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Incredibly Beautiful People (Part Four)
2004-12-17 17:17
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Book Excerpt

From Red Sox Century

By Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson

(Part 1, 2, and 3)

His remarkable streak began in Detroit. After Boston jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, the Tigers came back to tie the game 4-4, then went ahead. But with one out in the ninth, Yaz turned on a Fred Lasher fastball and drove it into the upper deck to tie the game again, and then a Dalton Jones home run won it in the tenth. The win tied Boston with Detroit for the lead.

The next night, Detroit was leading 2-1 when Adair singled and Yaz walked. Scott tied the game with a hit and Yaz scored the game-winner when he raced home on a wild pitch. The next night in Cleveland, with the game tied 4-4 and two out in the ninth, Yaz singled, Scott walked, and Reggie Smith singled Yastrzemski in with the game winner again. They stretched their winning streak to four games with a 6-5 win, then got blown out 10-0 in the first game of a doubleheader in Baltimore.

But Yastrzemski wouldn’t allow the Sox to stay down. With Boston trailing, Yaz led a comeback and Boston rolled to a 10-3 win. The following day, his 42nd home run of the season put Boston ahead, but the bullpen failed and the Orioles won 7-5.

Next to Yaz, Jim Lonborg was the most important player on the team. In the last game of the road trip, he proved it, holding Baltimore scoreless through six innings as the Sox built a 7-0 lead. Then Dick Williams, daring to think ahead for the first time all year, gambled and pulled his ace to save his arm in case he was needed in the next few days. The Sox held on to win 11-7 and returned to Boston for two games against Cleveland and two against Minnesota to end the regular season. With only four games remaining, the Red Sox were in a dead heat with the Twins for first place, while Chicago trailed by ˝ game and the Tigers lurked 1 ˝ behind.


For the first time in ages the Red Sox seemed control of their own destiny, a prospect Sox fans found both thrilling and absolutely frightening. The up and down nature of the pennant race became all the more emotionally exhausting once the pennant seemed theirs to lose. Fenway was only half full that afternoon as Sox fans seemed almost unable to take anymore. Listening on the radio somehow seemed safer.

Gary Bell faced Luis Tiant of Cleveland and for the first time in weeks the pressure seemed to get to the Red Sox. They played a sloppy game, allowing a pop-up to fall untouched and making several other errors, falling 6-3 despite Yastrzemski’s 43rd home run as the Twins won to move a game ahead. Afterwards, even Dick Williams seemed downcast. "This hurts a hell of a lot,” he told reporters, “But we played a bad game. This has to be our most damaging loss of the season."
On the following day many Red Sox fans still couldn’t bear to watch, and 18,000 came to Fenway Park. Desperate, Williams now cashed the ticket he’d punched two days before and brought Lonborg back on two days’ rest. It didn’t work. In three innings he gave up six hits and four earned runs while Sonny Siebert shut out Boston. The Red Sox pennant chances seem doomed.

But the pressure affected all four teams. As Boston fell to Cleveland, Minnesota lost to California and the White Sox dropped two to the lowly Athletics.

“I thought we were gone – dead,” said Yaz the next day. “When I heard that Chicago had lost twice to Kansas City I almost couldn’t believe it.”

Incredibly, with only two games left to play, as if the schedule makers knew each team needed to regroup, both Boston and Minnesota had two days off. As they caught their breath, the White Sox lost to Washington and fell out of the race after 159 games.

Now the Twins had the edge – a split would give them the pennant. The Tigers, while still alive, had a more difficult task. After a rainout, they faced back-to-back doubleheaders versus California to finish the season.
Williams was tempted to bring Lonborg back on two days rest again, but decided to start Jose Santiago instead. After being used in relief for most of the season, he’d nearly been Lonborg’s equal down the stretch. Minnesota manager Cal Ermer opted for ace Jim Kaat.

On this day, Saturday, September 30, Boston fans finally turned out in force for the “now or never” showdown.

