1968 will forever be remembered as the “Year of the Pitcher”. Denny McClain of the Tigers won 31 games, the last pitcher to win 30 in a single season. Bob Gibson of the Cardinals pitched to a record low 1.12 ERA; Cleveland’s Luis Tiant led the AL with a 1.60 ERA. San Francisco’s Juan Marichal was 26-9. On and on. Only one batter in the American League, Carl Yastrzemski, batted over ,300….just barely at .301.
And 50 years ago this month, slugger Rocky Colavito, called on in relief, recorded a victory in his final season with the Yankees. Yep, the Rock got the win.
Colavito, a superb outfielder with a strong right arm, hit .374 home runs in a 14-year career, including 42 to lead the AL in 1959.
On August 25, 1968, Colavito pitched 2.2 scoreless innings against Detroit, and wound up with a victory when the Yankees rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5. Colavito came on in relief in the fourth inning, and retired two batters to strand a couple of runners.
The Yankees got a run back in the fourth, and then struck with two outs in the sixth. Bill Robinson hit a three-run homer followed by a Bobby Cox solo blast that tied the score at 5-5. Colavito then walked and scored what proved to be the winning run on a Jake Gibbs single. Lindy McDaniel finished off the Tigers in the ninth to earn the save.
In the second game, Colavito homered against Mickey Lolich to spark another Yankee comeback and a 5-4 win for a doubleheader sweep.
The Tigers were good enough to win the World Series in 1968, but had a tough August weekend in the Bronx. In a Friday twi-night doubleheader (I was there), the Yankees won the opener 2-1, and then the two teams battled to a 3-3, 19 inning tie ended with curfew, with McDaniel pitching seven perfect innings in relief. On Saturday, the Yankees beat McClain 2-1 behind Mel Stottlemyre.
According to the rules of the time, the Friday game counted as a tie but had to be played again as part of the Sunday doubleheader where Colavito made history.
The Yankees played yet another doubleheader on Monday and shortstop Gene Michael pitched three innings in a 10-2 loss to California. The Stick gave up five runs to the Angels, but none of them were earned. On Tuesday the Yankees again split with the Angels. It was the Yanks fourth doubleheader in five days, including the 19-inning tie.
Rocky Colavito had an outstanding career. He hit four home runs in a game in Baltimore in 1959. Before the 1960 season, Colavito was traded to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn. For the only time in baseball history, a HR champ was traded for a batting champion. There was outcry in Cleveland following the deal.
Rocky Colavito also pitched three scoreless innings in a 1959 mound appearance with Cleveland. His lifetime ERA is 0.00. You can’t do better than that.
Sandy Koufax pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game in 1965. But his mound opponent that night, little-known Bob Hendley, was almost perfect too.
On a cool September night in Los Angeles almost 45 years ago, the Dodgers and the Cubs played a nearly perfect game, closer to perfect than any other game in major league history.
Sandy Koufax got the headlines that September 9 as he fashioned a perfect game, striking out 14 Cubs in the fourth and final no-hitter of his legendary Dodgers’ career.
But Koufax’s opponent, Bob Hendley, a journeyman left-hander, picked that night to pitch the game of his life, nearly matching the great Koufax. The 26-year-old Hendley allowed just one hit and a single walk, yet lost 1-0.
The game, played in 103 minutes, set several records, among them the fewest hits for both teams (1) and fewest total baserunners (2); the next lowest total is four. Both pitchers had no-hitters intact until the seventh inning. The only run the Dodgers scored was unearned.
The Dodgers managed to score that run in the fifth inning when outfielder Lou Johnson walked, was sacrificed to second, stole third and continued home on a throwing error by Cubs catcher Chris Krug. Johnson had the only hit of the game, a bloop double over the head of Cubs first baseman Ernie Banks with two out in the seventh.
Koufax Breaks Feller’s Record
Koufax was magnificent that night, becoming just the sixth pitcher in the modern era to throw a perfect game. It was Koufax’s fourth no-hitter, breaking Bob Feller’s record of three (later broken by Nolan Ryan, in 1981, who finished with seven). Koufax’s 14 K’s are the most ever in a perfect game.
Koufax struck out the final six batters he faced to finish off the perfect game with panache. He fanned pinch hitter Harvey Kuenn on a 2-2 pitch for the final out of the game. The ninth inning call of that game by Dodger announcer Vin Scully is considered to be one a classic example of play-by-play broadcasting. Click here to listen for yourself.
Kuenn, a former American League batting champion who hit .303 lifetime with more than 2,000 hits, also made the last out of Koufax’ second career no-hitter, against Juan Marichal, Willie Mays and the San Francisco Giants on May 11, 1963. Kuenn bounced out Koufax to first for the final out of that game.
Hendley’s career was not exactly Koufaxian. Over seven years with the Braves, Giants, Cubs and Mets, Hendley never won more than 11 games in a season, finishing with a 48 wins in 100 career decisions. Earlier in the 1965 season, he was traded from the Giants to the Cubs with Ed Bailey and Harvey Kuenn for Dick Bertell and Len Gabrielson. Hendley wound up 4-4 that year with a 5.96 ERA.
Five days after the perfect game, a Koufax-Hendley rematch took place at Wrigley Field. This time, Hendley defeated Koufax, 2-1 with a complete game four-hitter. Koufax allowed five hits in six innings, including a two-run homer to Billy Williams in the sixth.
To date, Koufax’s perfect game is the last no-hitter to be pitched against the Cubs. They have gone the longest of all MLB teams since a no-hitter was last pitched against them