September 30, 1967: Yaz brings Red Sox to verge of AL pennant

This article was written by Frederick C. Bush


On Saturday, September 30, 1967, as the thrilling American League pennant race neared its conclusion, the Boston Red Sox entered their final series of the season needing two victories against the Minnesota Twins — whom they trailed by one game — plus two Detroit Tigers defeats to make their Impossible Dream become reality.1 Left fielder Carl Yastrzemski went on an incredible hitting tear down the stretch as he singlehandedly tried to will his team to the pennant, going 27-for-55 at the plate and driving in 18 runs from September 15 through October 1.

In Saturday’s game, the next to last of the season unless a playoff was required, the Red Sox squared off against Twins left-hander Jim Kaat, who had performed mound magic in the heat of the pennant drive that was the equal of Yaz’s batting wizardry. Kaat had started slowly in 1967 and would not come close to matching his 25 victories of the previous year, but his stretch run made up for any disappointment from the season’s first five months as he went 7-0 with a 1.51 ERA in September.2

A crowd of 32,909 was on hand for the contest. Among the spectators were such luminaries as Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy; his brother, New York Senator Robert Kennedy; their father, Joseph P. Kennedy; and Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey. The stage was set for both politicians and ordinary fans alike to learn the answer to the clichéd conundrum, ‘What happens when the irresistible force [Yaz] meets the immovable object [Kaat]?’

Veteran right-hander Jose Santiago, having his finest season in the majors, brought an 11-4 record into the game as he took the mound for Boston. On this day he immediately ran into trouble. Zoilo Versalles led off the game for Minnesota with a single to left and, after Cesar Tovar was retired, advanced to second when Harmon Killebrew drew a walk. Tony Oliva staked the Twins to a 1-0 lead with a single that knocked in Versalles, and Bob Allison followed with a hit that loaded the bases. Santiago managed to squelch the rally by retiring both Rod Carew, who would be named AL Rookie of the Year, and Ted Uhlaender.

It looked as though Boston might respond in kind in the bottom of the frame as Mike Andrews stroked a leadoff single to left, but he was erased from the basepaths when Jerry Adair grounded into a double play. Yastrzemski’s single also went for naught as Ken “Hawk” Harrelson struck out to end the inning.

The second inning was largely uneventful; Santiago retired the Twins in order while Kaat allowed a leadoff single to George “Boomer” Scott before getting three straight outs, including strikeouts of the final two batters, Reggie Smith and Russ Gibson.

Santiago worked around a one-out double by Killebrew in the top of the third via two strikeouts of his own. After Kaat struck out Santiago to start the bottom of the frame, it looked as though the game was settling into a pitchers’ duel, but this would not be the case.

As fate would have it, when Kaat delivered his 1-and-2 offering to Santiago, he “heard something pop.”3 That something turned out to be a muscle in his pitching forearm that he described as sounding “just as if I might’ve been snapping my fingers.”4 He still managed to strike out Santiago and went to a 2-and-0 count against Andrews before he could pitch no more. Kaat was replaced by Jim Perry, a veteran right-hander who had alternately started and pitched out of the bullpen that year. Perry walked Andrews, though the free pass was charged to Kaat, but held the Red Sox scoreless and even struck out Yaz to end the inning.

In the top of the fourth, Santiago again had to work his way out of trouble — this time in the form of a one-out triple by Uhlaender — but he buckled down and held the Twins at bay. After Perry retired the Red Sox in order in the bottom of the inning and Santiago returned the favor in the top of the fifth, the mound duel appeared to be intact, only with Perry substituting for Kaat.

Once again, however, things turned out differently than it seemed they would as Perry suddenly ran into trouble in the bottom of the fifth. Smith led off with a double and Dalton Jones, pinch-hitting for catcher Russ Gibson, singled to put runners at the corners. A determined Perry fanned Santiago and Andrews, but Jerry Adair and Yastrzemski knocked back-to-back singles to give Boston a 2-1 lead before Harrelson fouled out to end the inning.

The lead was short-lived as Santiago could not make it through the sixth frame unscathed. A one-out walk to Allison and a two-out single by Uhlaender set the stage for Rich Reese, pinch-hitting for catcher Jerry Zimmerman. Reese’s single to left field scored Allison to produce a 2-2 deadlock. Santiago then loaded the bases by walking Frank Kostro, who was batting for Perry, but he induced a fly out from Versalles to escape the inning and to preserve the tie.