Both clubs started out playing nervous baseball. Santiago gave up three hits, a walk and a run to Minnesota’s first four hitters, and was in and out of trouble all day. Russ Gibson failed to chase after a pop-up and Ken Harrelson misplayed a fly ball into a triple.

But the veteran Twins made even more mistakes, and the Red Sox got the breaks, none bigger than when Twins starter Jim Kaat pulled a tendon in his elbow and had to leave in the third inning. Against the Twins bullpen the Sox had a chance.

In the fifth Reggie Smith led off with a double to left center, then Dalton Jones hit a soft ground ball to Rod Carew at second. It took a Boston bad hop and everyone was safe. After Santiago and Mike Andrews struck out, Jerry Adair chipped the first pitch he saw into right center to tie the game at 1-1.

That brought up Yaz, and all Boston roared. He rapped a grounder between first and second. Killebrew went for the ball, but missed it. Carew scooped it up, turned to throw to first – and no one was there. Minnesota pitcher Jim Perry had neglected to cover. Jones easily scored the go ahead run.

Boston put the game away in the seventh when Twin shortstop and former MVP Zoilo Versalles dropped a double play ball, setting the stage – again - for Yastrzemski, up with men on base and the season on the line.

Minnesota manager Cal Ermer brought in right-hander Jim Merritt as the Fenway crowd chanted for Yaz to get a hit. He worked the count to 3-1 then Yaz cranked the next pitch into the visitors bullpen, his 44th and biggest home run of the year. Although the Twins Harmon Killebrew smacked a ninth-inning homer to tie Yaz for the AL home run lead, the Sox hung on to win 6-4.

The victory didn’t put Boston into first place – yet. For Detroit won the first game of their doubleheader against the Angels to edge ahead momentarily, but lost the second contest. With one day left in the season the Sox and Twins remained tied at 91-70. The Tigers were just ˝ game back at 90-70, but needed a sweep to tie for the lead and force a play-off.

After the game, Williams’ pick to pitch the finale - Jim Lonborg - sat on the trainer’s table in the Sox clubhouse and said, “This is the first big game of my life.” He had never beaten the Twins, and of his nine losses in 1967, three had been to Minnesota.

For the first time in eighteen years, Boston fans awoke to the opportunity to watch their team win a pennant.

Many lingered over a special Red Sox insert published in the Globe’s Sunday edition. Harold Kaese captured the feeling of most fans when he began his Sunday morning column with a homily. “O give us the strength of Hercules, the courage of David, the wisdom of Pericles, the luck that has helped bring us this far, to the edge of paradise, to the golden halyard that raises the pennant,” he wrote. “Let the little round ball on the wheel of fortune drop for us and not the Twins.”

But when Jim Lonborg got to the park later that day, he wasn’t praying. He wrote the figure “$10,000” in the palm of his glove, figuring that was just about what a berth in the World Series would be worth.

Boston fans were ready. Fenway was packed. Fans held up banners that asked “Is Yaz God?” and “Just like ’46.” Up in Lewiston, Maine, 83-year old Bill Carrigan sat glued to his television set like millions of other Sox fans. The whole nation was focused on Boston, for the Sox improbable, impossible dream of a pennant drive had captured the imagination of the entire country. In an unprecedented move, NBC pre-empted pro football and broadcast the game nationwide.

Lonborg felt great, but then he’d felt great against the Twins before. But in the top of the first, after getting Versalles and Tovar, he walked Killebrew. Tony Oliva then lined a double over Yastrzemski's wild leap in left. Killebrew slowed as he approached third, but Twin third base coach Billy Martin waved him home. Scott took Yaz’s throw and had Killebrew by fifty feet, but he tossed the ball over catcher Russ Gibson’s head and the Twins led 1-0.

The Twins Dean Chance shut Boston down. In the third, Boston hopes started to sink.

With two outs, Lonborg walked Cesar Tovar. Now he had to pitch to Killebrew, and the big first baseman singled. Yastrzemski, who’d done it all, now tried to do too much. Tovar was fast and Yaz charged the ball to make sure he would stop at second. It went between his legs to the wall and Tovar scored. Minnesota led 2-0.

