the third inning at Dodger Stadium.
Only Grove had accomplished the feat twice before, notching two perfect innings for the Athletics on Aug. 23 and Sept. 27 of 1928. Since Koufax, only Ryan – on April 19, 1968 for the Mets and on July 9, 1972 for the Angels – has reached that perfect level twice.
“I became a good pitcher,” Koufax said, “when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it.”Koufax lost to the Reds 3-0 in that 1964 game despite allowing only three hits. It was one of only five losses that season for Koufax, who won 19 games and led the NL with a 1.74 earned-run average.
But in trying to make batters hit his pitches, Koufax became unhittable. By the time an arthritic elbow ended his career after the 1966 season, Koufax had posted a 165-87 record with a 2.76 ERA. He won three Cy Young Awards and the 1963 NL Most Valuable Player Award, and became the youngest player ever elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
Entering the 2012 season, 43 pitchers have recorded 46 perfect innings in major league history – with Grove, Koufax and Ryan each hitting the mark twice. All three are enshrined in Cooperstown.
“Hitting against Sandy Koufax,” said Hall of Fame slugger Willie Stargell, “is like drinking coffee with a fork.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum