This day in baseball history: Twins win twice, cling to first place

1965 was only the third year since 1948 that the New York Yankees did not win the American League pennant. Unlike the previous two instances — 1954 (when they won 103 games) and 1959 (when they were only 4 games back in early July) — the ’65 Yankees were never in contention. On this day 50 years ago, they were in sixth place, 10 games off the pace.

That pace was being set by four teams: the Minnesota Twins, the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, and the Baltimore Orioles. Entering play on Sunday July 27, the Twins held a half game lead over the White Sox and the Indians, and a 1 game lead on the Orioles. All three teams were set to play two games, with Chicago and Baltimore playing each other at Comiskey Park.

Chicago and Baltimore had taken the Yankees almost to the wire in 1964 and, with the Yankees having dropped out of contention, were now co-favorites in the 1965 pennant race. The Twins, laden with talent, were also serious contenders. The Indians, famous in this era for good first halves, were not yet to be taken very seriously.

The strength of the White Sox was pitching, and so it proved to be in the doubleheader against the Orioles. A pair of 22 year-olds, Tommy John and Bruce Howard, stymied the Orioles as Chicago won 6-1 and 4-0. A 41 year-old, former Oriole Hoyt Wilhelm, saved both games with two innings of shut-out ball in the opener and three in the nightcap.

In Cleveland, it was offense that carried the day, as the Tribe topped Kansas City 10-7 and 11-7. The opener went 15 innings. Ex-Washington Senator Chuck Hinton ended it with a three-run walk off homer. Journeyman reliever Jack Spring pitched five innings of shut-out relief to claim the victory for Cleveland.

The two teams having used 11 pitchers in the first game (six by Cleveland), managers Birdie Tebbetts and Haywood Sullivan were hoping for better starting pitching in game two. They didn’t get it, nor did they have much reason to expect it. Kansas City’s Wes Stock (a reliever by trade, making the second of his three career starts) and Cleveland’s Floyd Weaver (making the second of his five career starts) both gave up five runs and were chased in mid-game.

After both teams added two runs in the sixth inning, the Indians blew the game open in the bottom of the seventh with 4 runs off of Don Mossi. The big hit was a two-run single by pitcher Sonny Siebert. Normally a starter, Siebert also gave the Indians three innings of hitless relief to pick up his 8th win of the year.

Meanwhile, in Bloomington, Minnesota, the Twins hosted the Detroit Tigers who were in fourth place only 2 games back. Both games were tight affairs.

In the opener, the score was tied 4-4 heading into the bottom of the eighth. The great Harmon Killebrew, leading off, singled against Fred Gladding. Don Mincher followed with a home run. Reliever Al Worthington set the Tigers down one-two-three in the ninth to preserve his victory.

The second game wasn’t decided until the tenth inning. The Twins lost a three run lead in the top of the eighth. Don Demeter led off the inning with a home run off of Jim Perry, pitching in relief. Manager Sam Mele promptly lifted Perry for Johnny Klippstein. The great Al Kaline greeted Klippstein with a single and Willie Horton followed with a game-tying two-run homer.

The Twins loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth against one-time World Series hero Larry Sherry, but failed to score. Sherry induced a pop-up from Bob Allison and a double-play grounder from Jimmie Hall. (By the way, Klippstein and Sherry are among the relatively small number of Jews who have played in the Major Leagues).

Minnesota won the game in the bottom of the tenth. Rich Rollins led off with a single, and Jerry Zimmerman bunted him to second.

Sherry walked Bernie Allen intentionally. He then retired Zoilo Versalles (eventual winner of the ML MVP in 1965) on a fly ball.

That brought Joe Nossek to the plate. Nossek would finish the season with only a .218 batting average, but had gone 2-4 on the day to lift his average to over .300. Nossek singled to center to keep the Twins in first place.

The day ended basically as it started for the three AL pace-setters, but with plenty of thrills and spills along the way. I’ll bet I’m not the only baseball fan who misses old-fashioned double-headers.

JOHN adds: This is getting exciting! The 1965 Twins were one of the greatest offensive baseball teams ever. I look forward to Paul’s recounting their exploits over the next few months. In October, he will get to the first World Series game that I attended, at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Maybe I will supplement Paul’s histories with accounts of later World Series games that I witnessed–I will never forget Jane Fonda, in full Barbarella mode at the Metrodome, doing the tomahawk chop non-stop for nine innings, one row in front of me–and of the only paranormal experience I have ever had, which took place in a hotel room in Munich in October 1991.