October 1, 1967 dawned with the Red Sox, Tigers, and Twins all controlling their own destiny. If the Tigers won both games of a double header with the Angels then they would have a playoff versus the winner of the Twins versus Red Sox. If the Tigers lost either game then the winner in Fenway would be in the World Series against the mighty Cardinals who has already won 100 games and would win one more later that day to cruise in 10.5 games in front of the National League. Besides the team glory there was some hardware at stake in Fenway. Jim Lomborg, 21-9, started for the Red Sox against Dean Chance 20-13. The winner would likely clinch the AL Cy Young award while Carl Yastremski’s MVP seemed assured but the Triple Crown was not yet won as he and Harmon Killebrew were battling it out for the home run crown. Those of you with time on your hands can figure out how many homers the Killer would have hit if he played half of his games in Fenway.
Speaking of Yastremski’s MVP, he was obviously the dominant player all year as indicated by winning baseball’s Triple Crown and a golden glove. If you prefer Sabermetrics, he had 12.4 WAR according to Baseball reference.com, that had only been exceeded by a position player twice. That position player was Babe Ruth and the years were 1921 and 1923. No position player in almost 100 years has been as dominant as Yaz was in 1967. The stat guys say players cannot be clutch but he was even better for those last two days. Yaz went 7 for 8 with 2 runs and 6 RBIs in those two games.
In the game, the Twins scored unearned runs in the first and third and held a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth when both teams stuck with their aces. For the Red Sox it meant sending Lonborg to bat in the top of the sixth. He bunted to the left side for a hit. Then Adair and Jones singled to load the bases for Yastrzemski. The Twins stuck with Chance and Yaz delivered a two run single to tie the game. Harrelson drove in a run with a fielder’s choice to give the Sox the lead and end Chance’s day. Al Worthington came in and uncorked two wild pitches to score a run. A walk and an error gave the Sox a 5-2 lead.
It wasn’t over. In the Twins eighth, Allison scored Killebrew and sent Oliva to third but Yaz threw out Allison trying for second to end the inning. Yaz had his Triple Crown and MVP while Lonborg was odds-on for the Cy Young but the pennant was still in doubt. In Deroit, Joe Sparma went seven and this time the Tigers let Fred Gladding pitch the eight and ninth and he stopped the Angels as the Tigers won 6-4. Gladding had only pitched to one batter in the Tigers’ bullpen debacle the previous night.
In the nightcap it looked like the Tigers had the edge with Denny McClain versus Rickey Clark, a rookie. McClain won 20 in ’66 and had won 17 so far in ’67. Neither starter had it. Clark left in the second inning while giving up three runs. McClain left in the third after giving up three runs and was replaced by Hiller who gave up three more. The Angels’ bullpen had the answers. Especially when Minnie Rojas got star pinch hitter Gates Brown for the last out of the seventh inning with the score 8-5 and a Tiger on base. One positive outcome for the Tigers is that Mickey Lolich got the last five outs after pitching a shutout on Saturday. His demonstrated ability to pitch on very short rest would lead to a much more satisfying result for the Tigers in 1968.
What would the pitching matchup on Monday have been if the Tigers had of comeback and beat the Angels? The Red Sox had only used three pitchers over the weekend but they only had two quality starters and they used them both. They would have probably gone with Gary Bell who was 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA but failed in game three of the World Series. It was the era of the four-man rotation and the four Tigers starters over the weekend had started 142 games. The Tigers had no starter and challenges in relief as the Tiger relief pitchers had worked twelve and a third innings over the weekend. With the season on the line they had to bring back Lolich one day after pitching a complete game. The score of the playoff game might have been 14-12.
When a double play ended the Tigers game, throngs filled the streets of Boston to celebrate the impossible dream. They had gone from ninth to first. No other team had ever done that and unless the structure of MLB is substantially changed, no other team will ever do it. On Monday they would worry about the Cardinals.