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The case for the best pitching staff ever "In the year of the pitcher"
The Pennant Race of 1967 and The Heartbreak of the Chicago White Sox
On Sept 17 of 1967 the Chicago White Sox were 0.5 games out of first place behind the Detroit Tigers for the American League Pennant.The other teams in the Pennant race that year were the Boston Red Sox, the Detriot Tigers, and the 1966 champion Minnesota Twins.
The Twins had a powerful lineup with Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Harmon Killabrew and the 1966 Most Valuable Player in the American League Zoilo Versias, among other solid seasoned players. They had a very good and experienced pitching staff.
The Tigers Had Willie Horton, a slugger that usually led the league in home runs and RBI's, Al Kaline a hard hitting outfielder and perennial all star, a rock solid defensive infield and again very good pitching. The pitching was headed up by; Dennny McClain, Mickey Lolich, and Earl Wilson (who knew how to pitch in small ballparks like Tiger stadium coming from Boston).
The last of the four in the race was the Boston Red Sox. They had two solid starting pitchers and (one future hall of fame pitcher in the Bullpen but he was too young to mean anything in this race), Sparky Lyle. The infield was solid with a couple of hard hitters but not great defensively. The outfield was the best in the league. Carl Yaztremski was in left field, Tony Conigliaro in right field who was becoming one of the bright new stars of the American League along with Reggie Smith In center field also who would become a great player.
The White Sox had a team that was solid defensively but was one of the worst hitting teams of all time. How were they in contention you ask? (As you were probably scratching your head). By playing good defense and with great pitching. The White Sox had four starting pitchers that may have put the best season together of all time. You can argue the 69 Mets, 69-73 Orioles, the 93 Braves, and I could go on but all of the other teams had Offense! The White Sox Hit just .225 as a team! (The Kansas City Athletics actually had a lower Batting Average in 1967 at .224 and they finished the season in last place, 30 games out of first place, thus giving credence to my point).
Anyone that knows baseball will tell you;" that in baseball you have offense, defense, speed, and pitching".
If any of these elements are the close to the worst in baseball history you will most likely not be in contention for that year. So, pitching actually held this team together!
The Sox Pitching staff consisted of Gary Peters, Tommy John, Joel Horlen, and Bruce Howard in the starting rotation. Bob Locker was the closer, with Wilbur Wood and John Buzhart the swing men along with Don McMahon, and hall of fame pitcher Hoyt Whilhelm one of the two knuckelball pitchers in the Bullpen. The White Sox team earned Run Average was 2.45 runs per game. The next closest in the league was Minnesota at 3.14. And the last place team was Washington at 3.68.
1967 was one of the best seasons for pitchers in the history of the modern era. After the next year, the pitching mound would be lowered because pitchers became so dominant. There is a great significance tied to that ERA number; most pitching staffs in history will win the ERA title in the league by (.2 - .4.)..4 is considered a great margin. The White Sox won the ERA Crown by.69, That is 75%- 150% higher than the distance between the second place team.
The Sox went on a (9 win 2 loss) run from Sept 9 until September 24 to pull to one half game out of first place with five games left to play. They were playing Kansas City and Washington - the bottom dwellers of the American League for the last five games. The tension was high and the Sox had earlier traded for some savvy veterans like all - star Rocky Colavito, a home run hitting outfielder, and Ken Boyer a proven 3rd baseman who was a perennial all star himself (NL.Most Valuable Player of 1964) with championship experience to help win the pennant in the final stretch.
The Tigers were dukin' it out with The Great New York Yankees who still had a couple of good players but had fallen from grace as the dominant team of the American League, This year they were trying to stay out of the cellar. They threw Al Downing and Mel Stottlemeyer at Detrioit. Both good pitchers. The Tigers split the series losing 2-0 and winning 1-0 on a masterful pitching performance by Mickey Lolich. The Tigers were now .0.5 game out, with one four-game-set to go as they went to Anaheim to play the Angels.
The Red Sox had Cleveland, Baltimore, and Minnesota left to play. They were a half game out, with five to play. The Red Sox pitching staff was in a slump but they had Carl Yaztremski. "Yaz" was playing out of his mind! The team was rallying around him but they had a tough schedule ahead with a contender on the docket (The Minnesota Twins) before they reach the finish line.
