The Possible Dream: The 1967 AL Pennant Race, Conclusion | The Hardball Times

The Possible Dream: The 1967 AL Pennant Race, Conclusion

Only one team could win. (via Michelle Jay)

By this point of the series, a wordy introduction is a waste of time. Four teams are still in the thick of the 1967 American League pennant race with seven days to play (not counting any playoffs). Anyone can still win—or they can all end up tied and decide nothing.

A.L. Standings, After Games of 9/24/1967
Team W L GB Pct. Games Left
Minnesota 90 67 .573 5
Boston 90 68 0.5 .570 4
Chicago 89 68 1.0 .567 5
Detroit 88 68 1.5 .564 6

The final week would begin at half speed on a travel Monday, and weather would keep it from settling into a steady rhythm. Those postponements would make the dash of the final two days all the more frenetic.

Games of Monday, Sept. 25, 1967

The Twins hosted a day game with California, but the Angels proved disorderly guests. They hung four early runs on starter Jim Merritt, chasing him in the second. Jim Perry took over to briefly settle things, but his successor Dave Boswell got ambushed in the fourth. Jimmie Hall and Don Mincher, the players Minnesota had traded to California to acquire pitcher Dean Chance, had consecutive RBI singles in that three-run rally that buried the Twins. California coasted to a 9-2 thumping. Harmon Killebrew made no dent in the home run or RBI columns.

Minnesota’s defeat meant opportunity for Detroit, a chance to climb with half a game if they could win at Yankee Stadium. With the 22-10 Earl Wilson pitching, that prize was close. Wilson held New York to a two-run third in his seven innings of work. In this season, with offense at neap tide, that was fairly good, though not outstanding.

Yankees pitcher Al Downing was outstanding. He retired the first 11 batters and did not allow a Tiger past first base. He even drew the walk that started the lone scoring rally against Wilson. The only Tiger to have a good day against him was Al Kaline, his two hits inching him up one point in the batting race. The 2-0 defeat, though, left Detroit frozen a game and a half behind the leaders with one game less to make up the ground.

One other effect the game had on the standings was to insure the Yankees would not end a second straight year in the cellar. That fate now belonged to the Kansas City A’s, the team the Chicago White Sox was scheduled to face the next day.

A.L. Standings, After Games of 9/25/1967
Team W L GB Pct Gms. Left
Minnesota 90 68 .570 4
Boston 90 68 .570 4
Chicago 89 68 0.5 .567 5
Detroit 88 69 1.5 .561 5

Games of Tuesday, Sept. 26, 1967

That White Sox-A’s contest did not come the next day; the rain did. The postponement meant a Wednesday doubleheader and pitching headaches to come for Chicago manager Eddie Stanky. Gary Peters’ Tuesday start would be pushed back to the early game on Wednesday, which meant his intended start against Washington on Saturday would come on only two days of rest. That provisionally remained Stanky’s plan, though it was speculated he might hand the start instead to Hoyt Wilhelm, their 44-year-old knuckleballing reliever. Either way, Chicago’s odds had gotten a bit steeper.

Minnesota strove to worsen them more, but California put up some resistance. After Rod Carew singled Bob Allison home to put the Twins up 1-0 in the second, the Angels peppered Jim Kaat for three runs in the third. Kaat saved himself with two bases-loaded strikeouts to quell the rally and keep himself in the game. He would allow just two hits and a walk in the final six scoreless innings, striking out a total of 13.

Kaat’s resilience gave the Twins the chance to climb back. Allison’s homer in the fourth closed the gap to one, and Killebrew’s two-run bomb in the sixth gave Minnesota the lead. They’d score two more in that frame, and next inning Killebrew would launch his second straight homer, capping off the scoring in a 7-3 Minnesota win.

Boston had less luck keeping pace. Cleveland put up three runs in the first three innings, one of them on an errant throw by center fielder Reggie Smith that airmailed third base, flew into the Cleveland dugout, and smashed the bullpen phone. They took command in the sixth on home runs by Chuck Hinton and Chico Salmon. That command slipped when Carl Yastrzemski crushed a three-run homer into the center-field bleachers to halve that lead. Luis Tiant stayed in for Cleveland—they didn’t even try to use the wrecked bullpen phone—and held the Red Sox there for a 6-3 Indians win.