The score held until the sixth as Sox fan inched closer to the edge of their seats. Lonborg was scheduled to bat for Boston. Dick Williams wasn’t Joe McCarthy and he never moved. The Boston pitcher stepped to the plate.

As Lonborg said later, “I didn’t know what I was going to do. But when I got to the plate I saw that [third baseman] Tovar was back a little.” Chance threw and Lonborg pushed a bunt between the mound and third. Chance and Tovar were both surprised, and Lonborg beat it out.

Fans cheered first in surprise and then with delight and finally roared with confidence. That was the play, the perfect, impossible, accidental, unexpected virtual act of God they had come to expect all season.

Jerry Adair followed with a single through the infield, moving Lonborg to second. Then Dalton Jones squared to bunt.

The Minnesota infield went into motion to cover the play, but as Chance let the pitch go, Jones pulled the bat back and slapped a line drive to left field.

Lonborg stopped at third. With Yastrzemski coming to bat, there was no sense taking any chances.

Now the roar from Fenway Park could be heard in Kenmore Square and beyond. There wasn’t any doubt. Yastrzemski ripped Chance's second pitch to center field for a single. Lonborg and Adair crossed home to tie the score.

Next up was Harrelson. Thus far, in place of Tony C., he’d been something of a disappointment.

He worked the count full, then chopped at a high fastball. The ball bounded to Versalles near second, but rather than take the out in front of him, he threw home and Jones slid in safe. “I saw the man going home for the money,” he explained later, “And I always play for the money.” Boston led 3-2.

Chance was done. Ermer brought in Al Worthington to face Scott and 34,000 screaming lunatics. He threw one wild pitch and then another. Yastrzemski raced to third and then home to put Boston ahead 4-2.

The veteran Twins were playing like scared rookies. Reggie Smith hit a ground ball to first and Harmon Killebrew tried and failed to field it with his knee. Harrelson scored.

Boston led 5-2. The next few innings passed in a blur as all Boston dared to dream of the end and victory. But with two out in the eighth Killebrew and Oliva suddenly singled and the dream stalled.

Bob Allison then drove a pitch into the left field corner that the Globe’s Clif Keane described as “A double 95 times out of 100.” Allison said later, “I just thought I had two [a double] and I looked at Carl.” But this was Boston’s year to beat the odds and Yaz’s year to beat everybody at everything. He gunned the ball to second and Allison was out, although Oliva scored to reduce Boston's lead to 5-3.

In the bottom of the eighth, news of Detroit’s 6-4 win in the first game of their doubleheader against the Angels filtered down to the bench. If there was a play-off, Lee Stange would pitch against Detroit the following afternoon. But Boston still had to beat the Twins and the Tigers had to beat California again for that to happen. For the first time all year, the odds were with Boston.

The early autumn sun sent shadows creeping across the infield as Lonborg took the mound for the ninth. Leadoff hitter Ted Uhlaender sent a grounder to Petrocelli, but it took a bad hop and hit the shortstop just under his right eye for a single. Then future Hall of Famer Rod Carew, representing the potential tying run, stepped in.

Carew grounded the ball at Andrews, who’d come in for Adair after he’d been spiked on a double play in the eighth. Like Adair the inning before, Andrews fielded the ball, tagged the runner and flipped to first for the double play.

In the on deck circle Minnesota pinch hitter Rich Rollins was so nervous he mistakenly took one of Zoilo Versalles bats up to the plate. Boston fans began to relax and started to cheer, a long, slow, deep roar that started soft and then rose and then peaked as Lonborg wound up and released the ball.

Rollins swung. The ball floated in the air to the left side. Petrocelli drifted back to the edge of the outfield and watched the ball settle gently in his glove. Then he threw his arms in the air and started going crazy along with everybody else in Fenway Park.

