This article was written by Alan Cohen
The Minnesota Twins were fully aware of how, just one year before, the Philadelphia Phillies had blown a seemingly insurmountable lead with very little time remaining in the season. The Twins had been on the verge of clinching the pennant for about a week when they traveled to Washington in late September of 1965. They had an eight-game lead with eight games remaining in their season as they arrived at their former home for a series set to begin on Friday, September 24. Their magic number was three and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a former mayor of Minneapolis and a US senator from Minnesota, was there to cheer his team on. Rain intervened, however, and Friday night’s game was rescheduled as part of a doubleheader on Saturday.
Forty miles away in Baltimore, the Orioles kept the magic number at three on Friday, winning the first game of a scheduled doubleheader against the Angels, before the rains came. With their backs to the wall, the Orioles had won four consecutive games. In Baltimore, as in Washington, there would be a doubleheader on September 25. The Twins’ lead over Baltimore, which had been 10 games on September 20, had been reduced to 7½ games. The Chicago White Sox were also barely alive. They were one loss or one Minnesota win away from elimination.
Jim “Mudcat” Grant (19-6) went into the opener on Saturday seeking his 20th win of the season. He was on the verge of becoming the first African American pitcher to win 20 games in the American League, as well as the AL’s first 20-game-winner in 1965. He was opposed by Frank Kreutzer. Kreutzer had only a 2-5 record coming in but manager Gil Hodges chose the left-hander as the starter to keep the Twins’ Tony Oliva and Don Mincher in check. The lefty pitcher also kept left-handed-hitting outfielders Jimmie Hall (.287) and Sandy Valdespino (.254) on the bench. Righties Joe Nossek (.234) and Bob Allison (.239) got the starts.
The game was scoreless for the first four innings and the closest Washington could get to a threat against Grant was in the third inning. An error by second baseman Frank Quilici allowed Washington’s Jim French to get on base. The next two batters hit into force plays. Kreutzer stood at first with two outs as Don Blasingame strode to the plate. Blasingame’s double moved Kreutzer to third, but Grant stranded the two runners as he induced Ken McMullen to ground out.
Zoilo Versalles helped his MVP credentials by hitting a home run with Grant aboard in the fifth inning to put the Twins in front, 2-0. It was his 18th homer of the season. Grant wouldn’t need any more runs, but Versalles was not the least bit finished. The shortstop, who had four hits in the game after a first-inning strikeout, banged his 11th triple of the season in the seventh inning. It ignited a three-run rally that wrapped up the Twins’ scoring. An RBI double by Oliva and a two-run pinch-hit single by Valdespino provided the additional three-run cushion for Grant.
Meanwhile Grant was rolling along. He walked Jim French with one out in the fifth inning, then proceeded to retire the final 14 batters to register the 5-0 win in 2:27. The third-inning double by Blasingame was the only hit he allowed.
A win in the nightcap would clinch a tie for the pennant.
The Twins sent veteran Camilo Pascual to the mound. His career with the team began when they were the original Washington Senators. The Cuban right-hander was 9-3 for the season after missing the entire month of August with arm problems that required surgery on August 2, performed by the Twins’ team physician, Dr. George Resta. (The original diagnosis was a benign tumor towards the back of Pascual’s shoulder, but surgery revealed that three frayed muscles had snapped, like severed rubber bands, and formed an egg-sized lump.1) The two-time 20-game-winner had gone without a win from June 9 through September 10.2 Washington countered with right-hander Jim Duckworth. Duckworth, who had been inserted into Washington’s starting rotation late in August, was 2-1 in six starts, and had two games in which he struck out 10 or more batters. In all, he had struck out 43 batters in 36 innings as a starter – and for Duckworth the best was yet to come.
In the bottom half of the first inning in the nightcap, Washington’s Fred Valentine, on first base with a single, tried to steal second base. In the process, he collided with Versalles, as the throw from catcher Jerry Zimmerman was off-line. Valentine was called safe on the play and awarded a stolen base. But he sustained a cut over his right eye, left the game, and was taken to the hospital where he received two stitches to close the wound. Jim King came into the game for Valentine and was stranded at second base.
Versalles, somewhat bruised, remained in the game until the fourth inning, when he was replaced at shortstop by Jerry Kindall. Versalles was taken to the hospital, where he remained overnight.
