At 2:00 that afternoon, I’ll be at the nearby Barnes & Noble on Nicollet Mall, mere blocks from Target Field, talking Tony and the 1965 Twins. While those Twins ran hot and cold that July, Oliva began an assault on AL pitching that led to his second batting title in his first two big league seasons.
On the final day of June, Oliva trailed the AL batting leader, Carl Yastrzemski, by more than 70 points. But Tony O kicked off July with a 14-game hitting streak in which he batted .424 and scored 16 runs. Then, in a span of eight days in late July, he executed a pair of five-hit games in wins over Boston and Washington.
In 31 July contests, Oliva batted .394, scored 36 runs, drove in 24, and went hitless only four times. He bumped his average nearly 40 points to .307 by month’s end, which was still 32 points behind Yaz.
The Twins had been less steady, stumbling along at a .500 pace over June’s final three weeks. June closed with the Twins a half-game behind Cleveland in the AL race, and the Twins had to be wondering where their season was heading. The offense was sputtering, and the team had just lost Camilo Pascual, stellar in the first half, to a muscle injury that would eventually require surgery.
On July 2, the day Oliva ignited his 14-game hitting streak, Mudcat Grant limited the Athletics to five hits in a 3-1 victory, his eighth of the year. The win was the first of nine in a row for the Twins, who rolled over the A’s, Red Sox and Yankees before New York put an end to the run on Saturday, July 10,
The Twins seemed headed to a second-straight defeat on Sunday, the last game before the All-Star break. They were losing 5-4 in the ninth to the Yankees, the struggling, five-time defending AL champions who were barely holding onto hope of getting into the 1965 race.
With two outs and Rich Rollins on base via a walk, Killebrew pounded a belt-high fastball from Yankees reliever Pete Mikkelsen into the left-field bleachers for a dramatic 6-5 win to close out the first half.
Winning 11 of 12 going into the break, Minnesota improved to 53-29 and held a five-game bulge over both Cleveland and Baltimore. After losing three of four to the Twins, the Yankees had fallen a shocking 14.5 games back. New York’s 16-year dynasty was on life support.
The buzz of Killebrew’s home run carried into the All-Star Game on July 13, a sunny Tuesday afternoon at the Met. With the Twins hosting the first All-Star Game in Minnesota, the home team was well represented. Six Twins were on the AL club: Earl Battey and Killebrew were starters, and Mudcat Grant, Hall, Zoilo Versalles and Oliva were reserves.
The talent on the field that day was immense, as 14 future Hall of Famers populated the two All-Star rosters. Twelve were National Leaguers, including the starting outfield of Willie Stargell, Willy Mays and Hank Aaron. Two other future Hall of Famers, outfielders Roberto Clemente and Frank Robinson, were on the bench.
The game also featured a host of home runs—five in all—including a 410-foot bomb by Killebrew, tying the game at 5-5 in the fifth. But In the end, a crazy-hop infield single pushed across the game-winning run in the seventh.
After Mays drew a leadoff walk and moved to third base on a single by Aaron, Cubs third baseman Ron Santo chopped a high hopper into the dirt in front of home, which sailed well over the head of Cleveland pitcher Sam McDowell. Mays rushed home as the ball returned to the Earth’s atmosphere.
Time off is almost always a good thing, but it didn’t do much for the surging Twins when the second half got underway. They started strong, returning to action with an 11-3 romp, aided by two Oliva home runs in the first game of a doubleheader with the Kansas City A’s. The Twins lost Game 2, and the next three games after that—a four-game losing streak that was their longest of the season.
The Twins soon rebounded by scoring 30 runs in a three-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park, but when they lost their next two in Baltimore, the second-place Orioles had inched back to within 2.5 games of first-place Minnesota. The Twins bounced back again the next evening, tying the game on Oliva’s three-run homer in the eighth and winning an 8-5 decision in the ninth when Versalles powered a two-run triple. Then the Twins clinched the finale to split four with the O’s.
First-place Minnesota closed July with four straight wins, highlighted by Battey’s eighth-inning suicide squeeze with the bases loaded, which pushed across the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over the Orioles at the Met on July 30. Battey’s bunting finesse once again upped Minnesota’s lead over Baltimore to five games.
The offense was rolling again, but the Twins had lost starter Dave Boswell for a month to mononucleosis. Jim Perry had pitched brilliantly in place of the injured Pascual, winning three games and posting a 1.86 ERA in July, but now others would have to step up.
After returning briefly in July, Pascual underwent surgery to repair muscle tears under his right armpit on Aug. 2. Then the Twins would face their biggest challenge of the AL race, one that manager Sam Mele thought might completely sidetrack the pennant push.
On the same day Pascual had surgery, the Twins and Orioles concluded a four-game series at the Met. Baltimore center fielder Russ Snyder dropped a bunt down the third-base line in the sixth inning. Third baseman Rollins charged, fielded the ball and rushed a throw that tailed into Snyder running down the line. Killebrew, playing first base, reached across the baseline for the ball a split second before Snyder collided with him.
The loud “crack” coming from Killebrew’s elbow was audible to teammates in the dugout. With his elbow both fractured and dislocated, the Twins slugger would be lost to the Twins for 48 games.
Continue to follow the highlights of the Twins’ magical 1965 season here. For a daily update of Minnesota’s push to the 1965 AL pennant, follow the storyline on Twitter @ThomHenninger.