This article was written by John Bauer
When the Houston Astros hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers for a midseason series in July 1967, struggle and disappointment were themes applicable to both clubs. For the 28-47 Astros, their 10th-place standing represented an all-too-familiar spot. The Sporting News cited relief pitching that failed to materialize, bad infield defense, and overall poor team play as the culprits for the Astros’ low standing, noting that “[t]he Astros in the field often have worked at cross purposes and, while batting, seldom have players been able to coordinate their efforts.”1 There appeared to be glimmers of hope, however. “In winning most of its games, Houston has looked like a sharp club. … But it has been quite inconsistent in coming up with these sharp performances.”2
The Dodgers occupied an unusual place in the NL standings. After winning pennants in 1965 and 1966, Los Angeles resided in eighth place with a record of 33-41. The club struggled with injuries as well as the retirement of Sandy Koufax. Manager Walter Alston recognized the Dodgers’ predicament but refused to concede anything. “We haven’t given up hope yet, but we’re getting farther behind,” he said. “I knew before the season started that we were going to miss Koufax, but I thought we would score more runs than we have.”3
Despite their lowly positions, the Astros and Dodgers had provided some measure of excitement the previous evening. With a season-high crowd exceeding 33,000, the Astros broke a 2-2 deadlock in the eighth inning with Ron Brand’s tiebreaking single and a double steal that scored another run for a 4-2 win. In this day’s game, Astros skipper Grady Hatton did not manage because of his brother-in-law’s death, leaving coach Jim Busby in charge for the sixth time this season.4
Wade Blasingame, who joined the Astros from Atlanta in a June 15 trade, was making his second start for Houston. Two years removed from a 16-win season during the Braves’ final campaign in Milwaukee, the 23-year-old Blasingame was working his way into the rotation.5 The Dodgers countered with their own 23-year-old. After pitching a total of 19 major-league innings during the prior three seasons, Bill Singer had featured in the Dodgers’ rotation throughout 1967.
Neither pitcher allowed a run during a relatively quiet first inning. Blasingame allowed a one-out single to Nate Oliver, but Willie Davis’s double-play grounder to second baseman Joe Morgan ended the Dodgers’ half. Morgan walked with one out in the bottom half, but was picked off. The inning ended with Jim Wynn’s popout to Dodgers second baseman Oliver in foul territory.
The Dodgers opened the scoring in the second as the first five batters reached base against Blasingame. Jim Lefebvre walked to open the inning, and Al Ferrara and Ron Fairly singled to left and right, respectively, to load the bases. Jeff Torborg’s bloop single to right field scored Lefebvre and left the bases loaded for Dick Schofield. The light-hitting shortstop singled to center field, driving in Ferrara and Fairly for a 3-0 Dodgers lead. With Singer at the plate, the Astros recorded the first out when Torborg was caught attempting to steal third base. Singer grounded back to Blasingame, Wes Parker walked, and Oliver flied out to right fielder Rusty Staub to close the Dodgers’ second.
Schofield followed up his offensive success with a defensive mistake at the start the Astros’ second. Staub reached first on Schofield’s error. Eddie Mathews singled to right field to give the Astros two on with no outs. It came to naught, however, as Bob Aspromonte, Ron Davis, and Ron Brand went down in order to end the second inning. The Dodgers and Astros both managed two-out singles in the third inning, but neither team scored.
Los Angeles padded its lead in the top of the fourth. Torborg led off with a double to left. Schofield followed with a single to left, plating Torborg, to make the score, 4-0. The RBI was Schofield’s third of the game – he would drive in only 15 all season. Blasingame avoided further damage in the inning, and then escaped the fifth without allowing runs despite Lefebvre and Ferrara reaching base. Although Blasingame’s final pitching line showed 12 baserunners and four earned runs allowed in five innings, the Astros pitcher “showed enough to sustain hopes that he will be a definite asset to the club if sufficient work will get [him] back into the rhythm [from two years ago].”6
Houston began chipping away at the Dodgers’ lead in the bottom of the fifth. Singer walked Brand and struck out pinch-hitter Sonny Jackson, then back-to-back singles to right field by Julio Gotay and Morgan pushed Brand across. Later in the inning, Staub’s single to center field scored Gotay, cutting the deficit to 4-2. For the sixth inning, Busby gave the ball to Barry Latman, who sent down Schofield, Singer, and Parker in order.
