That day, longtime franchise ace Camilo Pascual underwent surgery to repair torn muscles at the back of his shoulder. Sadly, he was never the same pitcher after suffering the injury earlier in the season, though he remarkably returned in time to pitch Game 3 of the World Series.
The other significant loss was one that manager Sam Mele thought might end the Twins’ pennant push. The Twins were playing the Orioles that night, and in the sixth inning, Russ Snyder hit a groundball to Twins third baseman Rich Rollins. The third sacker’s throw to Harmon Killebrew at first base tailed into the runner, and KIllebrew reached across the baseline as Snyder reached the bag. The “crack” of Killebrew’s elbow could be heard in the Twins dugout. The Twins slugger had fractured and dislocated his left elbow.
Kiillebrew missed 48 games, at a time the Twins were coming out of a late-July slump and he was one of the club’s most productive hitters. He had batted .333 and driven in 15 runs in his previous 15 games, and now the Twins would have to make do without him.
The Twins weren’t going to roll over. Remarkably they won 30 of 48 games while Killebrew was out and took charge of the AL race. Several Twins stepped up with key hits, and three in particular carried the Twins during this stretch.
Part-timer Don Mincher, who regularly hit roughly 20 home runs in a half-season of playing time, stepped up more than most. He stroked eight homers and delivered a team-high 34 RBIs in those 48 games.
The batting order’s Cuban connection, Zoilo Versalles and Tony Oliva, solidified their MVP credentials with Killebrew sidelined.
Versalles batted .335, stole 13 bases without getting caught, and scored 45 runs in those 48 games. In fact, the 25-year-old shortstop tallied nearly a run a game from the start of August through the end of the season.
Oliva, whose problematic right knee forced him to sit around the time Killebrew returned, hit at a .356 clip and drove in 31 runs in 40 games while his longtime friend and teammate was out.
Arguably the Twins battled through more injuries than any other major league club that summer. Oliva still had his knuckle injury on his right middle finger and then the right knee became an issue. Pascual endured his muscle tear. Bob Allison broke a bone in his wrist and missed time. Dave Boswell missed a month with mononucleosis. And Earl Battey suffered 13 different injuries during the season, yet had an All-Star season.
What the Twins did following Killebrew’s injury demonstrates the impressive performance of both regulars and bench players, as well as a host of rookies who came through at various points of the season. They all made that season 50 years ago one to remember for Twins fans.