The Twins had Cleveland then Boston. They were in first place with five games to play. Their destiny was in their hands.
The White Sox had the teams that were in last place to play while the other contenders had to play each other and tougher teams to win the coveted American League Pennant.
The standings were:
Minnesota 90-68 1st place / four to play
Boston 90-68 1st place / four to play
White Sox 89-68 .05 games out / five to play
Detroit 88-69 1.5 games out / five to play
The excitement in Chicago was riding high. Eddie Stanky who was a no hit, tough, gritty, little second baseman in the forties and fifties was managing the Sox. He had a team that played like him but had with the best pitching he had ever seen in his career. He could sense the finish line after a hard fought season.
It was Wednesday September, 27 1967. The Sox had been rained out Tuesday so the next day they played a double header. Gary Peters the Sox best was on the mound facing Chuck Dobson the A's best. Peters had shut the A's out for the first five innings. After a long season with no run support Peters gave up three runs in the sixth with only one run earned. His defense let him down.The score: 5-2 A's over the Sox. The night cap saw Joel Horlen was facing Jim Hunter a 21 yr. old upstart pitcher. Hunter (who became hall of fame pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter) pitched a three hit shut out. The White Sox lost both games of a double header with three left to play.
The only hope the White Sox had left was for California to get hot and beat Minnesota before they go to Boston for the big showdown and hope Boston and Minnesota would split the series between themselves.
In Boston' first game, Carl Yaztremski goes 3 hits for 4 at bats with a home run and 4 runs batted in. Boston beats Minnesota 6-2.
In Detriot Mickey Lolich shuts out the Angels 5-0 for his second straight shut out. Three games to go.
The White Sox could still tie but they needed to beat Washington the last three games. Tommy John who was still a hard throwing left hander back then was on the mound against Phil Ortega (who was a promising pitcher having a good year). Tommy John gave up 1 unearned run in the first inning. The Sox needed their pitchers to come through now more than ever. They got a great pitching performance by the staff that day. The defense just let the team down. A couple of hits at the right time could have still won the game, but the Sox lost and their season was over. The pitchers did all they could to win this season. A little help from the hitters and things might have been different.
The next day Boston and Minnesota were tied on top of the American League with one game to go. Chicago's season was done. Boston played Minnesota in Boston winner take all If Detroit loses at California. Boston had Jim Lonborg pitching against Dean Chance (the "Sandy Kofax" of the American League). Both pitchers were 20 game winners. Chance 20-13, Lonborg 21-9.
Minnesota scored first in the top of the first inning. Then again in the third. Dean Chance was sailing along with a shutout going into the bottom of the sixth. That's when Yaztremski struck again. Yaz singled in two runners, went to second on a fielders choice and scored on a wild pitch. The Red Sox scored five runs, three were accounted for by Carl Yaztremski. He went four for four with two RBI's and one run scored. The twins mounted a small rally in the eight inning but Lonborg survived it and completed the game as the Red Sox win the game and the American League Championship.
In Detroit the Tigers won two out of the first three games against the California Angels. If they win they would tie for the Pennant no matter who won. The Tigers were sending Denny McClain to the mound. A talented young player with seventeen wins already. The Angels were sending a virtual unknown Ricky Clark.
The Angels scored first on a Rick Reichart home run with Jim Fregosi on first base, Angels up 2-0.The Tigers answer with a home run with a man on base in the bottom of that inning tying the score.Then Dick Mcaulliffe triples in Don Wert later that inning for the Tigers to take the lead 3-2.
Unfortunately those were the last runs the Tigers would score for the rest of the year as the Angel pitchers took the game over and shut them out the rest of the way, The Angels scored six more times to destroy the Tigers hopes for the American League Pennant,
The story of the year is how "Yaz" carried the Red Sox over the finish line to break the hearts of all the little kids rooting for the three other rivals.
Yaztremski's numbers for the year:
Batting Average -.326 1st in the American League,
Home Runs 44 -1st in the American League
Runs Batted In -121 First in the American League
Winner of the American League Triple Crown.
This was the most exciting baseball season In my memory. From; " The recollection of an old guy that remembers it as a 12 yr. old kid, I grew up with baseball being my closest friend in my life at that time, - and the heartbreak that is still felt".