Rich Reese could deliver in the pinch.
He had two important pinch-hit two-run homers within a two-week span in 1967, one off Fred Talbot to beat the Yankees in New York and the other against Moe Drabowsky in the last of the ninth for a 10-9 win over Baltimore. 1
In 1969 Reese started hitting them with the bases full. On August 3 he hit for Jim Kaat and sent a grand slam over the left-field fence that saddled Baltimore’s Dave McNally with his first loss of the season after 15 wins. His grand slam on June 7, 1970 — hitting for announced pinch-hitter Bob Allison — broke a 3-3 tie in Washington.
Reese wasn’t in the lineup against Steve Kline of the Yankees in the rubber game of a series at Metropolitan Stadium on July 9, 1972, not that anyone noticed. The attention was on Kline, who came into the game with an earned-run average of 1.86, the best in the majors among qualifying pitchers.
Fans were starting to come back to the Met, in part because of Frank Quilici, who took over as Minnesota manager before the beginning of the weekend series.
Twins owner Calvin Griffith didn’t have much success with his gate receipts over the first half of the season. The team’s season opener had been scheduled for what was a beautiful day for baseball on April 6–except that there was no baseball as a players strike wiped out the opener plus six more home games.
When the strike ended, the Twins were set to open at home on Saturday, April 22, but the game was postponed by rain. The opener finally occurred the next day, but with the temperature 44 degrees and a northwest wind of 12 miles per hour, the crowd was a little under 18,000. Even though Minnesota won 23 of its first 35 games, the attendance didn’t pick up, and when the success on the field started to wane, manager Bill Rigney was sent packing.
Quilici had been a popular player with the Twins and served as a coach under Rigney starting in 1971. Griffith was up front about picking Quilici over third-base coach Ralph Rowe, who had 10 years of managing experience in the minor leagues, including as the skipper of Minnesota’s top farm team in Portland, Oregon, in 1971. Quilici, who lived year-round in Minnesota, traveled through the region to promote the Twins in the offseason, and Griffith hoped he could stimulate the fans as well as the players.2
The managerial change seemed to have an effect in the Friday-night opener of the series, drawing a season-high crowd of 19,514 as Harmon Killebrew’s two-run homer in the seventh gave Quilici a win in his debut. Rain kept some fans away on Saturday as the Yankees won 1-0 on an 11th-inning homer by Bernie Allen, but a sunny Sunday brought them back, and attendance topped that of Friday night by 99 (19,613).
Unfortunately for the locals, the Twins played one of their poorer games of the season and fell in a hole quickly. Ron Blomberg put the Yankees ahead in the first with a two-out, two-run double off the fence in right. The next inning Horace Clarke’s two-run double, followed by a run-scoring single by Thurman Munson, made the score 5-0 and sent Minnesota starter Ray Corbin to the showers. New York added a run in the fifth.
The game got completely away from the Twins, artistically and competitively, in the top of the seventh, starting with a popup by Bobby Murcer. Third baseman Eric Soderholm called for it but appeared to be having trouble, perhaps with the sun. Shortstop Danny Thompson didn’t call him off, and at the last instant Soderholm let the ball drop and was charged with an error. Roy White doubled, and Blomberg hit a fly to right. Cesar Tovar got a bad jump, allowing the ball to drop and then skip past him. Murcer scored and White, who had to hold until the ball landed safely, hustled for home as Tovar made a wild heave that sailed past catcher George Mitterwald.
Kline took the 9-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh and got leadoff batter Charlie Manuel to pop out before Bobby Darwin beat out an infield hit. Soderholm followed with a single and Mitterwald walked to load the bases. Manager Ralph Houk decided that was enough for Kline and called for Lindy McDaniel as Reese came out of the dugout to hit for pitcher Bob Gebhard.
Like many other batters in the league, Reese didn’t like dealing with McDaniel’s forkball, and he found a way to get around it. After McDaniel missed with his first two pitches, Reese said, he looked to third and pretended that Rowe had given him the take sign on 2-and-0. “I gave him a disgusted look and said, ‘Take’?” His intent was to fool McDaniel into thinking he wouldn’t be swinging at the next pitch.3
Reese was determined to go after only a fastball and that’s what he got, sending the pitch into the bleachers in right field. Reese said the Yankees weren’t enamored of his theatrical antics, especially catcher Thurman Munson, who gave Reese an earful when he completed his circuit and crossed home plate.4
In the stands, two teenagersone a Yankees fan, the other a Twins fan – looked at each other and said simultaneously, “There goes Kline’s ERA.”5
Reese’s third career pinch-hit grand slam set an American League record and tied him with Ron Northey for the major-league mark. (Since then, Willie McCovey has hit his third pinch slam, all of them coming in the National League, and Ben Broussard tied Reese for the American League record as well as the others for the major-league record.)6
The blast at least gave the Twins fans something to cheer about, although their team’s sloppiness continued through the rest of the game. Sparky Lyle relieved McDaniel in the last of the eighth after Killebrew singled. Lyle got Steve Brye to ground into a double play with Killebrew’s takeout slide comically coming in five feet short of second base.
Soderholm made another error in the ninth when he couldn’t hold a throw from Darwin in center that had beaten Felipe Alou at third. The Twins managed to get out of the inning and got a run off Lyle in the bottom of the ninth, but even this didn’t please Quilici as Soderholm scored despite running through Rowe’s stop sign.
The Yankees won 9-6. Though their ERAs both suffered, Kline got his eighth win of the year and Lyle his league-leading 19th save.
While the historic feature of the game was Reese’s grand slam, the immediate focus after the game was on the poor showing by the Twins. “What a shame it is to get a good crowd like we did today and then play that kinda game,” Quilici said. “It kinda sours it all.”7
The author’s scorebook contains the account of this game. In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for material pertinent to this article.
1 Reese’s homers came on August 18, 1967 against Talbot and August 31, against Drabowsky.
2 Tom Briere, “Griffith Says Quilici Was Stunned by Promotion,” Minneapolis Tribune, July 7, 1972: 1C.
3 Author interview with Rich Reese, August 1, 2015.
4 Reese interview.
5 The author was one of the teenage fans (not the Twins fan).
7 Jon Roe, “19,613 See Yanks Rip Twins,” Minneapolis Tribune, July 10, 1972: 1C.