This day in baseball history — Gibson gets it done on mound and at plate

On October 12, 1967, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox met at Fenway Park in Game 7 of the World Series. Bob Gibson, winner of Games 1 and 4, both complete games and one of them a shutout, was on the mound for St. Louis. Boston countered with Jim Lonborg, winner of Games 2 and 5, both complete games and one of them a shutout.

The difference was that Gibson was working on three days rest; Lonborg on only two.

But how important was this? In 1958, Lew Burdette shut out the New York Yankees in Game 7 on two days rest. In 1964, Gibson defeated the Yankees on the same short rest, pitching a complete game. In 1968, Mickey Lolich would outduel Gibson in Game 7 on the same schedule, yielding just one run in his complete game.

St. Louis used the same starting lineup it had employed the entire series:

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

As I discussed here, having Maris bat third seems odd even by the conventional wisdom of the era. As a general matter, McCarver was a more logical choice. However, in this Series Maris was hitting well and McCarver was struggling.

Boston manager Dick Williams had juggled his lineup throughout the early portion of the Series before winning Games 5 and 6. For Game 7, he stuck with the same lineup used in those two games:

Joe Foy — 3B
Mike Andrews — 2B
Carl Yastrzemski — LF
Ken Harrelson — RF
George Scott — 1B
Reggie Smith — CF
Rico Petrocelli – SS
Elston Howard — C

Absent was Dalton Jones, the team’s hottest hitter other than Yastrzemski, and a left-handed batter to boot. Jones had managed three hits against Gibson in Game 1. Superstition seems like the only plausible explanation for preferring Foy to Jones on this day.

Gibson and Lonborg breezed through the first two innings, but Lonborg encountered difficulty in the third. Light-hitting Dal Maxvil led off the inning with a triple. Lonborg would later say he knew right then that his stuff was starting to “flatten out.”

Lonborg retired the next two batters, but then Flood singled home Maxvil and Maris followed with a single that sent Flood to third. With the slumping Cepeda at the plate, Lonborg threw a wild pitch allowing Flood to score. Cepeda grounded out to end the inning.

Gibson, meanwhile was pitching another masterpiece. Through four innings, he allowed no runs and no hits, while striking out seven. A walk to Foy in the first inning was the only blemish.

Gibson enhanced his legend in the top of the fifth. With one out, he homered off of Lonborg. He hit a hanging slider to dead center. Fifty years later, when the Cards celebrated their World Series victory at a reunion, Gibson called the home run his most memorable Series moment. “Don’t ever hang a slider to me,” the fierce competitor added.

The Cards weren’t done. Brock followed Gibson’s blast with a single. He then stole second base, and third as well on a walk to Flood.

The clutch-hitting Maris drove Brock home. Half way through the game, the Cards led 4-0.

Boston got a run back in the bottom of the fifth. Reggie Smith led off with a triple and scored on an error by Javier. This was the Sox first hit of the day. Gibson set down the next three batters.

There was no way Williams should have sent Lonborg out to pitch the sixth inning, but he did. McCarver greeted him with a double. Shannon grounded to Foy who failed to make the play. Two on, nobody out.

Surely that would be all for Lonborg. But no. With Williams reportedly expecting a bunt and Lonborg asking to stay on, the Red Sox manager continued with his exhausted ace.

Javier smashed a three run homer to remove whatever suspense was left. Lonborg left the mound to a standing ovation from the Red Sox faithful. Teammates in the dugout said they saw tears in the big right-hander’s eyes.

Years later, McCarver paid tribute to the Boston fans. “We’d never encountered that type of fan,” he said. “I only remember their rabid desire to win.”

With the game basically in the bag, Gibson started throwing “outs,” rather than swing-and-miss offerings. Having struck out eight batters through five innings, he struck out only two the rest of the way. This was the same approach the great right-hander had used to close out Game 7 of the 1964 Series against the Yankees.

The Yankees scored five times in the second half of that game, losing 7-5. On this day, Boston scored only one more run. That came in the eighth inning. Petrocelli led off with a triple and scored on a wild pitch. Dalton Jones, finally getting his chance to bat (as a pinch hitter for Howard) drew a walk. But Gibson set down Norm Siebern, Foy, and Andrews to end the inning.

Yaz led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, his tenth hit of the Series. Harrelson, though, hit into a double play and Gibson fanned Scott to end the game. St. Louis 7, Boston 2.

Here is Gibson’ line for the 1967 World Series: 27 innings, three runs (all earned), 14 hits, five walks, and 26 strike outs. Plus that home run.

Lonborg had come up short. As a consolation, he would soon be named the Cy Young award winner, becoming the first Red Sox pitcher to gain that honor.

Unfortunately, Lonborg tore two ligaments in his knee while skiing during the off-season. He would never perform anywhere close to his 1967 level, though he had a few good years in the 1970s, first for Milwaukee and then for Philadelphia.

To this day, however, he is a legend in Boston.

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