This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Not since 1958 had the Boston Red Sox had a winning team, and they’d finished in ninth place in 1966, just a half-game ahead of the last-place Yankees. Under new manager Dick Williams, the ’67 Sox played .500 ball for three months, but after the All-Star break, they reeled off a ten-game winning streak that catapulted them from fifth place to second. When they unexpectedly reached first place on August 22, some fans dared believe they had a chance to win the pennant. It became the summer of the “Impossible Dream.”
It was a young ballclub; Carl Yastrzemski was the veteran, and he was just 27. It was a racially diverse ballclub, thanks to dealings by GM Dick O’Connell – something new in Boston. Tony Conigliaro starred but on August 20, he was beaned, and out for the season. The Sox made moves throughout the season, adding veterans such as Jerry Adair, Elston Howard, and (after Conig went down) Ken Harrelson.
It was a tight race and as September opened, Boston was in first place, followed by the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox – all bunched within a game and a half.
With two games left on the schedule – September 30 and October 1 – the Twins were in Boston with a one-game lead. Win either of the two games, and Minnesota would eliminate the Red Sox. The Detroit Tigers, with double headers on both Saturday and Sunday, were also still alive.
Carl Yastrzemski had put the team on his shoulders offensively, and over the final two weeks of the season, he homered five times, hitting .523, driving in 16 runs and scoring 14. Yaz’s three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh provided the winning runs in a 6-4 Red Sox victory in the September 30 game.
With identical 91-70 records and just one game to play, the Twins and Red Sox faced, nearly, a single-game playoff for the pennant. (If the Tigers swept their Sunday double-header, they would tie the winner of the Minnesota-Boston game.) Right-hander Jim Lonborg was 21-9 for the season. The Twins were a bit of a bête noire for him, though; he was 0-3 against them in ’67. And Lonborg’s won/lost record at Fenway Park was only 8-5, with a 13-4 record on the road. He explained to the Associated Press why he had stayed in a Boston hotel the night before, rather than sleep at home: “Maybe I was being superstitious. I figured I’d … pretend I was on the road.”1
Lonborg got two outs, but then walked Hammerin’ Harmon Killebrew, who was tied for the league lead in homers with 44. Tony Oliva doubled in Killebrew, thanks to a George Scott throwing error, and the Twins had a 1-0 lead. (Oliva led the league with 34 doubles in 1967.) The Twins picked up another unearned run in the top of the third, on another Red Sox error, this time Yaz’s.
The Twins had their own 20-game winner on the mound, Dean Chance, who was 20-13. After five innings, Chance had given up four scattered hits and held a 2-0 lead. Then Chance gave up four singles all in a row. Lonborg was first up, and he laid down a bunt for a single. “The bunt was my own idea,” he told the AP. “It was the first thing I thought about when I went to the plate.”2 Adair singled to center. Dalton Jones showed bunt, but swung the bat and he singled, to left. Nobody out, and the bases were loaded.
Up came Yaz. A grand slam would have been magnificent, but he was careful. “I kept telling myself, don’t go for the home run, go for the base hit,” Yaz told reporters later.3 He singled to center field, driving in both Lonborg and Adair and tying the game. Jones took third base. Harrelson hit a ball to the shortstop, but it took a high bounce and when Zoilo Versalles came home with the throw to prevent Boston from taking the lead, Jones slid in safely on the fielder’s choice. 3-2 Boston.
Twins manager Cal Ermer summoned reliever Al Worthington to face The Boomer, George Scott. Like Chance, Worthington had an ERA under 3.00. And he struck out Scott – but not before throwing two wild pitches. The first saw both baserunners advance to second and third, and Yaz scored on the second one. Now Boston had a 4-2 lead, with pinch-runner Jose Tartabull on third base.
Worthington walked Rico Petrocelli. Reggie Smith grounded to first base, and Killebrew misplayed the ball. Tartabull scored on the error. It was 5-2, thanks to four singles, a fielder’s choice, two wild pitches, and an error – though all five Red Sox runs were earned runs.
Norm Siebern pinch hit and grounded out. Lonborg came up again and popped out to second base.
Lonborg retired three Twins batters in the top of the seventh, two of them pinch-hitters.
The Red Sox had the bases loaded on three successive singles in the seventh, and nobody out, but failed to score when Mudcat Grant induced a double play (Tartabull) and struck out Scott.
In the top of the eighth, there was a Twins single, but then a double play. Then they mounted a rally. Killebrew singled, as did Oliva. Bob Allison (who had 24 homers himself) then singled, scoring Killebrew and sending Oliva to third base, but he tried to take second base and put himself in scoring position as the tying run – only to be cut down when Yaz threw to second base for the final out of the inning.
It was 5-3 in Boston’s favor and Dick Williams stuck with Lonborg. Ted Uhlaender singled to third base to lead off the top of the ninth. Rod Carew, in his rookie year and batting over .290, grounded into a 4-3 double play. And Lonborg got Rich Rollins to pop up to a backpedaling Rico at short.
In the words of broadcaster Ned Martin, there ensued “pandemonium on the field” as thousands of Fenway fans flocked onto the playing field itself in a raucous celebration, surrounding some of the players, tearing signs off the scoreboard, climbing the netting behind home plate. Lonborg had his shirt nearly torn off by enthusiastic fans.
The Red Sox might still have to face a true single-game playoff against the Tigers, and the team remained in the clubhouse for a few hours, awaiting the final score in the second game of Detroit’s doubleheader against the California Angels.
The Angels gave the Red Sox the pennant with an 8-5 win. Lonborg’s 22nd win gave him a tie with Earl Wilson for the league lead. Lonborg won the 1967 Cy Young Award. Yaz had gone 7-for-8 in the final two must-win games, and won the Triple Crown with a .326 batting average, 121 RBIs, and his 44 home runs.
The Red Sox were headed to the World Series for the first time since 1946, with a chance to face the Cardinals again and avenge their loss in ’46.
Win or lose in the Series, for Red Sox fans everywhere, the Impossible Dream had come true. The Sox had drawn only a little over 8,000 fans for Opening Day 1967. By late August, they were selling out games and “Red Sox Nation” was born – the team had recaptured the hearts of fans in New England and beyond.
A somewhat lengthier account of this game appears in the book “The 50 Greatest Red Sox Games” (Wiley, 2006), by Cecilia Tan and Bill Nowlin. A version also appears in “The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox: Pandemonium on the Field” (SABR, 2017), edited by Bill Nowlin and Dan Desrochers. To read more stories from this book, click here.
1 Associated Press story, See. e.g., Hartford Courant, October 2, 1967.
2 Associated Press story. See, e.g., Rockford Register-Republic, October 2, 1967.
3 Associated Press story, See. e.g., Hartford Courant, October 2, 1967.