Thousands upon thousands of fans poured out of the stands and mobbed the Red Sox players. American sport had never before experienced such a scene. As Bud Collins wrote, Lonborg “was sucked into the crowd as though it were a whirlpool, grabbed, mauled, patted, petted, pounded and kissed.” The delirious mob lifted him into the air, and as if not believing what had just happened and needing some proof, tore his cap, undershirt and shoelaces from his body, then tore those into pieces to save and preserve like the relics of a saint. Signs reading "Balt" and "Hous" disappeared from the scoreboard. Kids climbed the backstop. Sod was ripped up from the field. Even the Boston dugout was ransacked, as fans emerged with gloves, helmets and bats. Others took nothing but memories. Boston hadn’t seen such a celebration since the end of World War II. And all the Red Sox had won, so far, was a tie for the pennant.

Carl Yastrzemski was one of the few Red Sox players to escape the mob. When Petrocelli caught the ball, he started in to celebrate, then saw thousands of fans running his direction and changed his mind. In a 1987 interview he told Glenn Stout he escaped through the roll-up door along the left field foul line.

Then Yaz walked beneath the stands alone toward the Boston clubhouse. “There was no one there,” he recalled, not a fan or vendor in sight. He was accompanied only by the sound of his own spikes on concrete, the muffled roars of the celebration on the field and the knowledge that in the two most important games of his career, he had been the best player on the field.

Lonborg escaped with the help of a cordon of Boston police and the grounds’ crew cleared the field by turning on the sprinklers. In the clubhouse, the Red Sox doused each other with beer and shaving cream, saving champagne for a pennant celebration.

The party inside the clubhouse and outside Fenway and in a thousand bars and a million living rooms and out was tempered only by the fact that the Tigers were still alive and playing for a trip to Fenway Park for a play-off.

Boston’s World Series hopes now lay with Bill Rigney's California Angels and Tiger pitcher Denny McLain, who hadn’t won in a month.

For the next three hours Red Sox players and fans stayed close to the radio. Dick Williams joined Dick O'Connell, Haywood Sullivan, and the Yawkey’s in Yawkey's office to listen to the game.

Finally, at 7:43 p.m., with the score 8-5 and the Tigers threatening, Detroit second baseman Dick McAuliffe hit into his first double play of the season, ending the game. The Red Sox were going to the World Series. At midnight, some two thousands fans were still celebrating on the steps of the statehouse.

Before rejoining his team, Williams sent telegrams to manager Mayo Smith of the Tigers complimenting his team on a great season, and to Angel manager Bill Rigney, thanking him for playing the Tigers so tough. Williams added a postscript to Jim Fregosi, reminding him that the "dietitian" had managed the Red Sox to their first pennant since 1946.

The city paused before the World Series as if trying to comprehend what had just happened. Yaz had climaxed his remarkable two-week splurge by going 7-for-8 in the final two games, capturing the Triple Crown as he led the AL with a .326 batting average, 121 RBIs and tied Killebrew for the home run title with 44. Lonborg’s final game win was his 22nd, tying him with former Sox Earl Wilson of the Twins for the league high. The 100 to 1 long shots had come in.

Meanwhile, Sox fans went crazy in anticipation. A Jamaica Plain man painted the words “RED SOX THANKS” in letters four feet high on the side of his house. Signs saying “GO SOX” and “LOVE YA YAZ” spontaneously appeared in windows and on rooftops all over the city. Army captain Lawrence O’Brien of Somerville, stationed in Vietnam, was willing to do anything to see the Series. When the Sox won the pennant he extended his tour of duty because re-upping gave him an immediate 30-day leave. He flew home, and the Boston Globe provided him with Series tickets.

The pennant came as such a surprise that few Sox fans had given their opponent in the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals, much thought. The Sox had won with Williams, Yaz, Lonborg and the impossible dream. The Cards had rolled over opponents with the pitching of Bob Gibson, the power of Orlando Cepeda and the speed of Lou Brock. They didn’t need any dream. They were nightmare enough for opponents and entered the series as prohibitive favorites.