The day was bittersweet for Yaz. The longball was his 43rd of the season, tying him with Ted Williams for the record among Boston left-handers (and keeping him from falling behind Killebrew in the league home run chase). Baseball Commissioner William “Spike” Eckert had been on hand to see his accomplishment. Yet Yaz could only lament, “I wish it could have come in a game we won.” Manager Dick Williams was even more downcast. “This was our most damaging loss,” he said.

Detroit faced even worse, an effective must-win game in New York to keep them even on the edge of contention. Once again, they ran into a Yankee pitcher having a great day, Mel Stottlemyre this time. Stottlemyre held the Tigers hitless for the first five innings, but Mickey Lolich also kept the Yankees off the board.

In the sixth, Stottlemyre stumbed. A double, single, and free pass loaded the bases, and while Eddie Mathews’ liner to left was caught, it was easily long enough for Lenny Green to score. Mel shut down the rally there, but it was enough. Lolich, tottering at times, held on for the 1-0 shutout win, keeping Detroit alive.

A.L. Standings, After Games of 9/26/1967
Team W L GB Pct Gms. Left
Minnesota 91 68 .572 3
Chicago 89 68 1.0 .567 5
Boston 90 69 1.0 .566 3
Detroit 89 69 1.5 .563 4

Red Schoendienst, manager of the National League pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals, was quizzed by reporters on who he expected to face in the World Series. He said team scouts were leaning toward the White Sox, but he himself didn’t have a favorite. “All I hope,” he said, “is that someone wins it without a playoff. I’d hate to have to sit through a playoff.”

Not only was a playoff still quite likely, a four-way tie was still a reasonable possibility. It would first require Minnesota going 1-2 and Boston 2-1 in their final games. If the Twins won and Boston lost on Wednesday, a Red Sox mini-sweep of its last two games against Minnesota would produce those numbers. If Boston won and Minnesota lost, a split of that final series would do the trick. Added to that, Detroit would have to win three of four against the Angels, and Chicago would need to take three of five from the A’s and Senators.

Games of Wednesday, Sept. 27, 1967

The Tigers traveled back home for their upcoming four-game series with California. The other three contenders were playing and sending their best hurlers to the mound. Minnesota started Dean Chance, Boston sent out Jim Lonborg, and Chicago deployed Gary Peters and Joe Horlen for their doubleheader. The result was the massacre of the aces.

Chance’s doom came in the fourth inning against the Angels. Ex-Twin Don Mincher led off with a home run against ex-Angel Chance, and Chance couldn’t record another out. He left down 3-0 with the bases loaded and nobody gone. California would plate one more on an Aurelio Rodríguez single that ended up also being a 9-4-2-6 double play, cutting down a runner at the plate and Rodríguez trying to take second on the throw home. The comical end to the inning changed nothing, as California downed Minnesota, 5-1.

After the game, the defeated Chance was heard to say, “I hope something’s riding on Sunday’s game so I can make up for this one.” He would get that opportunity.

This gave Lonborg and the Red Sox the chance to jump back into a tie for first. Nobody told that to the Indians, who wrecked Lonborg’s day even earlier than the Angels did Chance’s. A four-run second was more than Cleveland would need. Boston managed to load the bases in the second and sixth, the latter time with no outs, but both threats were smothered without damage. Cleveland dumped the Red Sox, 6-0.

This was Chicago’s golden opportunity. A sweep against the hapless A’s would vault them into sole possession of first place. From there, taking two of three against Washington would guarantee them a playoff at the worst.

The plan started going wrong early in the first game. Sox starter Gary Peters got touched for a run in the second, then got charged for two in the sixth after John Donaldson’s leadoff grounder was booted by Ken Boyer. Meanwhile, A’s hurler Chuck Dobson was sensational, giving up just two hits and a walk in his first eight innings. (Peters got one hit plus the walk.) Hoyt Wilhelm flunked his audition to start Saturday by coughing up two more runs in the eighth, only a blown suicide squeeze keeping the inning from going worse.

Then, down 5-0 and three outs from defeat, the White Sox woke up. Tommie Agee tripled off the wall, and one out later Dobson walked Tommy McCraw. Relieving Dobson, Lew Krausse walked Ken Boyer and Smokey Burgess to force in one run. Rocky Colavito singled off him to make it 5-2 and bring the winning run to the dish. However, new pitcher Paul Lindblad put down the rebellion on a short fly by Wayne Causey and a groundout by Ron Hansen.

