This day in baseball history: Yaz, sir

Saturday, September 30, 1967 saw the first place Minnesota Twins playing the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. A Minnesota win would eliminate the Red Sox, who trailed by one game. However, the Detroit Tigers would remain alive if they won at least one game of their doubleheader against the California Angels. A Red Sox win would bring them level with Minnesota, and give the Tigers a half game lead if they swept the Angels.

In Boston, the Twins took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning. However, they had lost starting pitcher Jim Kaat, an all-star and veteran of three World Series duels against Sandy Koufax (his record in those games was 1-2), in the third inning due to a strained elbow. Kaat had shouldered a huge workload in September and his arm simply gave out. Manager Cal Ermer replaced Kaat with another fine veteran pitcher, Jim Perry.

Boston reached Perry for two runs in the fifth. Reggie Smith led off with a double. Pinch hitter Dalton Jones, who was having a fine year against right-handed pitchers (Perry was right-handed; Kaat left-handed) singled Smith to third. Kaat fanned Jose Santiago, Boston’s pitcher, and Mike Andrews. However, journeyman third baseman Jerry Adair singled home Smith and Carl Yastrzemski singled home Jones.

The Twins evened things up in the top of the sixth. Bob Allison walked with one out, and with two out Ted Uhlaender singled him to second. Rich Reese, batting for catcher Jerry Zimmerman, singled Allison home.

Frank Kostro then batted for Perry and drew a walk. However Santiago retired Zoilo Versalles.

In the bottom of the sixth, Ron Kline replaced Perry. The 35 year-old Kline was a so-so starting pitcher for years before becoming an ace reliever for the Washington Senators in the mid-1960s. The Twins acquired him from Washington before the 1967 season in exchange for Camilo Pascual (a great favorite of mine) and Bernie Allen.

In 1967, Kline had not lived up to expectations. His ERA was more than a run higher than his typical mark for the Senators. Ordinarily, the Twins might have turned to Perry and then to Al Worthington, their bullpen ace. But Perry had been forced into service early and pinch hit for rashly, perhaps. Thus, the game was in Kline’s hands.

George Scott greeted Kline with a “tater,” the term for home run that Scott popularized. Kline got out of the sixth with no further damage, but Boston now led 3-2.

Kline retired the first batter he faced in the seventh, pitcher Santiago. The second batter, Andrews, reached on an infield single.

That brought Adair to the plate. He hit a ground ball right back to Kline. It had double-play written all over it. Kline tried to lead Versailles by throwing over the second-base bag, as I believe is the proper approach, rather than directly to the infielder. Unfortunately for Minnesota, Versalles didn’t make the play. He was charged with an error, and the Twins had runners on first and second with Yastrzemski at the plate.

Ermer brought in lefty Jim Merritt to face Yastrzemski. It didn’t work. Yaz homered to give the Sox a 6-2 lead.

Down to their last out in the ninth, the Twins rallied for two runs on a homer by Harmon Killebrew off of Gary Bell. But Tony Oliva lined out to end the game. Boston and Minnesota were now tied.

Meanwhile, the Tigers had defeated the Angels in the opener of their double header by a score of 5-0. Mickey Lolich pitched a shutout. If Detroit won the nightcap they would take a half game lead.

The Tigers looked like accomplishing this. They jumped on Angels starter Jack Hamilton for three runs in the first inning and led 6-2 heading into the eighth.

If I recall correctly, Tiger fans were nervous about the team’s bullpen all season. Detroit had no dominant reliever. However, as the year progressed they developed a solid bullpen-by-committee. Fred Gladding saved 12 games, Mike Marshall saved 10, and Fred Lasher saved 9. Gladding and Marshall both had fine ERAs (Lasher, not much). John Hiller, whose ERA was also impressive, gave them a good left-handed arm. Former starters Hank Aguirre (a lefty) and Dave Wickersham (a right-hander) also chipped in effectively.

In this game, Lasher had replaced starter Earl Wilson in the sixth inning after Wilson walked the lead-off batter. Lasher set the Angels down one-two-three in the sixth and got through the seventh yielding only a walk.

In the top of the eighth, however, the first four Angel batters — Jim Fregosi, ex-Twin Jimmie Hall (on a walk), ex-Twin Don Mincher, and Rick Reichardt — all reached base against Lasher, with Fregosi and Hall scoring. It seems odd that Tigers manager Mayo Smith left Lasher, who had already pitched two innings, in the game long enough to suffer than much damage. A modern manager might leave Lasher in to face Fregosi but would almost certainly then call on Aguirre or Hiller to face lefties Hall and Mincher.

Finally, with left-handed Roger Repoz due up, Smith pulled Lasher and brought in Aguirre. The Angels countered with ex-Tiger Bubba Morton. Aguirre got him on a grounder back to the mound. However, Mincher scored on the play to make the score 6-5.

Aguirre walked Bob Rodgers. Smith called on Gladding to face Bobby Knoop, a right-handed batter. Knoop reached on an infield single to load the bases.

That was all for Gladding. On came John Hiller to face Tom Satriano, a left-handed batter. Satriano singled to tie the game. The bases remained loaded.

Hiller struck out pinch hitter Bob “Hawk” Taylor. Now he had to get Fregosi to keep the score tied.

But Fregosi, an all-star, came through with a hit that scored two runs. Hiller retired Hall, but the damage was done, and then some. The Angels had scored six runs and led 8-6.

During the course of the double-header, the Angels had run through pretty much their entire bullpen. To close out this game, manager Bill Rigney called on Jim Weaver, who had pitched three innings of scoreless ball in the opener.

Weaver set the Tigers down in order in both the eighth and ninth innings.

The Tigers thus were half a game behind the Twins and the Red Sox heading into the final day of the season. They still controlled their own destiny, though. If they won the Sunday double-header against the Angels, the Tigers would be tied for first with the winner of the Minnesota-Boston game, and a playoff would be required to determine the American League champion.

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