The Red Sox called on 25-year-old Jim Lonborg, who, in his only 20-win season, finished 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA. Boston manager Dick Williams had his ace pitching the finale, but surprisingly, Lonborg had never beaten the Twins in 12 career appearances. The Twins had stuck him with three of his nine losses in their three 1967 matchups, and for his career, Lonborg was 0-6 with a 7.12 ERA in 36.2 innings against Minnesota.
The Twins turned to Dean Chance, in pursuit of a career-high 21st victory. A two-time 20-game winner by age 26, the hard-throwing righty had won plenty of big games down the stretch for the Twins. And with a World Series berth on the line, there was no game bigger than this one. Chance had already defeated the Red Sox four times in five starts that season, allowing just seven runs total. He had tossed two shutouts, including his five perfect innings in a 2-0 win against Lonborg on August 6.
As they did on Saturday, the Twins scored in the first inning when Harmon Killebrew drew a two-out walk and Tony Oliva drilled his league-leading 34th double off the Green Monster. Third-base coach Billy Martin waved Killebrew around third, though the runner was a sitting duck until Scott made a wild relay throw home.
The Twins added another unearned run in the third. Once again the rally started with a two-out walk, this time to César Tovar. Killebrew singled sharply into the hole on the left side for Minnesota’s second hit, and Tovar scored from first base when the ball skittered past a hard-charging Carl Yastrzemski in left.
Although Chance was not hit hard in the early going, he did not have his best stuff. He allowed a pair of hits to Yastrzemski and a leadoff single to Lonborg in the third, but with the aid of two double plays, the Twins still led 2-0 going into Boston’s half of the sixth.
With Lonborg leading off the inning, many managers might have turned to a pinch-hitter under the circumstances. Even Lonborg thought his day might be over. He glanced at his manager as he approached the bat rack, but was greeted with encouragement. “Get on base some way,” Williams said, “any way.”
Acting on his own, Lonborg laid a bunt down the third-base line. Tovar, playing deep at third, had not been anticipating a bunt. He charged quickly but juggled the ball for a split second, allowing Lonborg to leg out a hit. Then everything unraveled for the Twins.
The next three Boston batters—Jerry Adair, Dalton Jones and Yastrzemski--all singled, and Yaz’ shot over second base chased home Adair and Jones to tie the game. Chance did not survive the inning. Before it was over, the Red Sox had tallied five runs, aided by a botched fielder’s choice, two wild pitches from Al Worthington, and a Killebrew error.
Yastrzemski was the only Boston hitter to hit the ball hard in that disastrous inning, which was frustrating to Chance.
“Biggest disappointment in my life was losing that last game of '67 to the Red Sox,” Chance said in 2012 interview. “I beat them four times, shut them out twice, and then that inning they get five runs. It was like a nightmare.”
That was all the scoring Boston needed, as Lonborg went the distance for the pennant-clinching victory. Trailing 5-2, the Twins took one last shot in the eighth inning, when Killebrew and Oliva singled with two outs to put runners on the corners.
The season now hinged on Allison, who came through by pulling a pitch down the third-base line that headed for the left-field corner. Had the ball gotten by Yastrzemski in the corner, Allison’s hit would have scored two and pulled the Twins within one.
But Yastrzemski, who had been patrolling left field at Fenway Park since Ted Williams’ retirement seven years earlier, instinctively dashed for the foul line to cut the ball off. Yaz got a good jump and backhanded it just as he reached the grandstand along the line.
In his 1968 autobiography “Yaz,” Yastrzemski noted that he often used the base of the grandstand wall to brace his foot before throwing. Normally he would throw home on a play like this, but as he planted his right foot firmly against the wall, he saw the speedy Oliva already approaching third. Instead of throwing home, Yastrzemski pivoted and rifled a perfect throw on a line to second base, where Mike Andrews tagged Allison out.
Only Killebrew had crossed the plate, making the score 5-3, and the rally was over. Within 15 minutes, the Twins’ season was over, too.
Yastrzemski had made sure of that. Not only did he go 4-for-4 in the pennant clincher, he capped his MVP season with a perfect throw that cut down the potential tying run and all but finished the Twins.
In Detroit, the Tigers won the first game of their Sunday doubleheader with the California Angels, and therefore had a chance to force a three-game playoff with Boston if they could claim Game 2. That possibility went out the window, however, when the Angels jumped on Denny McLain and three relievers for eight runs in the first four frames of the nightcap. The six-month AL marathon finally came to an end when the Angels wrapped up an 8-5 victory.
After consecutive ninth-place finishes in the 10-team American League, the Boston Red Sox had completed a remarkable turnaround still known throughout New England as “The Impossible Dream.”
The celebration began seconds after Sunday’s win. Fans flooded onto the field with Twins and Red Sox players scattering to their respective clubhouses.
A horde of fans reached Lonborg on the mound before Boston’s infielders. Lonborg couldn’t make it to the clubhouse and soon found himself hoisted on the shoulders of excitable strangers. In time he made it to safety will little more than a torn jersey and a frazzled psyche. “I was scared before the game,” said Lonborg. “I was terrified afterward.”
“The whole of New England was on fire,” said Gary Bell, who joined the Red Sox that June, won 12 games as a starter, and saved Saturday’s victory with two innings in relief. “I lived just down the street in Kenmore Square. I can remember after we clinched on the last day there, I walked over the bridge and down into Kenmore Square, and there was just nothing but people. Everything was stopped. There were people going berserk. It was crazy.”
To this day Yastrzemski is most remembered by Red Sox fans for his 1967 performance. He claimed the Triple Crown, batting .326 with 44 home runs and 121 RBIs. Killebrew tied Yaz for the home-run lead, but finished with eight fewer RBIs.
More importantly, Yastrzemski almost single-handedly carried his club down the stretch, batting .417 from September 1 through the end of the season. Over the final two weeks, when the Red Sox won eight of their last 12 games to clinch the pennant, he went 23-for-44 (.523) with five home runs and 16 RBIs. If there was any doubt who would win AL MVP honors in 1967, Yaz put it to rest during the final month.
“I don't think I've ever seen any ballplayer have a better year,” former Twins and Red Sox starter Lee Stange said of Yastrzemski. “If we needed to get a guy thrown out at second or thrown out at home, he did it. If we needed somebody to make a heck of a catch, he made it. Needed a base hit or needed a home run, and it seemed like he was always there. The right guy in the right spot.”
Yastrzemski was at his best in the final two games against Minnesota, going 7-for-8 with the three-run homer that nailed down Saturday’s win. His success carried into the World Series, as the future Hall of Famer hit .400 and stroked three home runs, though his team lost a seven-game affair to Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals.
As for the Twins, they endured one of the quietest team flights in their history after losing to the Red Sox in the season finale. Going home for the winter after needing just one win in their final two games to reach the World Series was a tough pill to swallow. The sting of missing out on October baseball would diminish, and with the Twins returning to contender status, there was reason for optimism heading into 1968.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my coverage of the 1967 Twins and their wild AL pennant race, culled from the upcoming and tentatively titled The Glory Years of the Minnesota Twins: Rock ‘n’ Roll, War and Peace, the Civil Rights Movement and Baseball in the 1960s. The entire collection of entries about that crazy summer are archived here.