Chicago’s hopes for a split fell to Joe Horlen, the team’s stopper who was gunning for his 20th win of the season. For five and a half innings, he and Catfish Hunter were locked in a scoreless clinch. In the bottom of the sixth, Hunter took it on himself to rectify matters. He led off with a single, his second straight hit against Horlen, and the floodgates opened. Three singles later, Horlen got the hook, down 3-0, which would be 4-0 before the inning ended. Hunter never let Chicago threaten the lead, allowing two baserunners the rest of the way in his 4-0 shutout.

In six hours, the Chicago White Sox had gone from the catbird’s seat to near-elimination. If they lost the pennant, they could affix responsibility on their performance against Kansas City. They had gone 8-10 that year against the worst team in the American League. Adding insult to injury, they’d never have a chance to avenge themselves on the Kansas City A’s. The next day, owner Charlie Finley would announce to Kansas City officials his intent to move the A’s, though whether to Seattle or Oakland was still up in the air.

A.L. Standings, After Games of 9/27/1967
Team W L GB Pct Gms. Left
Minnesota 91 69 .569 2
Detroit 89 69 1.0 .563 4
Boston 90 70 1.0 .563 2
Chicago 89 70 1.5 .560 3

Thursday, Sept. 28, 1967

One game was scheduled for Thursday among the contending teams—and no game was played. Cold rain washed California and Detroit out of their game at Tiger Stadium. This meant that, three days before the end of the regular season in the hottest pennant race the American League had seen in generations or perhaps ever, nothing would happen.

We can use this pause to take a breath, look at what is to come, and figure out what each team needs to do to keep itself alive.

The White Sox had three upcoming games hosting Washington: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Tigers had four games at home against the Angels: a doubleheader scheduled for Friday and single games Saturday and Sunday. The Twins and Red Sox had two games against each other, Saturday and Sunday at Fenway Park.

Boston’s path was not convoluted: Win or die. If the Red Sox lost either game, Minnesota would finish ahead of them. If they won both, they still could be tied by Chicago or overtaken by Detroit, and even a three-way tie was possible.

Minnesota would guarantee itself no worse than a playoff against Detroit by sweeping the Red Sox. A split would put them in the same position as Boston would get with a sweep: catchable by a White Sox sweep, passable by a Tigers sweep, a three-way tie mathematically possible.

If Detroit went four-for-four against California, they’d have a tie if Minnesota swept and the pennant outright if the Twins couldn’t. If they won three of four, they’d have a tie with Minnesota or Boston unless the Twins swept, which would also include Chicago if they swept. A split or worse against the Angels, and they were out.

Chicago had to win out. If they did, and neither Minnesota nor Detroit got a sweep, they would be in a playoff, which would be a three-way if Detroit lost one out of its four.

Odds-makers made the Twins the even-money favorites to claim the pennant, with Detroit at 3-1. Chicago was 5-1 against, as was Boston. That was a long way from the 100-1 odds some sporting books gave Boston before the season started, but even now, 160 games into the season, despite all the national attention given to their ninth-to-first aspirations, the smart money didn’t believe in the Red Sox.

Game of Friday, Sept. 29, 1967

Once again, weather intervened to reshape the final week of the pennant race. Rain fell most of the day in Detroit, and temperatures never rose out of the low 40s, bringing a second straight postponement. The four-game Tigers-Angels series would now be played in two doubleheaders, Saturday and Sunday.

Mayo Smith did not like what the compressed schedule boded for his squad. “We’re just not a doubleheader ball club,” he told reporters. “Let’s face it, doubleheaders take a lot out of players, especially the older ones.” The Tigers’ makeup did lean toward veterans, headed by Al Kaline, whose feet were giving him some pain in the late going. Left unspoken by Smith was the traditional belief that it’s harder to sweep a doubleheader than to win two single games, a critical matter for a team that needed every win.

The White Sox did not have that problem. Their home game against the Senators went off that evening in proper order, Tommy John facing Phil Ortega.

John got little help in the first inning. Tommy McCraw at first base dropped a Ken Boyer throw, letting leadoff man Tim Cullen reach. A Hank Allen grounder erased Cullen, but Don Buford’s relay throw to first sailed over McCraw, letting Allen take second. After Frank Howard walked, Fred Valentine hit a foul pop—that landed in a camera well freshly constructed for prospective World Series use, and out of McCraw’s reach. Thus reprieved, Valentine singled Allen home. A double play stopped the rally, but Chicago was down 1-0 after a half inning.

