This day in baseball history — Bob Gibson returns

On September 7, 1967, Bob Gibson returned to the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals after an absence of almost two months. In mid-July, Roberto Clemente had fractured Gibson’s leg with line drive up the middle. Remarkably, Gibson faced three more batters before succumbing to the injury, but would miss more than seven weeks thereafter.

The Cardinals did not suffer during Gibson’s absence. Their record the day he went down was 51-34 (.600) and their lead over the second place Chicago Cubs was 4 games. When he took the mound on September 7, the Cards were 88-53 (.624) and led second place Cubs and San Francisco Giants by 11.5 games.

The Cardinals didn’t miss Gibson because Nelson Briles stepped into the starting rotation and pitched better than Gibson had been. Briles’ ERA during Gibson’s absence was under 2.00. Gibson’s ERA before his injury was 3.52, uncharacteristically high for the great right-hander and, indeed, higher than the Cardinals’ team ERA.

However, the Cards knew they would need Gibson in the World Series. Thus, it was important that he be able to come back in September to tune up for the Fall Classic. He had started three games in the 1964 World Series, winning two, and might be called on for a repeat performance in 1967.

Gibson’s comeback start game against the New York Mets. It was not smooth sailing.

The man they called “Hoot” labored through five innings plus one batter in the sixth. He allowed only two runs, but gave up eight hits. Gibson was aided by the fact that two Mets runners were thrown out on the bases.

St. Louis won the game 9-2, pounding out 16 hits. Having made it through five innings, Gibson got the win, improving his record to 11-6.

Gibson pitched brilliantly in his next four starts, allowing only two earned runs. He lowered his ERA to 2.98 and ended the season with a 13-7 mark. Despite missing almost two months he racked up 175 innings, the equivalent of nearly a full season of work by modern standards.

As we will see, Gibson’s September mastery carried over to the World Series. The Cards could have won the pennant without him but not, I’m pretty sure, the Series.

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