George Scott greeted Ron Kline, Minnesota’s third pitcher of the game, with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the sixth that handed the Red Sox their second lead of the day, 3-2. After Santiago retired the Twins in order in the top of the seventh, Boston added to its lead in the bottom of the inning. Andrews hit a one-out single to get things started. Adair followed with what was an apparent fielder’s choice, but shortstop Versalles could not find the handle on Kline’s throw and was charged with an error that put Red Sox runners at first and second.

Jim Merritt replaced Kline on the mound to face Yastrzemski in what turned out to be a futile move by Cal Ermer, the Twins’ manager. Ermer had taken over from Sam Mele on June 9, when Minnesota had a disappointing 25-25 record, and had maneuvered the Twins into contention, but his good fortune was about to run out. Yastrzemski continued his torrid hitting and made the most of the scoring opportunity by belting a three-run homer that gave the Red Sox a commanding 6-2 lead.

After Santiago walked Allison to open the eighth inning, Gary Bell, who had been acquired from the Cleveland Indians in midseason, entered the game in relief. Bell quickly set down the three batters he faced in this frame, but he ventured to make things a bit more exciting than necessary in the ninth. He made quick work of pinch-hitter Rich Rollins and Versalles before surrendering a double to Tovar. Killebrew stepped to the plate next and clouted a home run that narrowed the Twins’ deficit to 6-4. It was “too little, too late,” however, as Oliva lined out to Adair at third base to end the game. Afterward, Santiago — the winning pitcher — presented Senator Ted Kennedy with the game ball.5

Though Killebrew’s homer was not enough to overcome the Red Sox on this day, it did put him back into a tie with Yastrzemski for the American League home run lead at 44 apiece. Yaz would go on to win the 1967 AL Triple Crown with a .326 average, 44 homers, and 121 RBIs, but he had to share the home run title with the Killer. He lamented that fact after this game when he asserted, “If the grass hadn’t been so slippery from the rains, I would have caught the ball [Tovar’s double] and ended the game. But when I didn’t, Harmon got to bat. I had an immediate premonition that he’d hit a home run. And he did.”6

Yastrzemski had come through once again to put Boston on the verge of the pennant. Kaat, on the other hand, became a forgotten man due to the injury that had forced him from the game. Thirty years later, Kaat explained, “I tore the ligaments loose in that elbow, the ulnar collateral area. We didn’t know what the heck that was back then. We do now.”7 Had medical science known how to treat the injury in 1967, the procedure now known as Tommy John surgery might be known as Jim Kaat surgery.

Kaat harbored no bitterness or regrets over the outcome of his injury and the game. Of the Red Sox, he said, “They played with a lot of heart in ’67. I’ll always admire them. It was their special time.”8 The outcome of games on October 1 would determine exactly how special 1967 would be for the Red Sox and their fans.

 

This article 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.

 

Notes

1 The Detroit Tigers were hosting the California Angels in doubleheaders on both September 30 and October 1. If the Tigers won all four games, they would be the American League champion. If they won three, the Red Sox — even if they took two from the Twins — would still have to face the Tigers in a one-game playoff.

2 Kaat had a record of 25-13 with a 2.75 ERA over 304⅔ innings in 1966. He finished the 1967 season at 16-13 with a 3.04 ERA in 263⅓ innings. He salvaged his season and revitalized his team’s pennant hopes with his marvelous September.

3 Arno Goethel, “Kaat’s Muscle Pull Served as Kiss of Death to Twins,” The Sporting News, October 14, 1967: 9.

4 Ibid.

5 Harvey Frommer, “The Impossible Dream Red Sox: 1967 (Parts I & II),” theepochtimes.com/n3/332789-the-impossible-dream-red-sox-1967-parts-i-ii/, accessed February 2, 2016.

6 Arthur Daley, “Toward a Date With Destiny,” New York Times, October 2, 1967.

7 Jeff Jacobs, “On 30th Anniversary, Kaat Still Feels the Pain,” Hartford Courant, September 6, 1997.

8 Ibid.

Additional Stats

Boston Red Sox 6
Minnesota Twins 4


Fenway Park
Boston, MA

 

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