Fifty years ago, Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax were scheduled to start against one another in a September showdown of two of the premier pitchers of the era.
The matchup never materialized.
Gibson broke his leg before the game and Koufax was knocked out without even completing an inning.
The unlikely standout that night: Cardinals right fielder Charlie James.
On Sept. 21, 1962, at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium I, Koufax was making his first start in more than two months. The Dodgers left-hander had been sidelined because of an injured pitching hand. News reports at the time called it a circulatory problem in the index finger of his left hand. The injury was much more serious _ a crushed artery in the palm of his hand, according to Jane Leavy in her book “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” (2003, Perennial).
Though, Leavy reported, the hand injury had bothered Koufax since April (by July, the tissue was close to gangrene, she wrote), he entered the September start against St. Louis with a 14-5 record and 2.15 ERA.
Gibson was 15-13 with a 2.85 ERA. The Cardinals right-hander had lost his last four consecutive decisions and was looking to finish on a high note in his final three starts of the 1962 season, beginning with this Friday night game against the Dodgers.
This was to have been the fourth time Gibson started against Koufax in their careers. Koufax had won two of the previous three matchups, both by 1-0 scores.
The first trouble occurred before the game even started.
Wearing new spikes, Gibson participated in batting practice. Turning away sharply from a pitch, his spikes caught in the ground and he toppled over in pain, The Sporting News reported. Gibson had fractured a bone above his right ankle and his leg was placed in a cast.
Gibson was replaced by Curt Simmons, a left-hander who had made just one start since late August.
Koufax, meanwhile, was making his first appearance since a one-inning start July 17 at Cincinnati.
Relying mostly on fastballs against the Cardinals, Koufax walked the first two batters, second baseman Julian Javier and center field Curt Flood.
Then, left fielder Stan Musial struck out looking and third baseman Ken Boyer flied out to left. It appeared perhaps Koufax had found his groove. But he walked first baseman Bill White, loading the bases.
That brought to the plate James, a right-handed batter with a .277 average. James was having a rough September. He hadn’t hit a home run or driven in a run all month.
James worked the count to 2-and-2. Koufax was a strike away from getting out of the jam. The next delivery was high and away. James swung and launched an opposite-field shot that landed on the pavilion roof for a grand slam.
(In a six-year big-league career, James hit 29 home runs. His only grand slam was the one off Koufax.)
Koufax walked the next batter, catcher Gene Oliver, and was relieved by Ed Roebuck.
“If he had got out of that first inning,” Dodgers manager Walter Alston said to The Sporting News about Koufax, “no telling how long he might have gone.”
Asked whether the left index finger still bothered him, Koufax replied, “My finger doesn’t feel 100 percent … but it does feel as good as it did the two or three games before I went under the doctor’s care.”
The Cardinals won, 11-2. Boxscore
Two years later, April 22, 1964, James hit another first-inning home run off Koufax, a three-run shot in a 7-6 Cardinals victory. Boxscore
In a 12-year big-league career, Koufax yielded 204 home runs, including six grand slams. James, Ernie Banks of the Cubs and Frank Bolling of the Braves are the only players who hit two or more homers with at least two runners on base against Koufax.