After Aspromonte led off the Astros’ sixth with an infield hit, Alston brought in Bob Miller to replace Singer. Ron Davis singled to left, moving Aspromonte to second. Brand then “caught the Dodgers napping”7 with a bunt single to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Jackie Brandt struck out; however, Gotay doubled down the right-field line with one out, scoring Aspromonte and Davis to tie the game. Alston called on Jim Brewer to face Morgan with Brand on third and Gotay on second. The confrontation ended with Morgan walking to load the bases. Wynn, who entered the game as the National League RBI leader at 56 after hitting 11 home runs and 29 RBIs during June,8 hit a short fly to Fairly in right. Busby, coaching at third, sent Brand after the catch, gambling that Fairly’s throw would be off target.9 It wasn’t. Torborg tagged Brand at home to end the inning, but the Astros had tied the game, 4-4.
Carroll Sembera took the mound for Houston in the seventh, and set down Los Angeles in order. Brewer returned to pitch for the Dodgers. After Staub popped out to Parker, Mathews doubled to center field. With one out, Brewer intentionally walked Aspromonte to set up a possible force play. The Dodgers got what they were looking for when Ron Davis hit a double-play grounder to Schofield to end the seventh.
After a scoreless eighth, Sembera returned for the top of the ninth. Pinch-hitter Len Gabrielson singled to open the inning, but Sembera retired three straight Dodgers to complete his first three-inning stint of the season.10 Dodger Phil Regan replaced Brewer on the mound in the bottom of the ninth, and surrendered a one-out double to Wynn. Regan gave a pass to Staub to set up a possible double play, a strategy that had worked in the seventh, but had limited effect in the ninth. Mathews grounded to Parker, who threw to Schofield to force Staub at second base. With two out and runners on first and third, Los Angeles intentionally walked Aspromonte for the second time in the game.
While Ron Davis was waiting in the on-deck circle, Wynn, at third, noted the position of the Dodgers infield. He signaled to Davis that the infield was well back, trying to keep a groundball from rolling through the carpeted infield.11 Wynn said later, “When I saw where they were playing, I knew they couldn’t get either one of us if Ronnie got the bunt down perfectly.”12 Davis had experienced trouble bunting during the series. He had popped up in the first game trying to sacrifice, and twice in the second game had forced out the lead runner while trying to get down a sacrifice bunt.13 Despite those previous troubles, Davis bunted down the third-base line. “Actually the pitch was better than I expected, a little up and right over the plate,” he said after the game.14 Regan sprinted to the ball and flipped it toward John Roseboro, but the ball was well out of the catcher’s reach. Wynn scored to complete the comeback, sending 26,296 fans home happy after the 5-4 win.
In its review of the Astros’ 1967 season, The Sporting News noted two themes cited by manager Hatton for the team’s disappointing season: below-average defense and the lack of quality pitching depth.15 On the positive side, Wynn and Staub developed into major-league stars, playing in their first All-Star Games and becoming the first Astros to challenge for league-leading offensive honors. Wynn finished among the top five in the NL in several offensive categories, including home runs, RBIs, runs scored, and extra-base hits. Staub became the first Astros regular to finish a season over .300, and his .333 average was good enough for fifth in the NL.16
This article appears in “Dome Sweet Dome: History and Highlights from 35 Years of the Houston Astrodome” (SABR, 2017), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more articles from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
1 John Wilson, “Astros Still Await Midseason Blastoff,” The Sporting News, July 15, 1967: 26.
3 Dick Peebles, “Voice of the Peebles, Old Road for Alston,” Houston Chronicle, July 3, 1967: 1 (sports).
4 Houston Chronicle, July 2, 1967: 5 (sports).
5 John Wilson, “Astros Bounce Dodgers, 5-4,” Houston Chronicle, July 3, 1967: 3 (sports).
8 “Astronotes,” Houston Chronicle, July 2, 1967, 5 (sports); Houston Chronicle, July 3, 1967: 3 (sports).
9 John Wilson, “Astros Bounce Dodgers, 5-4,” Houston Chronicle, July 3, 1967: 3 (sports).
15 The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide – 1968, 118.
16 The Sporting News Official Baseball Guide – 1968: 121.