By fate or coincidence, the Minnesota Twins were the opponents in the two signature games of Koufax's baseball life. Four years following his career-turning outing against the Twins, Koufax faced Minnesota again. The stakes, however, were infinitely higher. This was no relaxed spring training game in March; the season had grown late, and October baseball is always fraught with sudden danger.
Still nursing a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, Koufax prepared to meet the heart of Minnesota's power attack -- Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew, and Earl Battey. The trio had reached Dodger pitching for a combined 13 hits and six RBI in the Series.
On NBC-TV, Vin Scully sized up the situation facing Koufax:
Bottom of the sixth, and the big boys come up for the Twins . . . And so far the question is, "Just how long can a pitcher go with one pitch?" Koufax has allowed two hits, walked three, struck out six. The Twins were getting to him in the fifth except for the great play by Gilliam.
The play by Gilliam was on the minds of the Minnesota hitters in the sixth inning. Oliva later recalled the feeling of the Twins that they had Koufax on the ropes but failed to knock him out.
"When you have a guy like Koufax pitching, throwing 100 miles an hour, that play was huge," Oliva remembered. "We had an opportunity to score runs but we couldn't get the big hit."
Oliva was 0-for-1 with a walk and a strikeout in Game Seven, and Koufax started him off with a fastball high. Tony O. cut and missed at a fastball low, and his swing sent the bat flying into the Twins' dugout along the first-base line. Oliva was known for letting his bats fly, and this one led Scully to say in an aside to broadcast partner Ray Scott, "No wonder they don't play him to pull."
Koufax followed with a fastball in the dirt, then came back with another fastball that Oliva fouled back. Koufax to this point had thrown just one changeup in the game -- to Bobby Allison back in the fourth inning -- a half-dozen curves, and the rest of his pitches had been fastballs.
With a 2-2 count on Oliva, Koufax came in with another fastball that was again fouled away. He went to a 3-2 count on the two-time American League batting champ when he flared a high fastball that Roseboro had to stab at. With the count full, Koufax threw another fastball. Oliva swung and missed, and Koufax had his sixth strikeout of the game and 26th in less than 22 innings of the Series.
"It got to be amazing," Sherry said. "Here's a guy that went from having an idea of where he wanted to throw the ball but would never go there to a guy who could put it wherever he wanted to."
Sherry saw Koufax at spring training in the mid-sixties go to the Dodgers' pitching strings in Vero Beach and say, "Cover up the plate and give me a line on each corner." The plate would be covered, the lines would be strung on the black fringe of the plate, and Koufax would hit the strings all day.
Killebrew followed. The big slugger was 0-for-1 on the afternoon with a walk and a groundout back to the box. Koufax started the Killer off with a fastball off the plate for ball one, then came back with another fastball that Killebrew fouled off. Having just missed getting around on Koufax's fastball, Killebrew was assured he could do it next time.
"I wouldn't say it was unhittable," Killebrew said. "But if he put it in the right spot it was tough to hit."
Koufax put his fastball in the right spot on the next offering, and Killebrew lifted it into a high foul down the third-base line. Gilliam, shortstop Maury Wills, and left fielder Lou Johnson all gave chase, and Johnson pulled the ball in near the left-field boxes.
With two outs, Battey stepped in to face Koufax for the third time in the game. The Twins' catcher had struck out in the first inning and flied deep to right-center in the fourth. Jumping on a first-pitch fastball, Battey hit the ball hard again, but lined it directly at Wills for the third out.
Watching from the press box, Scully found it interesting that the Twins, knowing that Koufax was working on two days' rest, were going after his first pitch. Scully wondered whether the Twins would make Koufax throw more pitches as the game rolled along.
Returning to the Dodger dugout, Koufax was grateful for any assistance the Twins were providing him. Recalling that Roseboro had told him three innings earlier that his curveball had to improve, Koufax approached his batterymate.
"You lied to me," he said, and it was clear that both pitcher and catcher knew by now that the curveball that had devastated the National League in 1965 would not be of any use this day.
As Scully had noted, Koufax would have to continue to challenge the Twins with "fastballs, fastballs, fastballs."
From Koufax by Edward Gruver.
Copyright © 2000 by Edward Gruver. Reprinted with permission.