Saturday, June 4, 2022


June 4, 1962 was the first of seven starts (and one relief appearance!) by Sandy Koufax during the month that proved to be the defining moment in emergence of his "Left Arm of God" identity. 

The Quality Matrix (QMAX) diagram (at left) gives us the most dramatic visual confirmation of his rise to dominance: Koufax' control would improve the following year, in some part doubtless due to the strike zone change, but what is clear that this is the flashpoint for the achievement that propelled him into the Hall of Fame. Batters hit .122 against him during this month; his ERA was 1.23.

(Of the 153 months in which starting pitchers threw at least 50 IP and had an ERA of 1.25 or lower, Koufax' total of 73 strikeouts is still the highest sixty years later. His SO/9 ratio of 11.26 seems a bit prosaic in the post-modern age of "fan-o-rama," but keep in mind that present-day pitchers never even approach 40 IP in a month, much less 50--or nearly 60, as was the case for Koufax in June 1962. We'll investigate this area further at a later date...)

The final score of the game between the Dodgers and the Phillies doesn't quite reflect the utter dominance on display by Koufax on June 4 (which, oddly enough, is the exact day two years later when he would return to Philadelphia and throw a no-hitter against them). We've buried our lede per our blog entry title because it distracts from that dominance, but we'll get to it eventually, as the flukish, singular event it pinpoints is more human interest than any form of rigorous analysis.

Koufax' chances at a no-hitter on this day were dashed by the very first batter he faced--Tony Taylor, who singled to left on the very first pitch. But Taylor was quickly caught stealing, and the Dodgers got back-to-back homers from Wally Moon and Johnny Roseboro in the second to open up a 3-0 lead. Koufax then proceeded to allow no more hits all the way into the ninth inning, while striking out 11 Phillies along the way. 

At this point, 26-year old rookie outfielder Jacke Davis enters the picture. Davis was a slightly built (5'11", 160 lbs) lesser prospect who'd put together a solid year at the Phillies top farm team (Buffalo) in 1961, though he was seriously overshadowed by the year turned in by Ted Savage. He'd made the big club as a spare outfielder in '62, and had been used mostly as a platoon player against lefties with middling success thus far (.289 BA). Phils manager Gene Mauch did not start him against Koufax on this day, nor had he done so nine days earlier when Philadelphia had played the Dodgers in Los Angeles: Davis did face Koufax on that day as a pinch-hitter--and was one of his 16 strikeout victims.

So, now it's June 4th, it's the ninth inning, the Dodgers have a comfortable 6-0 lead; but there have been some tiny cracks in Sandy's dominance in the inning prior to Davis' second pinch-hit appearance against him. After Tony Taylor became Koufax' 12th strikeout victim to open the inning, Johnny Callison singled--the first hit off Sandy since the first inning. Ted Savage hit a foul pop that was caught by first baseman Ron Fairly for the second out. Koufax then had a lapse of control, walking Roy Sievers to put men on first and second. 

Up comes Davis. He swings and misses at Sandy's first delivery. But Koufax is high with the next two pitches, and digs at the mound with his cleats. The rookie flails at Sandy's curve ball for strike two. Koufax goes with the heater with the next pitch...

...and Davis launches a long fly to left-center that Willie Davis starts toward laterally, not initially sensing how the ball is carrying--and then he backpedal frantically toward the fence, trying to outrun the ball, which is still carrying, carrying...Willie leaps at the left-center field wall, but the ball sails just over his glove and into the first row of seats for a home run.

Davis seems as stunned as everyone by the turn of events, and he has a wide-eyed look as he travels the bases. Sievers rubs him on the top of his cap as he crosses home plate. Koufax looks a bit glazed, but snaps to attention when he hears some words shouted at him by catcher Roseboro. He nods, takes one look back toward left-center, and then strikes out Tony Gonzalez looking--on a curve ball.

It was Jacke Davis' first--and only--major league home run. After hitting it, something seemed to happen to him. He stopped hitting altogether. He went 2-for-29 after his homer off Koufax, in increasingly infrequent appearances. He did start against Sandy on July 4th in Los Angeles--and went 0-for-4. On July 20th, now hitting just .213, Davis was sent back to Buffalo. He never returned to the majors: his hitting fell apart even at AAA in 1963-64, with sub-.200 batting averages., and he was a "civilian" again in '65.

But as we intimated in our teaser title, if you are only going to hit one homer in the major leagues, it might as well be against Sandy Koufax. Davis died last year at the age of 85: one can imagine that over the years, he had many, many conversations about his singular achievement. (Final score: Dodgers 6, Phillies 3.)

[NOTE: Giants were off on 6/4. SEASONAL RECORDS: SFG 39-15, LAD 37-17


SPEAKING of fluky occurrences, we can't resist sharing the first three days of June 2022's hitting results, which take the ongoing disparities between the two leagues and blow them up into an astonishing fireball. So far, the NL is hitting .258/.331/.444, is averaging 5.4 runs/game, and has a HR/G ratio of 1.47. The AL, by contrast, is hitting .238/.309/.397, is averaging 4.2 runs/game,  and has a HR/G ratio of .105. 

Some of this, of course, is due to the fact that the NL has Coors Field, and the weather is warming up; so on the days when games are played in Denver, NL offensive totals generally get a sizable boost. Even with the shocking fact that the Braves and Rockies played a low-scoring game at Coors last night (Braves won 3-1), there have been four games at Coors Field in June already (there was a doubleheader on June 1st), and the run scoring has been prodigious even with last night's anomaly: a total of 63 runs, for an average of 7.9 runs per team per game. 

So, in the NL at least, June is indeed busting out all over. Between Coors, the baseball, warming weather, the imponderable factor of the various "humidors," and who knows what else, the "chicks" (and the apparatchiks, too, no doubt...) are digging the long ball now more than ever. 

May the saints--and the agonizingly slow-moving long arm of the law--preserve us...