Grant, who led the league in wins (21), winning percentage (.750) and shutouts (6) in 1965, had added a new curveball that spring, courtesy of new Twins pitching coach Johnny Sain. The coach also convinced Grant to abandon a slider for a sinker, and the pitcher struggled to put all the pieces together in April.
The 6-foot-1 right-hander was roughed for seven hits and three runs over three innings in his ’65 debut on April 18. But the Twins—a great comeback team that summer—rebounded from the early deficit for a 6-3 victory over Cleveland, Grant’s former team. In his second outing five days later, Mudcat lasted only one-third of an inning and gave up five runs to Detroit, but again the Twins bailed him out with a come-from-behind win in 10 innings.
In his third start on the final day of April, Grant took the mound at Comiskey Park with a nasty headache that had plagued him all afternoon. First place was on the line, as the 7-3 Twins trailed the first-place White Sox by a half-game, and the four-game set in Chicago kicked off a cat-and-mouse chase between the two clubs, which would run deep into June.
Despite the headache, Grant dominated the White Sox, blanking them 7-0 on three hits to end a five-game Chicago winning streak. He mostly called on his fastball and his new curve, which he threw for strikes consistently for the first time. His first win not only moved the Twins into first place, it also set the tone for a career year in which he posted his only 20-win season.
A week later at Metropolitan Stadium, Grant turned the trick again, going the distance for a 4-1 victory that stalled another five-game winning streak by the White Sox. He went on to win his first five decisions before losing a pitchers’ duel with Cleveland’s Luis Tiant on June 7.
On June 15, Grant tossed his second of six league-leading shutouts, limiting Chicago to five hits to improve to 6-1. The “W” was his third against the rival White Sox. The wins piled up all summer, and Grant tossed three more shutouts down the stretch.
In late August, Grant two-hit his former club in a 7-0 win to improve to 17-4. He posted his 19th victory with a four-hit shutout of Boston on September 12. And with the Twins inching close to their first AL pennant, he tossed a one-hitter in Washington on September 25 to become the first black pitcher in the American League to win 20 games.
After starting 1965 with two of his poorer outings, Grant was at his best down the stretch. He posted a 2.34 ERA and .178 OBA over his final nine regular-season appearances, and closed his season with one of his best outings of the year.
When the Twins returned home in mid-October, down three games to two to the Dodgers in the World Series, they needed a win to force a winner-take-all Game 7. Grant got the call to extend the season one more day and was sharp right from the start, pitching before a standing-room-only crowd of 49,578, the largest ever at the Met.
On a sunny fall day with temperatures in the mid-50s, Grant didn’t allow a hit until Ron Fairly led off the fifth inning with a single. Nothing came of it, and Fairly’s seventh-inning home run was Grant’s only mistake in a 5-1 Twins victory. To help his cause, Grant stroked a three-run homer in the sixth of Dodgers reliever Howie Reed. And for that—and for Grant’s fine season—the sellout crowd gave him a standing ovation as he rounded the bases.
Grant’s fine season may not have seemed possible when he failed to work more than three innings his first two times out that April. But AL hitters discovered they were in for a long year facing Grant when he stopped a pair of Chicago winning streaks in the early days of the AL pennant chase.