(Updated Aug. 9, 2016)
Curt Flood, a career .293 hitter but never known for his power, slugged two home runs against Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax. Both were special.
On April 26, 2013, Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran, the first two batters in the Cardinals’ order, hit consecutive home runs in the first inning against the Pirates’ Jonathan Sanchez. Boxscore They are the first pair to lead off a game for the Cardinals with home runs since Tony Womack and Reggie Sanders did it against the Rockies’ Denny Stark in April 2004, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Boxscore
Before that, the last pair of Cardinals who led off with back-to-back home runs in the first inning were Flood and Gene Freese _ against Koufax.
On Sunday, Aug. 17, 1958, the Cardinals faced the Dodgers in a doubleheader at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Koufax, who hadn’t yet developed into a consistent winner, was paired in Game 1 against Cardinals rookie Nelson Chittum, making his big-league debut. Koufax had a 9-5 record and 4.19 ERA.
Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson stacked five right-handed batters among the top six in his order against the left-handed Koufax. The Coliseum, the Dodgers’ home in their first season after moving from Brooklyn, enticed right-handed batters to pull pitches to a left field fence just 251 feet from home plate. A 42-foot screen had been erected atop the fence, but batters weren’t deterred.
Flood, in his first season with St. Louis, opened the game by hitting a home run over the left-field screen. Freese, an infielder acquired by the Cardinals from the Pirates in a June trade, followed with a homer to the same spot.
The Cardinals scored four in the first against Koufax. He was lifted with one out in the second. Koufax faced 10 batters, yielded four hits and two walks and took the loss in a game won by the Cardinals, 12-7.
In The Sporting News, Jack Herman wrote, “After going five straight games without coming close to a homer, Curt Flood and Gene Freese helped the Cards find the combination again at Los Angeles’ chummy left field fence in the Coliseum.”
Eight years later, Koufax was a dominant force, headed for his third Cy Young Award and fifth consecutive National League ERA title. He also was suffering from an arthritic left arm and, at 30, contemplating retirement.
At St. Louis on Sept. 29, 1966, in what would be his last appearance against the Cardinals, Koufax and Flood faced one another for the final time. It was epic.
Koufax entered the game with 294 strikeouts, needing six more to become the first big-league pitcher to achieve 300 in a season three times. In the fourth inning, Koufax got strikeout No. 300. The batter was Flood. St. Louis fans gave Koufax a standing ovation.
Koufax, who had struck out 306 in 1963 and 382 in 1965, surpassed the record of two 300-strikeout seasons he shared with Rube Waddell of the 1903-04 Athletics and Walter Johnson of the 1910 and ’12 Senators.
Seeking his 26th win of the season, Koufax and the Dodgers held a 2-0 lead in the seventh. Flood cut that in half, leading off the bottom of the inning with a home run.
It would be the last homer hit against Koufax, who would retire after the season. (Koufax yielded 204 home runs in 12 big-league seasons, plus two in the 1963 World Series.)
Still, Koufax was in control. In the ninth, he struck out the first two batters, Lou Brock and Jerry Buchek. Next up was Flood. He doubled to center, keeping alive the Cardinals’ hopes.
“I got a little tired near the end and made a mistake with Flood,” Koufax said to United Press International. “Imagine, after eight or nine years in the league, I still don’t know how to pitch to Flood.”
(Flood hit .296 [32-for-108] in his career against Koufax.)
What happened next sparked much debate. Dodgers manager Walter Alston went to the mound and, according to United Press International and the Los Angeles Times, ordered Koufax to intentionally walk Orlando Cepeda, putting the potential go-ahead run on base.
“I didn’t argue,” Koufax said. “But I doubt that we would have done it if we were playing at home.”
Said Alston to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “I kind of stuck my neck out a little.”
Cepeda had five career home runs against Koufax. Alston preferred to take his chances with Mike Shannon, one of the top home run and RBI producers on the 1966 Cardinals.
Said Alston to the Los Angeles Times: “I went to the mound to Koufax after Curt Flood doubled and said, ‘Sandy, I think I’d rather have you pitch to the other guy (Shannon).’ Sandy agreed.”
Shannon flied out to center fielder Willie Davis, ending the game and earning the Dodgers a 2-1 victory.
“How about Alston putting that winning run on base?” said Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst. “I guess you can get away with it when you have Sandy Koufax on the mound.”
Morris McLemore, sports editor of the Miami News, wrote, “In a situation like that, baseball is the most exciting game ever devised, for the final decision was made of drama, great skill and chance-taking in almost equal proportion.”
Koufax finished with a four-hitter and 13 strikeouts.
“I thought I had a better curve ball than I have had at any other time this season,” Koufax said.