June 29, 2005
Monday night, the Dodgers handed out Sandy Koufax statues to all the fans at the ballpark. The ceramic figurines show the great lefthander in his long stride toward the plate, ready to fire a fastball past another hitter.
The Dodger pitcher on Monday – rookie DJ Houlton – looked nothing like Koufax during the first two innings of the game. He gave up two solo home runs and had fallen behind 4-0 when he walked a batter to put two men on with two outs in the 2nd inning. And then something amazing happened.
Houlton turned into a righthanded Sandy Koufax. He retired 16 of the next 18 batters he faced. Eleven were flies or pop-ups. Five were strikeouts. That means Houlton was throwing a good fastball to the right spots. He mixed in some off-speed pitches to keep the hitters off-balance, and he rarely fell behind in the count. He got the win to go 4-1 in June … the first five starts of his big league career.
The Dodgers have had a lot of tough-guy pitchers in the past … sturdy throwers who didn’t lose their cool when trouble came. Koufax was like that. Despite his tremendous skills, Sandy sometimes struggled early in games. Maybe he wasn’t comfortable with the mound, or maybe he couldn’t get his curveball over the plate. On those nights, he reduced the game to its basics, and threw his fastball over and over again … and the outs would pile up.
That’s what DJ Houlton did Monday night. He pitched like Koufax … not the Dandy Sandy who dazzled hitters, but the tough guy who worked out of jams and got better as the game went on. It took Koufax six years to learn how to do that. DJ Houlton has been a starter for four weeks.
It’s too early for a statue. But if he goes 4-1 next month …
Posted by Nick Roman at 4:10 AM