And that was effectively the ballgame. Apropos to the year, and apropos to the White Sox that year, the game was yet another pitcher’s duel. Phil Ortega, having easily the best season of an undistinguished 10-year career, allowed four hits and three walks and never had a man in scoring position with fewer than two outs. Tommy John and two relievers stopped Washington at one, but that only mattered if the White Sox could score—and they could not. When Ortega struck out J.C. Martin around half past ten local time, the White Sox’s pennant hopes died.

It was the 13th White Sox game in 1967 that had ended 1-0. Chicago had won nine, and now they had lost four. A fine record, but not enough.

With Chicago eliminated from the race, a few lines will suffice to outline their final games. They lost the last two by 4-0 and 4-3 scores, ending their season on a five-game tumble. Joe Horlen started the final game, again in quest of his 20th win. He left after one batter in the seventh, leading 2-1 with the tying run on. His relievers gave up the tying and go-ahead runs. Horlen got no decision, and no 20th. His 19 wins would be his career high, and he would never again have a winning season. It is as though he gave everything he had in the September run that, for a while, kept pennant fever alive in Chicago.

A.L. Standings, After Game of 9/29/1967
Team W L GB Pct Gms. Left
Minnesota 91 69 .569 2
Detroit 89 69 1.0 .563 4
Boston 90 70 1.0 .563 2
Chicago (elim.) 89 71 2.0 .556 2

Games of Saturday, Sept. 30, 1967

Boston had been in the exact reverse position eighteen years ago, virtually to the day. With two games remaining, they led the New York Yankees for the pennant by one game but had to face the Yankees in New York for those final two. Win one game, and they were headed to the World Series.

The first game came with an opening act that would be too melodramatic for Hollywood: Joe DiMaggio Day at Yankee Stadium. The Yankee Clipper had missed the first half of the year with a bone spur in his right heel (Willie Horton could sympathize), then in the season’s home stretch came down with pneumonia that cost him two weeks. Now, on his day, he came to the Stadium figuratively and almost literally from his hospital bed, having lost 18 pounds.

Joltin’ Joe managed to stand through the ceremonies by leaning on his brother, Red Sox center fielder Dom DiMaggio. He had enough strength to give his own speech at the end, which he ended with the words, “I’d like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.” Then, having told Casey Stengel he would try to play three innings, he went to center field. He played the entire game.

Thus inspired, the Yankees won that day and the next and tore the pennant from Boston’s hands.

Now the Red Sox were in the Yankees’ place. They trailed Minnesota by a game, but if they beat them twice at home, the pennant still could be theirs. There was the complicating variable of Detroit in the equation, but they could do nothing about that. They had to win, at home—where they had lost their last five.

The Fenway crowd, surprisingly a couple thousand short of capacity—possibly due to morning rains that had since cleared out—included a strong political contingent. Vice-President Hubert Humphrey was on hand to back his Twins, sharing a box with Red Sox partisan Senator Edward Kennedy. Several state governors also attended, as far-flung as Calvin Rampton of Utah*. They settled in to watch Jim Kaat face José Santiago (who had met Senator Kennedy the previous night).

* Rampton was also a Democrat. If there were any Republicans watching baseball in 1967, I have been unable to confirm that fact.

Santiago stumbled early, giving up a Tony Oliva run-scoring single, but he wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam. Boston could not reply in the first despite two hits, including one by Yastrzemski. Mild threats came to nothing until the bottom of the third, when Kaat pitched to Santiago.

On a 1-2 pitch, Kaat “heard something pop.” He gutted through to get the full-count strikeout of Santiago then took a moment to throw a few test pitches. He began pitching to Mike Andrews, but after two balls that left his arm feeling hurt and weak, Kaat had to leave the game. He had torn ligaments near his left elbow, and he was considered uncertain to pitch in the World Series—if any Twins would.

Jim Perry entered in relief, finished the third scoreless, and the game seemed to settle back down. Ted Uhlaender tripled for Minnesota in the fourth, but Santiago stranded him. Then in the bottom of the fifth, Boston bats awoke. Reggie Smith doubled to center, and Dalton Jones, batting for catcher Russ Gibson, managed an infield single. Perry bore down to fan Santiago and Andrews, but Jerry Adair singled Smith home, and Yastrzemski, with his second hit of the day, knocked in Jones.

