Hall of Famer and pitching legend Sandy Koufax turns 80 today. Koufax had one of the most interesting careers in the game’s history. In his first seven seasons, Koufax went 54-53 with a 3.94 ERA. It would seem unlikely that anyone could have predicted what followed, but with the help of an amazing curveball, he transformed himself into a transcendent player. Here’s a run-through on the top stats to know on Koufax’s dominance of the sport.
• Koufax was 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA in 176 starts with the Dodgers from 1962 to 1966, a five-season stretch that closed out his major league career. During that stretch, he led the NL in ERA every season and pitched four no-hitters.
By comparison, Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw is 88-33 with a 2.11 ERA in 159 starts over the last five seasons, with four ERA titles and one no-hitter.
The biggest gap between them comes in the postseason. Koufax was 4-2 with an 0.94 ERA in six World Series starts in that time. Kershaw is 2-5 with a 4.20 ERA in eight postseason starts (none in the World Series).
• The greatest game that Koufax ever pitched was the last of his no-hitters, a 14-strikeout perfect game against the Cubs on Sept. 9, 1965. It is oft-considered one of the best pitching duels of all-time, as the Dodgers and Cubs combined for only one base hit in a 1-0 Dodgers win. Koufax and Matt Cain are the only pitchers to strike out 14 in a perfect game.
The Cubs' lineup included three future Hall of Famers: right fielder Billy Williams hitting third, third baseman Ron Santo batting fourth and first baseman Ernie Banks batting fifth. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that it is one of two instances in which a pitcher threw a perfect game against a team that started three Hall of Famers. The other was Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series against a Brooklyn Dodgers lineup that had four.
• The other significant difference between the two famous Dodgers lefties is that Koufax pitched in an era in which pitching on three days' rest was commonplace. In 1963 he made 31 of his 40 starts on three days' rest. If his arm was tired at the end of the season, it didn’t show in the World Series against the Yankees. He struck out a then-record 15 in a Game 1 win and allowed only one run in a complete-game victory in the clincher in Game 4.
• But Koufax’s finest on-field moment came in the 1965 World Series. Koufax (who chose not to pitch on Yom Kippur in adherence to his Jewish faith) pitched a shutout in Game 5 (on three days' rest) and Game 7 on two days' rest to beat the Twins and earn his third World Series ring. He’s the only pitcher to throw a 10-strikeout shutout in a winner-take-all World Series game.