This day in baseball history: Tears on their pillows

The 1967 American League pennant race was a four team race throughout the month of September. It featured the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, and Chicago White Sox.

More often than not, the White Sox were in fourth place. However, they generally were within two games of the leader.

Heading into the season’s final weekend, however, fourth place and two games behind wouldn’t suffice. Fortunately, on Friday, September 29, the White Sox had a golden opportunity to pull into a three-way tie for second, just one game behind the Twins.

Moreover, Chicago’s remaining two games would be against the Washington Senators, an improved team but below .500. Meanwhile, Boston and Minnesota would square off for two games, while Detroit would have to play the California Angels, the fifth place team, four times.

With their three rivals inactive that day, all the White Sox had to do to remain in serious contention was defeat the Washington Senators in Chicago. The pitching matchup — Tommy John vs. Phil Ortega — favored that outcome. John entered the game with a 2.48 ERA. He had mastered the Senators back in June in a game I described here.

Ortega was having a decent season, the only one of his career. Even so, his ERA more than half a run higher than John’s. According to Wikipedia, Ortega’s nickname in the clubhouse was “Tears on My Pillow.” I won’t speculate as to why.

The 1967 White Sox featured great pitching and poor hitting. They gave up only 491 runs, the fewest by far in the American League. Their three rivals for the pennant gave up, on average almost 600.

However, the White Sox scored only 531, the second fewest in the League. Boston, the eventual pennant winner scored nearly 200 more. The Tigers and Twins scored roughly 150 more.

The September 29 game against Washington played out along the lines these statistics suggested. Neither team scored an earned run.

The Senators scored an unearned run in the first inning, though. Lead-off batter Tim Cullen reached on an error by first baseman Tommy McCraw. Hank Allen forced Cullen, then made it to second base on a throwing error by Don Buford. The White Sox walked Frank Howard, the only big right-handed bat in the lineup against the southpaw John. However, Fred Valentine confounded that strategy by singling Allen home.

This proved to be the only run Ortega needed. Chicago managed only four hits against the Yaqui Indian. (According to this source, for marketing purposes, the Dodgers, Ortega’s first team, promoted him as Mexican, but he hailed from Arizona and said he didn’t speak Spanish).

The White Sox got runners to second base four times, but in each instance it was with two outs. Undoubtedly pressing, Chicago couldn’t come up with the big hit — not even the great pinch-hitter Smokey Burgess, who batted for John in the fifth inning after Ken Berry had doubled with two out. Burgess grounded out.

The 1-0 loss eliminated the White Sox from contention. Now they could win no more than 91 games. As a matter of math, either Minnesota or Boston (depending on how their two games went) would win at least 92.

The four team race was over, but three teams were very much in contention with just two days remaining in the regular season.

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