This day in baseball history: Lonborg’s masterpiece

Game Two of the 1967 World Series was played on October 5 at Fenway Park. The Red Sox called on their ace Jim Lonborg to salvage a split of the two games in Boston.

Lonborg had attended Stanford on an academic scholarship. He had majored in biology. He was fond of the symphony. This background earned him the nickname “Dr. Lonborg.” Clearly, he was not the typical big leaguer of his era.

Before the World Series, Lonborg did something truly atypical. He explained publicly how he intended to pitch to the opposition. Years later, Tim McCarver recalled:

He’s the only guy I had ever faced who told us exactly what he would do with us. I read the articles, and he said, ‘The Cardinals are very aggressive, and I’ll throw them balls off the plate and let them chase them.’

Carl Yastrzemski also made an impression on the Cardinals. Having gone hitless against Bob Gibson in the opening game, Yaz immediately had the batting cage rolled out to home plate and took batting practice minutes after the game ended. The Cardinals were still milling around the stadium. According to McCarver, they were “awestruck.”

Lonborg’s opposite number in Game 2 was Dick Hughes. The 29 year-old right hander was a late bloomer. Before 1967, he had appeared in only six major league games, two of them starts. In ’67, he began the year in the bullpen, but moved into the rotation on a permanent basis in late May.

For the season, he was the Cards best pitcher. His 16 wins (with just six losses) led the team. His 2.67 ERA was the lowest among pitchers with 15 or more starts.

Hughes would face a changed Boston line-up from Game One. Manager Dick Williams replaced right fielder Ken Harrelson with Jose Tartabull and catcher Russ Gibson with Elston Howard. He also stirred his batting order. Only Dalton Jones (second) and Yastrezemski (third) would bat in the same slot as in the first game.

Game 2 belonged to Lonborg. Following the pitching formula he had publicly announced, the Stanford man blanked the Cardinals.

The game was scoreless through three innings. In the bottom of the fourth, Yaz broke the deadlock with a lead off home run. The extra batting practice hadn’t been for naught.

Lonborg was perfect — no hits, no walks — through six innings. Boston gave him another run to work with in the bottom of the sixth. Yaz flied out to start the inning, but Hughes then yielded walks to George Scott and Reggie Smith. The wildness was uncharacteristic of Hughes, the stingiest of St. Louis’ starters when it came to bases on balls.

Jerry Adair was the next batter. He pulled a ground ball to Mike Shannon at third base. Shannon was an outfielder by trade. He had moved to third base to accommodate Roger Maris, acquired by the Cards in the off-season to play right field. Playing out of position, Shannon committed 29 errors (for a .919 fielding percentage) during the regular season.

On this day, he failed to handle Adair’s grounder. As a result, the bases were loaded.

Cards manager Red Schoendienst pulled Hughes. He called on Ron Willis to pitch to Rico Petrocelli.

Petrocelli drove in Scott with a fly ball. Willis avoid further damage.

Lonborg lost his perfect game in the top of the seventh when he walked Curt Flood with one out. He maintained his no-hitter, though.

In the bottom of that inning, Boston broke the game open with three runs. All three runs scored on another home run by Yaz. He hit it off of Joel Hoerner, one of the best left-hander relief pitchers of the time.

With the game in the bag, the question was whether Lonborg would pitch a no-hitter. In the eighth inning, he set down McCarver and Shannon. But with two out, Julian Javier doubled into the left field corner of Fenway.

Lonborg preserved his shut-out by retiring Bobby Tolan, who pinch hit for Dal Maxvil. He also set down the Cards in order in the ninth inning.

Lonborg thus had pitched a one-hitter and allowed just two base runners. This was second best-pitched game in World Series history up to that point, behind only Don Larsen’s perfect game. I don’t think Lonborg’s performance has been matched in the ensuing 50 years, and I’m sure it hasn’t been surpassed.

The Series now was all square at one game apiece. Thursday would be an off-day, followed by three games in St. Louis. Gibson was expected to pitch Game 4 with Lonborg working Game 5. In Game 3, which was starting to look pivotal, it would be Gary Bell for Boston and Nelson Briles for St. Louis.

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