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1963 World Series: Sandy Koufax’s record 15 strikeouts topple Yankees

1963 World Series - Game 1: Los Angeles Dodgers V New York Yankees
Pitcher Sandy Koufax #32 and catcher John Roseboro #8 of the Los Angeles Dodgers hold up 15 fingers after Koufax set a new World Series record during Game 1 of the 1963 World Series at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, October 2, 1963. Koufax, the 28-year-old southpaw, fanned 15 Yankee batters to lead his team to a 5-2 victory. Carl Erskine held the previous record of 14 strikeouts, made October 2, 1953.
Photo by TPLP/Getty Images

The Dodgers and Yankees met seven times in the World Series when the two teams played 16 miles apart in New York, including six times in a 10-year span during the ‘Boys of Summer’ days.

In 1963, with the Dodgers in their sixth season all the way across the country in Los Angeles, the two teams are back in the World Series once again. While the mighty Yankees made the rivalry more like a hammer and nail, winning six of those seven previous Fall Classic matchups, this year the Dodgers have Sandy Koufax and the Yankees don’t.

In Game 1 of the 1963 World Series at Yankee Stadium, Koufax set a record with 15 strikeouts in the Dodgers’ 5-2 win.

“Everything I read about him was true, and everything they told us about him also was true,” said Mickey Mantle, who struck out twice and walked in Game 1, to the Associated Press. “What a pitcher!”

Koufax broke the record of his former teammate Carl Erskine, who fanned 14 in Game 3 of the 1953 World Series, also against the Yankees, and exactly 10 years before Koufax’s record-setter.

“I’m delighted that Sandy has kept it in the Dodger family, and I think he’s the man who deserves to have it,” Erskine told Tom Moriarty of United Press International. “He’s just the greatest strikeout pitcher of them all, isn’t he?”

Koufax struck out the first five he faced in the game and retired his first 14 batters until Elston Howard singled with two outs in the fifth. Joe Pepitone also singled, and Clete Boyer’s infield single loaded the bases, but Koufax fanned Hector Lopez to end the threat for his 11th strikeout of the game at that point.

The Dodgers already led 5-0 by this point, thanks to a three-run home run by catcher John Roseboro off Whitey Ford in the second inning and a two-run single by former Yankees first baseman Moose Skowron in the third.

The 6’7 Frank Howard started the second-inning rally with a double to left field.

Ford’s former teammate Ryne Duren was watching the game on television, and said to John Hall in the Los Angeles Times, “Ford seemed to get rattled after he took his first look at Frank Howard. The big guy’s size overwhelmed him. I think that’s exactly what happened.”

Game 1 was Ford’s 20th World Series start, nine more than any other pitcher to this point, and his 10 wins in the Fall Classic are three more than anyone else. But this was the fourth time the Dodgers have faced Ford in a Game 1, and they’ve won three of those games, scoring 18 runs (16 earned) against the left-hander in 17 innings.

In those previous three World Series matchups, Ford was great in his next start, allowing a combined five runs (four earned) in 25 innings, all Yankees wins.

Koufax, whose 11 shutouts during the regular season were the most by a major league pitcher since 1916, didn’t allow a run until the eighth inning of Game 1. Tony Kubek reached on an infield single with one out, then one out later left fielder Tom Tresh homered to left.

Tresh told the New York Times after the game, “He’s a great pitcher ... as good as anybody in our league. But now that we’ve had a chance to get a look at him we’ll get to him easier next time.”

Koufax impressed during the 1959 World Series, though he was much further down the Dodgers pitching depth chart then. He pitched two innings of scoreless relief in Game 1’s blowout loss to the White Sox, and limited Chicago to one run in seven innings in a Game 5 start, but suffered the tough-luck 1-0 loss in what could have been the championship clincher.

But in Game 1 in 1963, Koufax was second to none, as he was during the regular season when he led the majors in ERA (1.88), wins (25), and strikeouts (306), the latter the first 300-strikeout season in National League history.

He struck out pinch-hitter Harry Bright to end the game, and break Erskine’s strikeout record.

That Koufax’s 15-strikeout performance isn’t definitively his best career game in the World Series is a testament to his greatness.

Previous 1963 reviews: Snider to Mets | Nate Oliver | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | All-Star Game | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Ed Roebuck | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20 | Week 21 | Week 22 | Week 23 | Week 24 | Week 25

Please ignore the typo in the title of the MLB video above, mislabeling as 1966 instead of 1963

Game 1 particulars

Home runs: John Roseboro; Tom Tresh

WP — Sandy Koufax: 9 IP, 6 hits, 2 runs, 3 walks, 15 strikeouts

LP — Whitey Ford: 5 IP, 8 hits, 5 runs, 2 walks, 4 strikeouts

Up next

Nearly eight years to the day after winning Game 7 in Yankee Stadium to deliver Brooklyn’s first championship, left-hander Johnny Podres gets the start in Game 2 against Yankees rookie southpaw Al Downing.