The conclusion of a three-game series in Minnesota the first weekend in 1967 featured two teams fighting for the top spot in the American League and two of the top pitchers in baseball.
The Minnesota Twins, second-place finishers in 1966, had to go through a managerial change in June to climb into the race. The Boston Red Sox, who finished ninth the year before, were the surprise team in the American League, becoming a contender and, after a good month of July, the only team behind the first-place Chicago White Sox.
The Twins took the first two games of the August series against the Red Sox and had ace Dean Chance, who had a won-lost record of 13-8, going against 15-4 Jim Lonborg, who was on a one-day pass from Army Reserve duties in Georgia. The Twins weren’t as fortunate with their stars and military commitment; second baseman Rod Carew, on his way to being the American League Rookie of the Year, had left the day before for two weeks of summer camp for the Marines.
Rain was forecast as Minnesota went for the sweep, an achievement that would put the Twins into second place by a percentage point over the Red Sox. Roy Campanella was on hand to present catching gear to Little Leaguers in a pregame ceremony, and then Chance and Lonborg took command.
The pair retired 18 of 19 hitters through the first three innings, Tony Oliva being the only baserunner with a two-out double in the bottom of the first.
The bottom two batters in the Red Sox batting order came closest to getting to Chance. Elston Howard hit a liner to right that initially looked like a hit, but Oliva was able to get to it. Lonborg followed and sent a fastball right down the middle to the warning track in left, where Bob Allison corralled it to finish the third. After the game, Chance told reporters, “I didn’t know [Lonborg] was that good a hitter.” A Boston writer responded, “He isn’t.”1
As the Red Sox were about to start the top of the fourth, the rain reached the point that the umpires called time. Play resumed after 25 minutes. Mike Andrews put down a bunt, perhaps trying to challenge Chance on the wet turf, but the pitcher stayed on his feet as he pounced on it and threw to first. Dalton Jones grounded out, and Carl Yastrzemski worked Chance to a full count (the only time Chance went to three balls on a batter in the game), fouled off a pitch, and then struck out.
Chance had handled the delay without a problem, but the extended time on the bench appeared to bother Lonborg, who walked Cesar Tovar on four pitches in the Twins’ fourth. Tovar stole second as Tony Oliva struck out. Harmon Killebrew lined a single to left. Tovar held up in case the ball was caught and then, respecting Yastrzemski’s arm, retreated to second. Allison hit a longer liner, this one over Yaz’s head to the base of the left-field fence, scoring Tovar. Boston pulled the infield in, and Rich Rollins got one past Jones at third, bringing in Killebrew. The Twins did no more damage – Ted Uhlaender lined out to Andrews at second and Jerry Zimmerman flied to Tony Conigliaro in right – but they had the runs they needed, and the quick conclusion of the inning turned out to be more important.
The game was now official, a good thing for the Twins because it didn’t last much longer. Chance looked at a third strike to start the bottom of the fifth, and Versalles fouled off a pitch from Lonborg. Plate umpire Jim Odom then threw his hands in the air for the second time in the game, suspending play as the windswept rain was too much.
A letup in the downpour prompted the grounds crew to begin removing the tarpaulin only 10 minutes later, but they quickly put it back on as the rain fell heavily again. After a 57-minute delay, the game was called, not long before the sun peeked between clouds again. However, the field conditions, with sizable puddles in the outfield, meant the game went into the books at that time as a 2-0 win for the Twins and a perfect game for Dean Chance.
“It was a cheapie,” Chance said of the perfect game. “I’m glad it was called because we won. I had good stuff, particularly my curveball, but who can honestly tell whether you’ve got no-hit stuff or not? I doubt that I could have pitched a no-hitter.”2
Chance said he had pitched 18 no-hitters in high school, four of them perfect.3 He had pitched two one-hitters in the major leagues, both at Met Stadium. (In 1962, while pitching for the Los Angeles Angels, he gave up only an eight-inning infield single to Versalles, and earlier in 1967 he allowed only a fourth-inning single to Danny Cater of the Kansas City Athletics.)
Less than three weeks later, Chance pitched a nine-inning no-hitter as Minnesota beat Cleveland, 2-1.
For Lonborg, the loss in the game was his third of the season against the Twins, leaving him with a career record of 0-6 versus Minnesota. However, he beat the Twins, and Chance, on the final day of the 1967 season, a win that gave the Red Sox the pennant by one game over the Twins and Tigers.
Although Chance said he was happy with a rain-shortened win and didn’t think he could have gone all the way with a perfect game, Boston manager Dick Williams said, “Maybe it was only a five-inning no-hitter, but the way he was pitching it could’ve easily been nine.”4
Author’s scorebook and memories from the game:
In an August 17, 2004, interview with the author, Chance remembered his five-inning perfect game against Boston but not some of the details. He was especially surprised to hear that Elston Howard, traded earlier in the season from the Yankees to the Red Sox, had come the closest to getting a hit. He always thought Howard had spent his entire career with the Yankees. “Elston Howard?” he said. “Man, I would have lost money on that bet.”
1 Glenn Redmann, “Chance Happy Game Called: Nobody’ll Remember How Long It Took,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 7, 1967, 15.
2 Tom Briere, “Chance’s Win Perfect (*),”Minneapolis Tribune, August 7, 1967, 31.