This day in baseball history

On May 24, 1963, the first place San Francisco Giants took on the second place Los Angeles Dodgers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. It had taken a dramatic playoff series (won by the Giants) to separate the two teams in 1962, and well into the 1963 season, they were separated by only one game.

To add to the drama, the pitching matchup featured Sandy Koufax for the visitors and Juan Marichal for the home team. Coming into the game, Koufax was 6-1 with a 1.06 ERA. Marichal’s record was 5-3 with a 3.00 ERA.

Neither pitcher had won 20 games in a season yet, but everyone understood that Koufax (late-blooming at age 27) was a dominant pitcher; only an injury had prevented him from fully displaying that dominance in 1962. And most close observers recognized that Marichal (age 25, with a 18-11 record in 1962) was on the verge of dominance.

However, dream pitching matchups don’t always pan out. Earlier in May, when Koufax pitched a no-hitter against the Giants, Marichal failed to hold up his end of the deal. The Dodgers pounded out 4 runs and 9 hits against him in less than 6 innings.

This time, Koufax failed even more spectacularly than Marichal had. The great lefty retired only one Giant in the first inning and was charged with 5 runs (all earned), 5 hits, and 2 walks. The key blows were by Orlando Cepeda (a two-run double) and Felipe Alou (a two-run homer).

As a result of this battering, Koufax’s ERA would balloon from 1.07 to 1.71. At season’s end, the ERA was 1.88, and Koufax had won 25 wins with only 5 losses.

Marichal made easy work of the Dodgers on this day. He pitched a complete game, allowing 1 run on 4 hits.

Marichal finished the season at 25-8 with a 2.41 ERA. That’s easily good enough for the Cy Young award in most years, but clearly not in the National League of 1963.

What about other Koufax-Marichal matchups? Actually, there were surprisingly few. My research found only 4 of them during the six-and-a-half years in which both played. There were many, many more between Marichal and the great Don Drysdale. Coincidence? I don’t know.

The Giants and Dodgers split these 4 games. In a fifth encounter, Marichal came on in relief to defeat Koufax.

Only two of the 4 games head-to-head duels were close — a 4-3 Dodger win in 1961 and a 4-3 Giant win in 1965.

Even so, I’d pay big bucks to be transported back in time to witness any of these games, especially the Koufax no-hitter.

NOTE: This post has been modified slightly from the original version.