Boston’s 2-1 lead didn’t last. A walk and two singles, the last by pinch-hitter Rich Reese, pulled the Twins level in the sixth, though Santiago stifled another bases-loaded threat to stop them from tacking on. The Red Sox promptly answered, George Scott homering against new pitcher Ron Kline.

It was still 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh when Andrews singled to the mound with one down. Jerry Adair hit another to the pitcher, but Zoilo Versalles dropped the throw on what was ruled a fielder’s choice. Up came Yaz—and out went Yaz, his 44th home run of the season putting Boston up, 6-2. (It also moved him ahead of Killebrew for the league lead.) When Yastrzemski went to his position in left field next inning, a fan ran onto the field and shook his hand in congratulation–before the police came and got him.

Minnesota had one last spurt left. With one out left in the ninth, César Tovar hit a ball into left field Yastrzemski couldn’t reach. Yaz would later blame the slickness of the grass from the earlier rain and say he had an immediate premonition of what would happen next. That was Killebrew coming to the plate and tying Yaz for the league home run lead. This spent the rally, and Boston finished the 6-4 winner.

Yastrzemski’s 3-for-4 day had lifted his batting average to .322, 11 points clear of Frank Robinson (who hadn’t played most of that week, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have mattered if he had). His four runs batted in gave him 119, pulling six clear of Killebrew counting his two. Home runs were where the Boston star would win or lose his Triple Crown.

The Red Sox celebrated their win a little, José Santiago gave Ted Kennedy the game ball he had promised him the night before, and then their eyes, and the country’s, turned to Detroit.

The opener of the doubleheader was never a contest. Willie Horton, balky heel and all, clouted a two-run homer in the Tigers’ first inning, and Eddie Mathews and Dick Tracewski collected RBIs in the second. Angels starter George Brunet’s day was over after two frames, while Mickey Lolich finished his late-season surge with a three-hit shutout. Detroit won convincingly, 5-0.

They carried that momentum into the nightcap, though their three-run first was mostly Jack Hamilton’s doing. The California starter gave up a single to Dick McAuliffe and three walks that forced in a run (with a foul-out interrupting the string). Hamilton came out for Curt Simmons, who plunked Jim Northrup to drive in the second run. He came out for Bill Kelso, who gave up a sacrifice fly to Bill Freehan before stopping the merry-go-round.

California wouldn’t go meekly this time. They notched single runs in the third and fourth off Earl Wilson, pitching for a 23rd win that would guarantee he led the majors outright in 1967. Detroit got one back in the fifth when Jim Fregosi threw away a ball trying to complete an inning-ending double play, allowing Jerry Lumpe to score. Wilson departed after one batter in the sixth, perhaps being rested for the playoff–or World Series–to come. The Tigers gave his successor, Fred Lasher, insurance on a two-run bomb by Jim Northrup in the seventh, making the score 6-2.

Then the roof fell in. Lasher let the first four Twins in the eighth get aboard, leaving with the score 6-4 and the tying runs at the corners. Hank Aguirre traded a run for a groundout then walked Buck Rodgers and got hooked for Fred Gladding. Bobby Knoop touched him for a bases-loading single, and John Hiller became Detroit’s fourth pitcher of the inning. He gave up the game-tying single to Tom Satriano then struck out pinch-hitter Hawk Taylor. Jim Fregosi, who had led off the eighth with a hit, got his second single of the inning to drive in Rodgers and Knoop.

Jim Weaver would pitch a spotless eighth and ninth for California (after having pitched three relief innings in the first game!), nailing down their shocking 8-6 win. The Angels had used 12 pitchers in the two contests (counting the two pitchers who pitched in both as two apiece), tying a major-league record for a doubleheader. That was one piece of solace the Tigers could take from a day that had collapsed from a sweep to a split. The Angels had pitched 14.2 innings of relief in one day. If Detroit could get to their starters early tomorrow, the bullpen could collapse.

The Tigers needed such a scenario, because they had no room for error. Indeed, none of the three contending teams had any room for error. Lose one game on Sunday, and the season was over. Win the doubleheader, and the Tigers were in a playoff. Win in Boston, and the Twins or Red Sox would at least make a playoff or could win it all.