Gibson, who had missed seven weeks of the season with a broken leg after being struck by a line drive hut by Roberto Clemente, returned in September and was fresh and well rested for the Series. St. Louis manager Red Schoendienst set his rotation to allow Gibson to start three times if the Series went a full seven games.

Williams had no such luxury. Lonborg was already overworked and needed another day. Jose Santiago would have to pitch the opener. Unless there was a rainout, or Lonborg came back on two days rest, he’d only be able to pitch twice. It was the only advantage the Cardinals would need.

The series opened in Boston on October 4. When Gibson first stepped onto the field he laughed and asked, “Where’s the upper deck?” He wasn’t intimidated by Fenway’s diminutive size. He wasn’t intimidated by anything. He’d been to the series with the Cardinals in 1964, when he’d been named Series MVP.

Santiago and Gibson each pitched two scoreless inning to start game one, but while Santiago was scraping by, Gibson was dominant. None of the Sox, not even Yaz, were getting good wood on his fastball.

In the Cardinal third, Lou Brock lined a single to center moving to third on Curt Flood’s double. He then scored when Roger Maris grounded out to Scott at first.

But Boston came back. With one out, Gibson relaxed and grooved one to Jose Santiago. He hit the second and last home run of his major league career into the left field screen. Gibson never relaxed again.

For the next three innings both pitchers held the line, but in the seventh, Lou Brock cracked his fourth hit of the game and stole second for the second time. He advanced on a ground out by Flood then scored when Maris grounded to Adair. St. Louis led 2-1.

That’s all Gibson needed. He finished with a six-hit, ten-strikeout masterpiece. After the game he dismissed the Red Sox, referring to Yastrzemski as merely a "decent batter". For the first time all season, the magic seemed to have disappeared from Fenway Park and Sox fans filed out silently. Gibson had everyone thinking. After the stands cleared, Harrelson and Petrocelli went back onto the field and took extra hitting.

Boston turned to Jim Lonborg in game two. He stuck with what worked, staying in a hotel the night before and wearing his lucky pair of mis-matched spikes that between them had accounted for fifteen wins. Before the game Darrell Brandon gave him a gold paper horseshoe sent by a fan addressed to “the Red Sox pitchers.” Lonborg stuck it into his back pocket.

Brock had run wild in game one, and Lonborg delivered an immediate message to start the game, throwing the ball at his chin and sending Brock to the ground. The St. Louis bench howled and Lonborg looked over and laughed, saying later “What do they think I’m going to do – give them home plate?” While Yaz cracked a home run off Dick Hughes in the fourth and Boston scored five runs in the seventh, Lonborg was perfect. He ignored intermittent showers and pitched the best game of his career.

He retired the first nineteen Cardinals before walking Curt Flood and took a no-hitter into the eighth. Four outs away from immortality, Julian Javier lined what Lonborg later called “a high slider” into the left field corner for a double, but that was all. Lonborg’s one-hitter led Boston to a 5-0 win.

In game three St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Nelson Briles answered Lonborg’s message with his own, drilling Yaz on the leg with a fastball. Mission accomplished. The umpires warned both clubs to knock it off. Changing speeds brilliantly, Briles mesmerized Boston. Gary Bell got knocked out in the second and the Cardinals won, 5-2.

The Cardinals were confident and it showed. In game four they battered Santiago with four runs off six hits in just 2/3 of an inning to start the game. Then Gibson continued his mastery of Boston as he scattered five hits and won convincingly, 6-0. St. Louis needed only one more win to become world champions.

But Boston had come back from the brink all season. Lonborg got the ball for game five and pitched his third consecutive masterpiece. He allowed just three hits to beat St. Louis 3-1. His effort established a record for fewest hits allowed in two consecutive World Series starts and had New Englanders praying for rain to give him some rest before game seven - if there was a game seven.

