July 20th, 2017
World Series championships are won on the field, not in the newspapers, but the press might have given the Cardinals extra motivation in their epic seven-game battle against the Red Sox in 1967.
Boston had to grind it out just to get to the post season. The battle for supremacy in the American League came down to the last day of the regular season with Boston clinging to a half-game lead over Detroit. The Tigers had a double header at home against the Angels while the Red Sox played the Twins at Fenway Park. Boston turned to ace Jim Lonborg for the regular season finale. The 1967 Cy Young Award winner, Gentleman Jim responded with a gutty performance on three days rest going the distance and allowing only one earned run before the sellout crowd at Fenway. The October 1st contest was his 15th complete game of the season. The Tigers, needing a sweep of California won the first game 6-4 but couldn’t contain the Angels in the 8-5 loss in the second game of the twin bill. With the Detroit loss, Boston earned a berth to the World Series against the National Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
On only two days rest Lonborg was unavailable for Game 1 which the Sox lost to Bob Gibson and the Cardinals. Boston manager Dick Williams eagerly penciled in his ace in Game 2. Facing the prospect of dropping two home games to start the Fall Classic Lonborg responded with a gem. This time, on only three-days rest, he again went the distance silencing the St. Louis bats in a tidy one-hitter. The Cardinals won the next two contests to push Boston to the brink of elimination. Williams handed the ball to Lonborg in Game 5 and his ace responded with his third complete game in nine days to give the Red Sox their second win in the series.
Boston emerged with an 8-4 victory in Game 6 to force a deciding 7th game. When asked what his lineup would be for the deciding game manager Williams said, “Lonborg and champagne!”. The Boston media ran with it and splashed it across the morning headline. The bold type only inflamed tensions in a matchup already rife with animosity.
In Game 7 Williams trotted out his ace for one more big game. After throwing 27 innings in his three previous must-win outings Lonborg took the mound for his fourth high leverage game in 12 days. He could not respond, giving up seven runs in six innings and the Cardinals were crowned kings of baseball.
After the Series, Boston owner Tom Yawkey extended an olive branch in the form of a congratulatory letter to Cards legend and GM Stan Musial. Yawkey wrote in part, “Regardless of what was said in the newspapers, everyone in our organization from myself down to the manager, coaches and players, have the utmost respect for your ball club.”
The 1967 season for Boston is affectionately known as the “Impossible Dream”. For many Red Sox fans the dream seemed a certainty with their ace on the hill. Despite Dick Williams declaration of a lineup of “Lonborg and champagne” in Game 7, it was not meant to be.
To learn more about Jim Lonborg, click here. You can reach the author of this story at JSmiley@CooperstownExpert.com