A.L. Standings, After Games of 9/30/1967
Team W L GB Pct.
Minnesota 91 70 .565
Boston 91 70 .565
Detroit 90 70 1.0 .563

Games of Sunday, Oct. 1, 1967

With two to play, the Angels and Tigers got the earlier start. The day began as a repeat of Saturday: Willie Horton drove a two-run home run into the lower deck in left field, staking Detroit to an early 2-0 advantage. California interrupted the rerun with a Don Mincher solo homer in the second. An inning later, they loaded the bases against Don Sparma on a single, hit batter, and a catching error by Sparma. Sparma rescued himself by coaxing a Mincher force at home then a Rick Reichardt double play.

In the home third, Horton reached second on a fly ball dropped by Roger Repoz (flinching from a possible collision with Reichardt) that should have been the third out. An intentional walk of Bill Freehan blew up in Clyde Wright’s face, as singles by Don Wert and Eddie Mathews drove in three runs and drove out Wright. It was 5-1, and Detroit aspirations to grind up the Angels’ bullpen were being fulfilled.

California would get one back in the fourth on Buck Rodgers’ homer, but Detroit replied in the fifth when Freehan singled home Horton for his third tally of the game. That came against Jack Hamilton, the starter dismissed after five batters in yesterday’s nightcap. Rigney’s Angels were playing “all hands on deck” baseball, as though they and not Detroit had the pennant on the line.

Sparma lasted until the eighth, when Don Mincher’s second homer cut the lead in half and sent him packing. Closer Fred Gladding took seven batters to get the final six outs, completing the 6-4 win. The Tigers went to their clubhouse for a quick rest and for news from Fenway Park. For the moment, with that game still underway, all three teams were tied for first in the American League, at 91-70.

In Boston, Jim Lonborg (21-9) squared off against Dean Chance (20-13), a battle of aces worthy of the event. Lonborg retired his first two batters but walked Killebrew. Tony Oliva then drove a ball just over Yastrzemski and off the Green Monster. George Scott’s relay throw home went to the screen, and Killebrew put Minnesota on the board. Killebrew would have a perfect day with two singles and two walks. A certain rival of his would do even better, though Yastrzemski’s single in the first went for nothing.

Killebrew struck again in the third, singling with two outs and César Tovar on first. The ball skipped past Yastrzemski in left, and Tovar made it all the way around to push Minnesota ahead, 2-0. Suddenly Yaz, the best player in baseball in 1967, was in peril of becoming the goat. He fought this fate in the fourth with a leadoff double high off the Green Monster that was nearly a home run. However, a screaming George Scott liner found the glove of pitcher Chance, who threw to second to double off Yaz, and the threat died.

The game was still 2-0 entering the Boston sixth. Jim Lonborg got creative, dropping a bunt and beating it out. Jerry Adair and Dalton Jones followed with first-pitch hits to load the bases. Chance was suddenly tottering…and Carl Yastrzemski was coming up.

A grand slam would have been the perfect storybook result, but Yaz wouldn’t risk undermining the big inning. “Don’t go for the home run,” he told himself, “go for the base hit.” He did and got it, lining Chance’s first pitch into center to plate the tying runs and move Jones to third. Then Ken Harrelson, the August pickup brought in to replace the felled Tony Conigliaro, hit a high bouncer toward shortstop. Zoilo Versalles got it and threw home, but Jones beat the play.

With the Twins suddenly down 3-2, two men on and still nobody out, Cal Ermer went and got Chance. Out came Al Worthington, who was not ready for the moment. He uncorked two wild pitches that scored Yaz and moved José Tartabull, running for Harrelson, to third. After a strikeout and a walk, Worthington got Reggie Smith to ground to first. The hard shot went off Killebrew’s glove and into foul ground, as Tartabull scored. Worthington finally got the last two outs, Lonborg batting around to be the second, but Minnesota was now down, 5-2.

Boston almost piled on in the seventh, greeting new reliever Jim Roland with three straight singles, the third by Yastrzemski, his fourth hit. Mudcat Grant replaced Roland to face the nightmare scenario, loaded bases and nobody out. He got Tartabull to ground into a 3-2-3 double play, struck out George Scott, and the Twins still had life.

Lonborg got the first two outs of the eighth on a double play, but it cost the Red Sox Jerry Adair, spiked on Rich Reese’s takeout slide. Then Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva singled, bringing up Bob Allison as the tying run. Allison served one into left, scoring Killebrew and getting Oliva to third. Allison motored for second to get into scoring position so a Ted Uhlaender single could even up the game.