Lonborg’s win sent the Series back to Boston, and a reported 1500 fans, “mostly teenage girls” according to the Globe, broke through a plate glass door to meet them when they climbed off the plane.

Williams pulled a surprise to start Game Six. Rookie Gary Waslewski had only been added to the Series roster to replace ailing Darrell Brandon. He’d played for Williams in Toronto the past two seasons and had pitched well in limited duty for the Sox in 1967 and in game three of the Series. The manager passed over Santiago and Bell and gave Waslewski the start.

It was a gutsy move, one that on the surface seemed akin to the decision Joe McCarthy made when he picked Denny Galehouse to pitch the 1948 play-off. But in 1967 there was little moaning about past errors. This was the first Red Sox team in a generation neither intimidated nor inhibited by the past, and maybe the last one as well. McCarthy’s mistake in pitching Galehouse was that the decision had been a departure from his usual strategy. Williams had been taking risks and going with hot hand all year, using no less than twelve starting pitchers during the season.

Waslewski kept the Cardinals off balance into the sixth, and for the first time in the series, Boston’s bats exploded. Rico Petrocelli cracked two home runs and Yaz and Reggie Smith rapped one apiece as the Sox won 8-4. The Series would go to the seventh game.

When Dick Williams was asked whom he’d pitch in Game Seven, he quipped “Lonborg and champagne.” Those three words filled the front page of the Boston Record American the next day.

That morning in the Globe, Harold Kaese wrote, “This is a story that has to have a happy ending. It has been a fairy tale from April 12 until now.” But the fairy tale was already over. The happy ending - winning the pennant - had already happened. Now another generation of Sox fans would learn the essential lesson of the Red Sox history.

The difference in the Series came down to one day of rest. Gibson had three, but Lonborg had only two days to recover from his last start.

Lonborg started strong and retired St. Louis in the first on nine pitches. But after Joe Foy walked for Boston to open the first against Gibson, the Cardinal hurler just got stronger.

In the third inning, Dal Maxvill, who barely hit his weight, tripled off the center field wall, the first sign that Lonborg was tiring, history was stirring to repeat itself, and the impossible dream was coming to it inevitable end. Lonborg got the next two batters, and then Flood singled to score Maxvill. Maris followed with a hit, and a fatigued Lonborg bounced a pitch to the screen and Flood scored to put St. Louis ahead 2-0.

Gibson himself heralded the dawn in the fifth with a home run, then Brock singled and stole second and third before scoring the Cardinals’ fourth run on Maris’s fly ball. Boston got a run in the bottom of inning when Scott tripled and scored on a throwing error, but in the sixth the Cardinals hit everything Lonborg threw and scored three more to lead 7-1. He struck out Curt Flood to end the inning, and the Boston crowd stood and cheered as he walked off the mound, tears streaming down his face. The pitcher, his teammates and every Boston fan in the world knew it was over.

The 1967 season may have been Boston’s, but the Series belonged to Bob Gibson. He scattered three hits and collected his tenth strikeout when George Scott fanned to end the game. The Cardinals won 7-2 to capture the title. Afterwards, in the cramped visitor's clubhouse, they shouted "Lonborg and Champagne, Hey! Lonborg and Champagne, Hey!" over and over again while uncorking cases of the stuff. The Red Sox clubhouse was quiet for the first time in weeks.

But for once, although the Red Sox had been defeated, they hadn’t lost. One of the more unlikely champions in American League history, they had succeeded merely by reaching the World Series. Extending it to seven games against the Cardinals had been a remarkable achievement. But the 1967 Red Sox had won a larger, more important victory, for they re-established major league baseball in Boston as a viable enterprise. In so doing, they renovated the franchise and simultaneoiusly transformed Fenway Park from a deteriorating, cramped anachronism to a baseball treasure. Tom Yawkey’s legacy was saved.

The next morning, fans called the Red Sox ticket office, already looking to buy tickets for 1968. This time, the phrase “Wait ‘til next year” was not a symbol of loss, but a sign of optimism again.

Copyright 2000, 2004 Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

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