On Friday last this Red Sox Memorable Moment was enshrined in immortality in the Red Sox Hall of Fame. You know they really could have enshrined the entire weekend and as you read on you’ll understand why.
Now I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed many a magical Fenway Park moment. Among them, Tony C’s dramatic comeback on opening day 1969, Fisk waving the ball fair and Yaz saying goodbye during the emotional last weekend of his career. However the magic of that final day of the 1967 season still touches me.
In 1966 the Red Sox finished in ninth place with a record of 72-90. They were 26 games out of first place and the only positive note of the entire season was that below them, in last place, were the New York Yankees.
Well not really the only positive note. For the months of July, August and September the team was actually above .500. They won 45 and lost 43. Now they may not seem like much but when you consider that this team from 1959 through 1965 never won more than 76 games and had actually dumped 90 games in 1964 and 100 in 1965, it was quite an accomplishment and it was a source of hope.
That winter the Red Sox made a move that would change the face of the franchise forever. They hired this man as the skipper of the ship.
Dick Williams made a bold prediction in the winter preceding the 1967 season.
Williams stood before the Boston media and promised, “we won’t quit, they didn’t quit on me in Toronto and I don’t intend to have anybody quit on me here.” He then boldly stated “I honestly believe we’ll win more than we lose.”! Wow! Brazen and brash words that fell, for the most part, on deaf ears and brought more snickers than cheers. The Vegas oddsmakers made them 100-1 shots to win the American League pennant.
The Red Sox opened the 1967 season at Fenway Park on April 12 before an underflow crowd of 8,324. They beat the White Sox 5-4, propelled by a three run homer by Rico Petrocelli and a solid outing on the mound from Jim Lonborg.
Jim Lonborg went 22-9 in 1967 becoming the first Red Sox pitcher to with the Cy Young Award.
By the end of June they were 37-34 and only 5 1/2 games back, not bad for a team that had been so bad for so long. They opened July in Kansas City and completed a three game sweep of the A’s before traveling to California and then Detroit. They won the first game against the Angels, their fourth in a row, and were now just 3 1/2 games back but then…..UGH! They dropped two in California and then headed to Tiger Stadium where they dropped three more in a row. Their five game losing streak was the longest of the year and when Jim Lonborg took to the hill in the second game of a Tiger Stadium double-header, the Red Sox were 40-39 in fifth place six games out! The Fenway Faithful were for the most part convinced, that their beloved Sox were on their way to where they had come to expect them to be, the bottom of the deck.
Lonborg and relief ace John Wyatt combined for a four hit shutout while Yaz and Reggie Smith hit home runs to account for the 3-0 score. This, not only ended the slide but it ignited the Red Sox to a 21 game run in which they went 16-5 including a stretch of 10 straight wins. On the official arrival of the dog days of August, they were 56-44 in second place just two games off the lead. It was the closest to the top they had been in this juncture of the season since they occupied second place on August 1, 1958. And then they were 49-49 and 16 1/2 games out.
Jim Lonborg accepts the Memorable Moment plaque from NESN’s voice of the Red Sox, Don Orsillo.
This set the stage for perhaps the most dramatic pennant chase in history. It was the next to last year that there was simply two 10 team leagues and baseball was still two years away from the “playoffs”.
With only three games remaining in the season, there were four teams in the hunt for the American League pennant; the Twins, Red Sox, Tigers and White Sox. The White Sox were eliminated in game 160 of the year when they were shutout by the Washington Senators 1-0. Going into the last weekend of the season, the Twins were coming to Fenway for two games and the Angels were in Tiger Stadium to close the season with back to back doubleheaders. The Twins were in first while the Sox and Tigers were both a game back.
Here were the scenarios, the Red Sox had to beat the Twins twice and hope for the Tigers and Angels to split both doubleheaders, the Twins needed to win one game and hope for the same split. The Tigers had to win all four to clinch first outright or win three of the four and hope for the Red Sox to win both games, in which case they would be tied with Boston.
Jose Santiago went 12-4 with the Red Sox in 1967.
On Saturday the Red Sox sent Jose Santiago to the mound and had their ace Jim Lonborg set to go on Sunday. The Twins countered with lefty Jim Kaat. Kaat pitched well against the Red Sox at Fenway in 1967. Although he had no decisions his ERA was 1.93, exceptional for a lefty at Fenway Park.
The weekend was a buzz with a baseball excitement which had never before been seen in the Sinibaldi house, and it could not have come at a better time. My older brother had gone off to Vietnam in mid-September leaving a void in the house and all the fears that accompany a family whose loved one is in combat.
As Saturday morning September 30th dawned, my dad said to me, “If they win today, we’re going in tomorrow”. I was all in, what 14-year-old kid wouldn’t be?
We watched the Saturday game together on our new color television, you remember the kind that you always had to adjust to keep that green tint out of the peoples faces.
There was drama within the drama as Red Sox left-fielder Carl Yastrzemski was battling for the Triple Crown. It appeared that Yaz would win the batting and RBI titles but he entered the weekend tied with the Twins first baseman Harmon Killebrew with 43 home runs each.
Yaz and Killebrew share a word at Fenway Park on September 30, 1967 following a Yaz single.
The Twins took a 1-0 lead in the first inning however it was somewhat of a moral victory for Santiago and the Red Sox. For after Tony Oliva singled in a run, the Twins had the bases loaded and only one out, but they scored no more.
Yaz stands in against Jim Kaat in the first inning on September 30, 1967. He singled, his first of seven hits, that’s right seven hits, for the weekend.
The score remained 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth when RBI singles by Jerry Adair and Yastrzemski gave the Sox a 2-1 lead. The Twins came right back and tied the score in the top of the sixth and the Red Sox countered with a home run by George Scott in the bottom of the sixth and went ahead 3-2.
George “Boomer” Scott was in his second year in 1967 and he hit .303 with 19 home runs and 82 RBI while winning the Gold Glove at first base.
Santiago set the Twins down 1,2,3 in the seventh and in the bottom half of the frame after Santiago grounded out to lead it off, Mike Andrews singled and Jerry Adair reached on an error bringing up Yaz. Yaz was 2-3 with an RBI when he stepped in to face Twins southpaw Jim Merritt and when he crossed home a moment later he was 3-4 with four RBI and the Sox led the game 6-2. His three run homer over the Red Sox bullpen was his 44th of the year and gave him a one home run edge over Harmon Killebrew.
There was no scoring in the eighth and when the first two Twins went out in the ninth I was dancing in the living room. We were going in to the winner take all game on Sunday! “Not so fast” my dad counciled, you see he had seen a few “sure things” escape his Red Sox team. And when Caesar Tovar doubled off the left field wall Harmon Killebrew strolled to the plate.
“Hammerin” Harmon Killebrew stands in at Fenway.
Smugly sitting in my chair I said “he won’t do anything, this games over”, “don’t say that” my dad intoned, “never say that”! So in my 14-year-old wisdom I repeated it. Dad looked at me “If he hits this one out I’m going to ring your neck” he said. And on the next pitch, Killebrew launched a shot over the screen in left and the game was now 6-4.
Killebrew crosses home following his 44th home run of the year on September 30, 1967.
“See” my dad bellowed and I exited the front door. Dad didn’t let me come in to watch the last out which was a line drive to Jerry Adair at third but I heard it through the window.
Jerry Adair (14) and Rico Petrocelli leave the field after Adair snagged Tony Oliva’s line drive ending the game and giving the Red Sox a 6-4 win, setting up the winner take all match the next day!
“We were going in”!
to be continued…..
And so it is on this day in Fenway Park history, August 10, 2012.