This day in baseball history: Gibson gives Cards an early edge

The 1967 World Series began on Wednesday, October 4 in Fenway Park. The Boston Red Sox participated for the first time since 1946 when they lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, their opponent once again.

The Red Sox didn’t clinch the 1967 pennant until after their final game of the season ended, when Detroit lost to California. The Cardinals, by contrast, clinched the pennant in mid-September. They won 101 games compared to Boston’s 92, and did so playing in a tougher league. The Cardinals also had he better run differential: +138 vs. +108.

When the story of the ’67 Cardinals is told, it always features first baseman Orlando Cepeda, the league MVP. It also often emphasizes the acquisition of Roger Maris to play right field and the move of Mike Shannon from right field to third base, a position he hadn’t played before. These moves were beneficial, but possibly overrated. Maris and Shannon had average years on offense and Shannon, understandably, was very poor in the field, committing 29 errors.

If there is an underappreciated hero among the Cardinals every day players, I think it was Tim McCarver. He maintained a batting average well over .300 for much of the season before fading (as catchers often do) to .295.

But what really stood out was his defense. McCarver threw out 37 of the 67 base runners who tried to steal off of him. The team’s other two catchers (Dave Ricketts and John Romano) threw out 11 of 26. And McCarver’s fielding percentage was .997, best in the league.

The other oft-told part of the Cardinals 1967 story is Bob Gibson’s broken leg. I wrote about it here. St. Louis flourished without Gibson because Nelson Briles stepped into the rotation and pitched brilliantly. When Gibson returned, manager Red Schoendienst had six quality starting pitchers: Gibson, Briles, Dick Hughes, Steve Carlton, Ray Washburn, and Larry Jaster. The latter two would be in the bullpen for the World Series.

Gibson’s return made St. Louis the heavy favorite in the World Series. He had beaten the Yankees twice in the 1964 Series, including in Game 7, and was expected to start three games in this Series, if necessary.

Gibson started Game 1. Boston countered with Jose Santiago, who had spent much of the season pitching relief but had delivered five quality starts in a row down the stretch.

Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg had pitched a complete game in Sunday’s must-win contest against the Twins. Thus, there would be no Gibson-Lonborg matchup in Game 1. This seemed to enhance Boston’s chances of splitting the first two games, thus establishing a foothold in the Series.

Game 1 was an odd affair. It was tied 1-1 through six innings. Yet St. Louis had touched up Santiago for nine hits and had accumulated three walks.

Boston, on the other hand, had only four hits. But one of them was a home run by Santiago, the pitcher.

The Cards scored another run in the top of the seventh, and did so with an economy of hits. Lou Brock singled and stole second base, his second steal of the game. Brock advanced to third on a ground out by Curt Flood and scored on a ground out by Maris. This was Roger’s second RBI of the game. The first also came on a grounder that plated Brock.

Gibson needed nine more outs and there were few pitchers, if any, who were his equal in getting to the finish line. In the bottom of the seventh, Reggie Smith singled with two out. But McCarver, as he had done all year, gunned down Smith when he tried to steal second.

In the eighth, veteran Norm Siebern led off for Boston with a single. Elston Howard, another veteran and another former Yankee, bunted Siebern to second. But then, Gibson got Jerry Adair on a fly ball and Dalton Jones on a pop up.

In the bottom of the ninth, with the score still 2-1, Gibson retired the first two Red Sox, Carl Yastrzemski and Joe Foy. He then walked the dangerous George Scott, the only base on balls he allowed that day.

That brought up Rico Petrocelli, a power hitting shortstop. Gibson had already struck him out three times (he had 10 strike outs altogether on the day). Thus, manager Dick Williams sent Mike Andrews up to bat for Petrocelli. Andrews was less likely to get the extra base hit that would tie the game, but Williams had seen enough of Petrocelli.

Andrews didn’t strike out, but neither did he get a hit. Gibson retired him on a fly ball to Maris.

Gibson had his third consecutive World Series complete game victory. St. Louis had a 1-0 lead in games. The Red Sox had Lonborg ready for Game 2.

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