But Yastrzemski was thinking about the tying run, too. He threw to second, and new second baseman Mike Andrews made the tag. The Twins’ eighth was over, as was any lingering notion that Yastrzemski could be the goat.

There was one last brief flare in the nint, when Uhlaender’s leadoff grounder took a bad hop and hit shortstop Rico Petrocelli in the face, knocking him down. Images of Tony Kubek in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series, and the devastating Pittsburgh hits that followed the ball that struck him in the throat, went through a lot of minds. But Petrocelli stayed in, and Rod Carew hit into a double play. The next batter, Rich Rollins, popped one over shortstop. Petrocelli backpedaled and caught it.

Thousands of Red Sox fans poured onto the field. Yastrzemski, who had endured another couple field invaders coming to shake his hand just minutes before, had to run alongside the visitors’ dugout to avoid celebrating fans before he could sneak into his dugout. Lonborg, who pitched to the end, was mobbed, lifted up on people’s shoulders for several minutes, and got to the clubhouse with his jersey tattered and his undershirt gone. The Green Monster scoreboard was plundered, numbers and team names torn out and carried off.

All this was before the Detroit nightcap. Fans didn’t know whether they were celebrating a pennant or a playoff, but they were celebrating.

The exuberance continued in the clubhouse, as players doused each other with shaving cream and beer. Bobby Doerr, hitting coach for these Red Sox and a player for those in 1949, knew what history they had just repeated in reverse. “I had a feeling the last few days,” he said, “that we would do to them what the Yankees did to us.”

Attention in the clubhouse soon settled on the radio. They had earned themselves some extra games, and now they needed to learn whether those games would be two-of-three against Detroit or four-of-seven against St. Louis.

For this must-win contest, Mayo Smith sent out Denny McLain. McLain had injured his foot a couple weeks back in an incident the story of which kept changing. There was some resentment, by fans and teammates, but all would be forgiven if he could win this game, handed to him through the needs of the doubleheaders. It looked iffy early, as a Rick Reichardt homer in the top of the second put California ahead. Detroit stormed back in their half. A Jim Northrup long ball and a Dick McAuliffe triple drove in three and knocked starter Rickey Clark out of the game.

McLain couldn’t make it stand up. He gave up two singles to start the third, lucked out on a liner to first that became a double play, then yielded an RBI double to Jim Fregosi. Mayo Smith ended the McLain comeback, putting in John Hiller. This backfired hard. Don Mincher hit his third home run of the day, putting the Angels back ahead, 4-3. An inning later, they tattooed Hiller and Mike Marshall for three more runs, and an inning after that tacked on another.

Detroit was down 8-3, and its disappointed fans started getting agitated, with garbage throwing and a number of runners on the field. The Tigers reacted more productively, putting together a rally in the seventh. Dick McAuliffe knocked in two runs, but pinch-hitting specialist Gates Brown flied out to leave the score at 8-5. Tigers relievers kept California from adding to its total, aided by five outs from Mickey Lolich, one day after pitching a shutout.

In the last of the ninth, Bill Freehan doubled off Minnie Rojas, and Don Wert walked. The Tigers had the tying run coming up with nobody out. Bill Rigney sent in George Brunet, fresh from yesterday’s early hook (and, allegedly, a night on the town). Jim Price got the pinch-hitting call and hit a soft fly to left that couldn’t drop in. Next was Dick McAuliffe, already with three runs driven in. He had 22 homers on the season and had grounded into just one double play.

That became two. Brunet got the 4-6-3 twin-killing. The Tigers were slain, and the champagne corks popped in Boston’s clubhouse.

The irony was that Detroit’s doom was delivered by a player who liked the Tigers. “I hated to do it,” said George Brunet, in the wake of his first save since 1965. “Detroit is my favorite team. They’re a nice bunch of guys. They came a long way in the race, and I was sorry I had to end it.”

It was too bad it had to end. After such a close race, a playoff would have been the fitting conclusion. The best ending for the race would have been with a team winning, not losing as the Tigers did. It’s thus natural that people look to the pandemonium in Boston, not the broken hearts in Detroit, as the end of this epic race.

Not lost in the bedlam was how Yastrzemski ended the run. In the last two do-or-die games, he went a combined seven-for-eight, driving in six of his team’s 11 runs. In the last 17 days of the season, he went .491/.569/.873 with 18 RBIs, raising his season batting average 17 points to .326 in his 15 final games. (That isn’t a big deal in May, when there’s not much season to balance out. In late September, it’s Herculean.)

