When does a pennant race start? Is it the first day of the season? Is a game played in May with the same amount of tension as a game in September? Every game and every win counts during the season, but if there is a real beginning to the 1959 pennant race and the ultimate World Championship for the Dodgers, you could easily point to the night of August 31, 1959 and the emergence of Sandy Koufax.
August 31, 1959 should be considered a modern classic. It was an unusual type of game, the last game of a three-game series with the Giants, ending on a Monday instead of the weekend. The announced attendance in the Coliseum was listed at 60,194, but that total did not take into account more than 22,000 complimentary passes issued by the Dodgers to three service organizations and the total attendance was a breathtaking 82,794. No one asked for a refund.
Bob Hunter described it as” One of the Dodgers’ most magnificent and significant victories.”4 The Los Angeles Times’ Frank Finch was less modest. “One of the most momentous victories in their glorious history last night before a roaring mob of 82,794 coronary cases at the Coliseum.” 5
The Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax and the Giants’ starting pitcher, Jack Sanford, both allowed a run in the first inning. Koufax, one start removed from fanning 13 Phillies, struck out the first two hitters of the game, then allowed doubles to Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda for the Giants’ first run. The Dodgers scored a run without the benefit of a hit as Gilliam walked, stole second, went to third on a passed ball, and scored on an infield out.
In the second inning, Koufax walked one, but struck out Sanford, the Giants’ pitcher. The third inning for Koufax was approximately as the second inning. He walked one, but left the runner stranded at first with two ground ball outs and a foul out. After three innings, Koufax had fanned three. So far, a nice start, but nothing record setting.
Koufax’ fourth inning had him in a slight jam when the Giants led off the inning with two singles. Koufax left the runners on first and second, getting a foul pop and then fanning the number eight and nine hitters in the Giants’ lineup, Danny McConnell and Sanford. In the fifth inning, Koufax fanned Jackie Brandt to start the inning, but the Giants’ great rookie and future Hall of Famer, Willie McCovey, broke Koufax’ strikeout string with a solo home run and the Giants gained a 2-1 lead. Sandy then fanned Mays and Cepeda for the final out of the fifth.
The Dodgers did little with Sanford of the Giants. Koufax went to the mound in the sixth inning still behind 2-1 and he struck out the side. The last eight outs by the Giants had been strikeouts with only the McCovey home run to break the run. In the seventh inning, Koufax allowed a leadoff double and after a sacrifice of the base runner to third, he kept the Dodgers close as he struck out Brandt and McCovey.