Sunday was the 50th anniversary of one of the most memorable days in Red Sox history — and one of the most forgettable days in Twins history. In Boston, it’s known as the “Impossible Dream” season. In Minneapolis, when I mentioned the occasion to Tony Oliva on Sunday, he got an anguished look on his face.
“Oh, I don’t even want to remember that!” Oliva said — and then, of course, he commenced about 10 minutes of storytelling about that epic pennant race.
Four teams were still alive on the final weekend of the 1967 season, but the Twins had the advantage as they traveled to Boston for two games to finish it off. They led the Tigers and Red Sox by one game, and the White Sox by two, but the Tigers had played two fewer games and faced back-to-back doubleheaders over the weekend. So if the Twins could win just once, they were very likely to play in their second World Series in three seasons. (There were no divisions in 1967, so the pennant winner proceeded directly to the World Series.)
The Twins had won 11 of 16 games against Boston that year — “We killed them,” Oliva said — and they had their best pitchers on the mound: Jim Kaat in Saturday’s game, and Dean Chance in Sunday’s.
But three innings into Saturday’s game, Kaat, 7-0 in September, suddenly felt a sharp pain in his left elbow. He had torn the UCL, he says now, and the Twins’ bullpen couldn’t hold off Boston’s offense in a 6-4 loss. “Kaat got hurt, but we still had the best chance,” Oliva said. “We had the best pitcher in the American League that year going the next day. Nobody could beat [Chance],” Oliva recalled Sunday.
Turns out, the Red Sox could. The Twins took an early lead when Oliva doubled home Harmon Killebrew in the first inning, and Killebrew singled home Cesar Tovar in the third to put the Twins ahead 2-0. But Jim Lonborg, who won the Cy Young Award for his 22-9 season, started a sixth-inning rally with a bunt single, and the Red Sox strung together four straight hits. A Harmon Killebrew error and some other sloppy play made matters worse, and Boston scored five times to take the lead that Lonborg protected.
The Red Sox were AL champions for the first time in 21 years. They advanced to the World Series, where they lost in seven games to Bob Gibson and the Cardinals.
The Twins? They still think about that day, Oliva said.
“Dean was pitching great, but we made a couple of mistakes in the sixth inning. We should have been in the World Series, but you have to be lucky sometimes, and I think that was just Boston’s year,” Oliva said. “I was disappointed. I’m still disappointed today."