By Jon Weisman
Sandy Koufax wasn’t much of a hitter in his career, but in July 1965, he arguably had the greatest clutch at-bat by a starting pitcher in Los Angeles Dodger history.
That month, Koufax was in the midst of an 8-for-18 stretch with a double and five walks, for a .565 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage.
Before a July 20 game against the Astros, Koufax — a career .097 hitter — dismissed his hot streak as luck to Frank Finch of the Times.
“I hit two balls on the fists and two on the end of the bat and all four of them fell in for base hits,” Koufax said.
Nevertheless, after Jim Lefebvre and Jim Gilliam walked with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 2-2 tie against the Astros, Dodger manager Walter Alston had Koufax, batting .217 at the time, come up to the plate.
In the words of Finch, Koufax “kissed Ron Taylor’s first pitch for a solid single between shortstop and third” to win the game. It remains the only time in Los Angeles Dodger history that a starting pitcher has delivered a walkoff hit. (Note: This does not include pitchers being used as pinch-hitters, such as Tim Leary in 1988.)
Amazingly, the only other Dodger starting pitcher with a walkoff hit, Brooklyn’s Whit Wyatt, did it twice in the same year.
Koufax’s all-around effort gave the Dodgers a 3 1/2-game lead in the National League, their largest advantage since June 21. It was also the 11th straight win for Koufax (17-3), a three-hit, 10-strikeout complete game in which he retired the last 12 Astros.
Of course, when it came to the No. 9 spot in the batting order, Koufax had to be at his absolute best to one-up Don Drysdale. The day before Koufax’s heroics, Drysdale went 2 for 4 with a double in an 8-3 victory over Houston. And the day after, Drysdale had a pinch-hit RBI single in a 6-4 loss to the Braves. (To hammer the point home about Drysdale’s hitting ability, the Dodgers had Willie Crawford available off the bench, but saved him to pinch-run after Drysdale reached base.)
In his next game, Drysdale homered — his fifth of the season — to raise his OPS for the year at that point to .959.
Hitting prowess by Dodger pitchers extended to an Old-Timers Game played between alumni of the Dodgers and Giants at Shea Stadium on July 24, 1965. Bobby Thomson — go figure — hit a home run off Van Lingle Mungo to give the Giants an early 2-0 lead. But in the final inning, Don Newcombe knocked a two-run double to tie the game, before scoring on Eddie Stanky’s go-ahead double in a 4-2 Dodger victory.