Killebrew managed to stay tied with Yastrzemski for the league home run lead at 44. Fans and history ignored this niggling qualification. Yaz was hailed as a Triple Crown winner, the second in baseball in two seasons. There would not be another for 45 years.

Jim Lonborg recorded his 22nd win in the final game, tying him for the major-league lead and nailing down his Cy Young Award. An offseason skiing accident tore up left knee ligaments, and he would never be the same pitcher again, but right now that was a million miles away.

There was a World Series still to play, but for Red Sox fans in their euphoria, it felt almost superfluous. A headline in the July 28 Boston Globe had read “The Impossible Dream?” in reference to Boston’s pennant hopes. Just over two months later, the Red Sox had stripped away the question mark and made that title the emblem for the season, for the team and all its supporters, and for the pennant race itself.

The Impossible Dream came true. In the process, it produced a pennant race to satiate the appetites of the most demanding fans, exactly 50 years ago as well as today.

A.L. Standings, 1967 Final
Team W L GB Pct.
Boston 92 70 .568
Minnesota 91 71 1.0 .562
Detroit 91 71 1.0 .562
Chicago 89 73 3.0 .549
California 84 77 7.5 .522
Washington 76 85 15.5 .472
Baltimore 76 85 15.5 .472
Cleveland 75 87 17.0 .463
New York 72 90 20.0 .444
Kansas City 62 99 29.5 .385

References & Resources

Partial credit for the concept of these pieces must go to The Great War. This YouTube channel is recounting the First World War, week by week, as it happened exactly 100 years ago. Retelling a pennant race from half a century ago, in something like real time, was an easy adaptation. (It is a pleasant coincidence that the host of The Great War, Indiana Neidell, also briefly fronted a baseball-themed channel. And you would not believe how big his Houston Astros tattoo is.)


A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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Dennis Bedard
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Dennis Bedard
Thanks for the bringing back the memories. In your references, you cite “Pandemonium On The Field.” This quote is actually from then Red Sox play by play man Ken Coleman who used the words as soon as the last out was made in the Twins game to describe what he was witnessing. For those who want to capture an oral history of the season from a Boston perspective, the Sox published an LP, “The Impossible Dream” in the winter of ’68 that is available now on Amazon as a CD and can be converted into an MP3. Another oddity about… Read more »
87 Cards
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87 Cards
From the beginning of baseball time until 2006, games called due to darkness, rain, etc were ruled ties and were replayed from the beginning with accumulated stats going into the ledger. Since 2007, such games are resumed at the point of the last completed play—–unless the game has playoff implications—in which case the game is replayed from the start. The Twins and Tigers made up their tie games in 1967. Another unless: unless there are no games remaining for an unessential game—Sept. 30, 2016—Cubs had already locked up the division; the Bucs were riding out the final series of the… Read more »
GFrankovich
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GFrankovich

Reading about the 2nd game of the Saturday doubleheader with the Angels and Tigers triggered memories of something I had read about this game. Earl Wilson’s teammates were quite upset with him coming out of the game with a big lead. Apparently he had a reputation of not finishing what he started in an era when pitchers aimed to go 9, and some of his teammates felt he begged off in a big game. Plus the bullpen was a real problem for the Tigers – unfortunately the combination was a bad one for the 2nd Saturday game.

GFrankovich
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GFrankovich

Don’t know the rules of the time, but my understanding was the games were replayed, but the stats still counted. Cesar Tovar was credited with 164 games played with the Twins in 67.

87 Cards
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87 Cards

Tovar went 0-9 in the”extra games” dropping his batting-average from .270 to .267.

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

Cards 87, thanks for providing the info on tie games. I didn’t realize the rules had changed in 2007, but I never could figure out why MLB didn’t simply resume the game the next day. I still don’t understand why there are games counted that go less than 9 innings. Why not just finish them the next day?

87 Cards
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87 Cards

TV….travel….better player working conditions…etc. you might agree with Harry Enten at https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/but-its-tradition-is-no-reason-to-ban-ties-games-in-mlb/

Marc Schneider
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Marc Schneider

87 Cards, I more or less agree with him. I hate seeing games go 16 or 17 innings. But I do think that’s different than counting a game after 5 1/2 innings. I don’t have a problem with tie games per se (and I don’t in football either) but I do have a problem with having an official game that goes less than 9 innings.