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Remembering Sandy Koufax's perfect game, 50 years later

Sandy Koufax was mobbed by his teammates after pitching a perfect game against the Cubs on Sept. 9, 1965.
Sandy Koufax was mobbed by his teammates after pitching a perfect game against the Cubs on Sept. 9, 1965.
Photo: Bruce Bennett | Getty Images

"There are 29,000 people in the ballpark, and a million butterflies."

Those were the words of Vin Scully, in the ninth inning on Sept. 9, 1965, calling the final minutes of Sandy Koufax's perfect game, a 1-0 Dodgers win over the Cubs at Dodger Stadium in arguably the best pitching duel in history.

That was 50 years ago today.

If you have heard Scully's call of the perfect game, there are undoubtedly phrases at details stuck in your head.

The last out was at 9:46 p.m.

"Two and two to Harvey Keunn..."

Koufax struck out the final six batters of the game, and finished with 14 strikeouts on the night. He wold set a major league record that season with 382 strikeouts, including a whopping 208 at home.

But Koufax needed to be perfect on that night, 50 years ago today, because Cubs starter Bob Hendley was matching zeroes with Koufax. Hendley allowed just one hit on the night, a two-out bloop double behind first base by Lou Johnson in the seventh inning, a hit that didn't even factor in to the Dodgers' lone run.

Hendley retired the first 12 batters of the game, but walked Johnson to open the fifth inning. A sacrifice by Ron Fairly moved Johnson to second base with one out, then Johnson stole third base, and when catcher Chris Krug's throw went into left field, Johnson scored.

It was the fourth straight season Koufax threw a no-hitter, but it was only the beginning of one of the greatest individual pitching runs in baseball history.

Though in his next start, five days later, Koufax had the audacity to allow two runs, one earned, in six innings, this time at Wrigley Field, with Hendley getting the win with another complete game, allowing just one run.

Hendley, 26, entered the game on Sept. 9 with an 8.22 ERA on the season. Two starts against the Dodgers later, it was down to 6.14, and would end at 5.96 that season.

But back to Koufax. With the perfect game, the Dodgers were tied with the Reds, a half-game behind the Giants in the National League. But by Sept. 15, the Dodgers found themselves in third place, 4½ games out with 16 games left to play.

The Dodgers went 15-1 down the stretch, allowing an absurd 17 runs in their final 16 games, to win the pennant by two games.

Koufax was the catalyst.

Starting with the perfect game, Koufax had five complete games and four shutouts in his final seven starts, putting up a 1.17 ERA in 54 innings, with 64 strikeouts and nine walks.

He pitched one shutout on two days rest, he pitched another four days after a previous start but with a save mixed in between. Koufax also pitched a complete game on two days rest, allowing one run to Milwaukee on Oct. 2 to clinch the pennant in the penultimate game of the regular season.

But it didn't end there.

Koufax famously did not pitch in Game 1 of the World Series against the Twins because it fell on Yom Kippur, then struck out nine in Game 2 but allowed two runs, one earned, in six innings and got stuck with the loss.

He rebounded with a shutout in Game 5, then on two days rest again, Koufax pitched another shutout in Game 7, striking out 10 in each of those wins.

All told, from Sept. 9 through the end of the 1965 World Series, Koufax made 10 starts and one relief appearance in 36 days, pitching 78 innings. He put up a 0.92 ERA, allowing 10 total runs (eight earned) on 39 hits, going 7-2 with one save, and 93 strikeouts against just 14 walks.

Opposing batters hit just .148/.191/.208 against Koufax during that stretch.

And it all began 50 years ago today with his perfect game.