The Senators took an early lead, scoring three runs in the second inning. The key hit was a double by Eddie Brinkman that scored McMullen, who had singled to open the inning, and Mike Brumley. Brinkman advanced to third on a throwing error by Versalles and scored on a first-pitch suicide squeeze bunt by Duckworth. Only one of the runs was earned as, prior to the Versalles error, Twins catcher Zimmerman, who was not having the best of days, misplayed a foul ball to extend Brumley’s at-bat.
The Twins broke into the scoring column in the fourth inning. Singles by Oliva and Harmon Killebrew put runners on first and third. Hall delivered Oliva with a sacrifice fly. The single by Oliva was his second of the game and his third hit of the doubleheader. At the end of the day, his league-leading batting average stood at .322. The following day, he went 1-for-4 and wound up with a .321 batting average to earn his second consecutive batting title.
In the seventh inning, Mincher’s 22nd homer of the season cut the Washington lead to 3-2.
Pascual was near perfect after the second inning, retiring 14 of the last 15 batters he faced, allowing only a fifth-inning walk to King. He was pulled for pinch-hitter Rich Reese in the top of the seventh and was replaced by Jim Merritt. Merritt shut down the home team with only one hit in three innings and didn’t allow any further scoring.
Meanwhile, the Twins had some punch left in their bats. With one out in the eighth inning, Valdespino (2-for-4) singled, bringing up Oliva. Manager Hodges removed Duckworth, who had struck out 13 Twins in 7⅓ innings, and brought in lefty Mike McCormick, who had begun as a bonus baby with the New York Giants in 1956. McCormick got Oliva to fly out to center field, but walked Killebrew with the potential lead run. Twins manager Sam Mele sent the right-hand-hitting Joe Nossek up to pinch-hit for lefty Jimmie Hall and Hodges countered by bringing in right-hander Ron Kline to face Nossek. It was Kline’s 74th appearance of the season. Nossek’s double plated Valdespino with the tying run and put runners on second and third. An intentional walk to Mincher loaded the bases.
The stage was set for Quilici. The utility infielder, who had joined the team in mid-July, had come into the game batting .211 and was hitless in six at-bats so far this day. He would never have a more important turn at the plate. He singled home two runs, giving the Twins a 5-3 lead. The RBIs were Quilici’s sixth and seventh of the season. He would have no RBIs during the season’s remaining games, but it mattered little. He had come through with the hit that clinched at least a tie for the pennant.
Merritt retired the Senators in order in the final two innings, striking out Don Lock for the game’s final out, to put his record at 5-4 for the season. Only 9,373 fans had paid their way in to see the sweep of the single-admission doubleheader as the Twins finished their second game win in 2:53.
If Baltimore, the only team still with a chance to catch the Twins, lost either game in their twi-night doubleheader at Memorial Stadium against the Angels, the Twins would go to bed on Saturday night as American League champions. The Birds did not cooperate. While the Twins were completing their sweep of the Senators, the Orioles won the opener in dramatic fashion, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning when Jerry Adair singled with one out and the bases loaded to drive in Russ Snyder.
It was now time for some good old-fashioned scoreboard watching. In this case, the Twins, in various stages of undress, elected to order in food and listen on transistor radios, to the broadcast of the second game of the Orioles-Angels doubleheader from Baltimore. At times the broadcast signal was weak and only Harmon Killebrew, with his ears glued to the radio for the entire nine innings, could hear Chuck Thompson describe the action. The Orioles won the nightcap, 2-0, behind the three-hit pitching of Milt Pappas, in his last win for the Orioles. Everyone dressed and rushed to the team bus. Sam Mele said, “We’ll have to do it ourselves, tomorrow.”3
The magic number remained at one.
Thielman, Jim, Cool of the Evening: The 1965 Minnesota Twins (Minneapolis: Kirk House Publishers, 2005).
Whittlesley, Merrill, “Twins Take 2, Clinch Flag Tie: Grant Wins 20th with 1-Hitter, 5-0,” Washington Sunday Star, September 26, 1965, F-1.
Daily Journal (Fergus Falls, Minnesota)
The Sporting News
Sunday Star (Washington)
Winona (Minnesota) Sunday News
1 Thielman, 167.
2 Fergus Falls (Minnesota) Daily Journal, September 27, 1965: 10.
3 Washington Sunday Star, September 26, 1965: F-2.