“No-hit” vs. the No-hit king

In late 1965, Sandy Koufax made history in two different ways in a game against the Cubs. First, he threw a perfect game, which was only the eighth in the history of baseball to that point. But he also became the first pitcher to throw four no-hitters in his career. And, just to add a side note, the Cubs have played 46 seasons since then without being no-hit again. [This is no longer true, as The Cubs were no-hit by Cole Hamels in Wrigley Field on July 25, 2015. But they appear to have bounced back from it rather nicely.–RH] So it was clearly a special game in Los Angeles that day. A Lefty’s Legacy by Jane Leavy weaves the story of that game throughout Koufax’s life story, and is well worth a read to learn more about Koufax.

A few weeks after this game, the World Series was set to begin, and Koufax, as the ace of the Dodgers staff, was expected to take the mound for Game one. He refused, because the game was being played on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Don Drysdale pitched instead, and was roughed up by the Twins that day. But it all turned out fine in the end, as the Dodgers beat the Twins in seven games.

The next season was a different story, as far as Yom Kippur was concerned. It fell during the closing days of the regular season, while the Dodgers were on a road trip to Chicago. Koufax again refused to pitch on Yom Kippur, and pushed back his start to the next day. But his pitching opponent, Ken Holtzman, had done the same thing.

The next day–Sunday, September 25, 1966–saw a unique, and perhaps unprecedented, pitching matchup for the Cubs’ final home game of the season. Two Jewish left-handers were facing each other, one at the top of his game, and the other just beginning his career. What the game lacked in postseason drama–the Cubs were dead last in the National League–it made up for with pitching prowess on both sides.

The Cubs struck first, scoring two runs in the first inning. Holtzman had clearly brought his “A” game, allowing only one walk to the Dodgers–and no hits–through eight innings. The walk he had surrendered was erased on a double play, and so Holtzman had faced the minimum number of batters through eight innings. As he went out to the mound for the ninth inning, Holtzman (who would later throw two no-hitters in his career, earning him the nickname “No-hit” Holtzman) was threatening to give the great Koufax a dose of his own medicine.

Koufax had surrendered only four hits in the game, but found himself on the wrong end of a 2-0 score. The Dodgers’ Dick Schofield–a Springfield, Illinois native, by the way–led off the ninth with a single to center, thus ending Holtzman’s no-hit bid.

In modern baseball, the end of the no-hitter would mean that Holtzman would come out of the game in favor of the ninth-inning closer. But Holtzman stayed in the game, and gave up a walk and another single. In just a few pitches, Holtzman had lost the no-hitter and the shutout, and he was now in danger of losing the lead and possibly the game. A line drive by Willie Davis was caught by Cubs’ second baseman Glenn Beckert, who then turned it into an unassisted double play and preserved the victory.

Koufax retired after the 1966 World Series, but Holtzman’s career lasted until 1979. He retired with 174 wins, which made him the winningest Jewish pitcher in history. Koufax is second on the list, with 165 wins. Jason Marquis has a chance of passing Koufax and Holtzman (he has 104 wins now), but that will be a few seasons away, if it happens at all. [Marquis now has 124 career wins and, at the age of 37, appears to have little chance of catching up to Koufax.–RH]

Was this the greatest game ever played? No, but it was unique in its own way, and telling stories like this are the reason that I write this blog.

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