This day in baseball history: Lonborg keeps Boston alive

The 1967 World Series between St. Louis and Boston stood at one game apiece when it moved to St. Louis on October 7. Game 3 featured a pair of right-handed starters: veteran Gary Bell, the very model of a .500 pitcher, for Boston against 24 year-old Nelson Briles.

The Cardinals had only scored two runs in the first two games. But, unlike Boston manager Dick Williams who reshuffled his lineup after losing Game 1, St. Louis skipper Red Schoendienst stayed with the lineup he had used all year (health permitting) against right-handed pitchers. That lineup was:

Lou Brock – LF
Curt Flood – CF
Roger Maris – RF
Orlando Cepeda – 1B
Tim McCarver – C
Mike Shannon – 3B
Julian Javier – 2B
Dal Maxvil – SS

Modern analysts would shower contempt on this batting order. Schoendienst had his two best hitters batting fourth and fifth — meaning fewer at-bats for them — and Roger Maris, whose batting stats were mediocre, was in the third slot. Even the conventional wisdom of 50 years ago would suggest that McCarver bat third and Maris fifth.

But Schoendienst was wedded to his lineup and would alter it only when facing a left-handed starter. Boston had none. In fact, the only lefty on Boston’s World Series roster was 19 year-old Ken Brett (the older brother of George), who had appeared in only one regular season game.

In Game 3, Schoendienst’s lineup jumped all over Bell. In the first inning, Brock led off with a triple and Flood singled him home. In the second, McCarver led off with a single and Shannon followed with a home run.

Briles, who had become a starter only when Bob Gibson went down with a broken leg, was masterful through five innings. He gave a run in the sixth on an RBI single by Dalton Jones, but the Cards got that run back in the bottom of the inning when Maris singled home Brock. That made the score 4-1.

Boston pulled to within two runs once again in the seventh on a Reggie Smith homer.

In the top of the eighth, Schoendienst had to make a key decision. Briles retired the first two Red Sox hitters, but the pesky Jones singled to bring up Carl Yastrzemski.

With Briles tiring and Boston’s best hitter at the plate, the situation seemed to call for a left-handed reliever. But Yaz had homered off of the Cards best lefty, Joel Hoerner, in Game 2. Southpaw Larry Jaster was also available, but he was normally a starter. Right handers Ray Washburn (also a starter but more experienced than Jaster) and Ron Willis were the other options if Schoedienst pulled Briles.

Schoendienst elected to stay with Briles. Yaz grounded out. The Cards added a run in their half of the eighth, and Briles cruised through the ninth.

St. Louis led the Series two games to one, with the great Bob Gibson set to pitch Game 4.

The Cards removed any suspense associated with that game by scoring four runs in the first inning (chasing Boston starter Jose Santiago) and two more in the third.

All eight Cardinal regulars reached base at least once in the first three innings, and all but Shannon had at least one hit. Maris and McCarver had a pair of RBIs.

This was more than enough support for Gibson. He shut out Boston on five hits. No Boston runner reached scoring position until the ninth inning when Yaz doubled. This was Gibson’s fourth consecutive World Series complete game victory.

Game 5, played on October 9, was thus a win-or-go-home affair for Boston. Fortunately, they could call on Jim Lonborg, who had shutout St. Louis on one hit in Game 2. St. Louis would give the start to 22 year-old lefty Steve Carlton, making his post season debut.

Lonborg was same unhittable self. Carlton was nearly as good. The only run scored by either team before the ninth inning resulted from a fielding an error.

In the third inning, Joe Foy singled with one out. Mike Andrews bunted and reached first base when Shannon — a converted outfielder playing third base to make room for Roger Maris — couldn’t field the ball cleanly. Carlton stuck Yastrzemski out, but Ken Harrelson, restored to the Boston lineup after a two game absence, singled Foy home with an “unearned” run.

The score remained 1-0 heading into the ninth inning. Lonborg, though pitching with a cold, had allowed only two hits, both singles.

Boston added two runs in the top of the ninth against reliever Ron Willis. George Scott walked, Reggie Smith doubled, and Rico Petrocelli relieved an intentional walk.

That brought up longtime Yankee Elston Howard to face former Red Sox Jack Lamabe, who had replaced Willis. Howard managed a bloop single. Scott scored, as did Smith on a throwing error by Maris. Lamabe escaped further damage, but Lonborg had a 3-0 lead.

In the bottom of the ninth Maris hit a two-out home run. Lonborg wasn’t invincible after all. But he had pitched his second complete game victory of the Series, having given up just one run and four hits in 18 innings of work. “Never since Cy Young threw history’s first World Series delivery in 1903 has any pitcher been as nearly perfect through 18 consecutive innings as Lonborg,” gushed Red Smith, the leading baseball writer of the day.

It was clear that if Boston managed to win Game 6, the deciding game would pit Lonborg against Gibson. All but die-hard Cardinals fans (and, presumably, some gamblers) wanted to see that match up.

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