To baseball fans of a certain age, 1967 will also be remembered for “The Impossible Dream” — the rise of the Boston Red Sox from ninth place in 1966 to first place the following season. In late April, though, I doubt anyone was having that dream.
More likely, Boston’s most optimistic fans were just hoping to beat out the two doormat teams that had finished ahead of them in ’66 — Kansas City and Washington — and to again outdo the New York Yankees, improbable last place finishers that season. The Sox had plenty of young talent. However, participation in a pennant race, if in the cards at all, surely would have to wait a few years.
When Kansas City rolled into Boston for the last series in April, the Red Sox were 6-5 under rookie manager Dick Williams. On Friday night, their ace — Jim Lonborg, who had just turned 25 — outpitched future Hall of Famer Jim “Catfish” Hunter — who had just turned 23 — in a 3-0 victory.
Saturday’s game, played on April 29, featured two more young and promising starters — rookie Bill Rohr (age 21) for Boston and John “Blue Moon” Odom (age 22) for K.C.. This would be Rohr’s third big league start. In his previous two, he had given up just one run in 18 innings. Odom hadn’t started the season well, but had posted a 2.49 the previous year in 14 starts.
This game would be no starting pitchers duel, though. Boston touched up Odom for two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Tony Conigliaro had an RBI double and George Scott an RBI single.
Rohr sailed through two innings, but K.C. scored five runs against him in the third. With two out and one runner on, Mike Hershberger doubled home a run. Rohr then loaded the bases for Dick Green, a light-hitting second basemen, who would bat only .198 that year. Green hit a gland slam.
The Red Sox answered the A’s with six runs in the bottom of that inning. Odom retired Joe Foy leading off the frame. But then, Carl Yastrzemski singled, Conigliaro doubled again, Rico Petrocelli walked, Scott walked, and Russ Gibson singled. That made the score 5-4 with the bases loaded and only one out.
K.C. manager Alvin Dark finally pulled Odom after Gibson’s hit. On came Paul Lindblad. He promptly walked Mike Andrews, gave up a sacrifice fly to Tony Horton (batting for Rohr), and then allowed a two-run double by Reggie Smith. Boston 8, Kansas City 5.
The Red Sox added a run in the bottom of the fifth. Scott singled and Gibson doubled him home.
Kansas City pulled to within a run of Boston with three in the top of the sixth. Danny Cater, later to become a Red Sox, hit a two-run homer off of Lee Stange.
The A’s tied the game in the next inning. Green singled and Jim Gosger drove him home with a one-out double.
With the score tied 9-9, both teams turned to their ace relievers, a move that nowadays managers almost never make — let alone in the seventh inning. The game now was in the hands of Jack Aker (K.C.) and John Wyatt (Boston, but originally K.C.).
I’ve written before about the lengthy duels between ace relievers that occurred occasionally in the 1960s. In this game, Wyatt pitched 5.2 innings, indecent by modern standards. Aker pitched 8.1 innings, indecent even by the standards of 1967.
Both were nearly untouchable until late in their outings. However, Boston almost won the game in the ninth inning. Foy doubled and, with two out, Petrocelli singled. But K.C. threw Foy out at the place — Hershberger to Charles to Talton.
Similarly, in the 12th, Roger Repoz walked and advanced to second on a bunt by Aker. With two out, Bert Campanaris singled, but Repoz was out at home — Yastrzemski to Gibson.
Seeing that Kansas City was finally getting to Wyatt, Williams replaced with veteran Don McMahon — soon to figure in the pennant race, but with the Chicago White Sox — in the 13th. Aker stayed on for K.C.
In the top of the 15th, Rick Monday homered off of McMahon. Could Aker shut the Red Sox down for a ninth time?
Conigliaro led off the bottom of the inning with a single. Playing for the tying run at home, Williams had Petrocelli sacrifice Tony C to second.
Scott single Conigliaro to third. Dalton Jones batted for Gibson. Jones walked. Dark elected to stay with Aker.
Williams sent up Jose Tartabull (formerly of Kansas City) to bat for Andrews. As was the case with Jones, the Red Sox skipper was playing “the percentages,” bringing on a left-handed batter to face the tiring right-handed reliever Aker.
Dark could have countered with southpaw Tony Pierce. But Pierce was a rookie, and I imagine that’s why Dark opted to stick with Aker.
Tartabull ended the game with a single that plated Conigliaro and Scott.
When I look at box scores like this one, I always check to see how the relief pitchers fared following their extended stints. Wyatt, the less abused of the two, made out fine. He returned to the mound on May 2 and turned in the first of four more scoreless performances. Wyatt went on to have an outstanding season — his best ever in the majors — and was a key to Boston’s “impossible” success.
For Aker, it was a different story. Following his April 29 appearance, Aker didn’t work again until May 7. That fact alone makes the case for not using a relief pitcher for eight-plus innings.
Aker pitched okay that day. But then, on May 9, Dark used him in both games of a doubleheader. In the nightcap, he gave up five runs in one inning.
Aker had been named “Fireman of the Year” in 1966 — the award given to baseball’s best relief pitcher. In 1967, his ERA ballooned from 1.99 to 4.30. By 1969, he was pitching, ineffectively, for the expansion Seattle Pilots, of Ball Four fame.
Aker bounced back in the early 1970s with the New York Yankees. However, he had lost his opportunity to pitch on the great A’s teams of that era.
As for the “impossible dream,” it continued to seem impossible. The Sox were only 41-39 at the all-star break — good enough to put a smile on the faces of their long-suffering fans, but not good enough to make them dream of a pennant.
However, the Sox caught fire in the second half of July and by the end of the month they were only two games out of first place. As we will see, one of the most riveting pennant races in baseball history — a four team affair — ensued.