An old ball writer can’t watch the Twins lose a game in extra innings on a wild pitch without flashing back to the most-comical such moment you could hope to witness.
The proof of this came late Wednesday afternoon, after Sad Sam Deduno had put on a spectacular display of discombobulated relief work to hand the White Sox a 7-6, 11-inning victory over the Twins in Chicago.
I was wrapping up a radio show on AM-1500 and felt obliged to tell the yarn to my cohorts, Cory Roufs and Chris Reuvers, of the night in Anaheim that Twins manager Gene Mauch went to a five-man infield to try to cut off the winning run, only to be foiled by the goofiest of wild pitches.
A moment after my majestic retelling was concluded, a message from @TracyRingolsby appeared in my Twitter feed, asking for the name of the reliever who threw the wild pitch the night that Mauch went to the five-man infield?
Ringolsby was covering the Angels for the Long Beach newspapers and I was covering the Twins for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
I had the answer for Tracy: The reliever was Dave Johnson, a right-hander who delivered the ball from three-quarters or lower.
The rest of the details were found within a couple of minutes on baseballreference.com, the greatest invention in media since the printing press.
The game was played on July 11, 1977, a Monday night. The Twins came to Anaheim at 47-38, but in second place and 3 ½ games back after suffering a four-game sweep vs. the first-place White Sox earlier in the month in Comiskey Park.
The Twins had fantastic hitting, with Rod Carew, Larry Hisle and Lyman Bostock as the stars, and very thin pitching. Pete Redfern was the starter that night against the Angels’ fabulous lefty, Frank Tanana.
Craig (Mongo) Kusick hit his customary home run off Tanana and the Twins had Frankie out of the game by the sixth inning. The score was 3-0 into the bottom of the seventh, when Redfern gave up two runs.
Mauch went to Tommy Johnson in that seventh, hoping the right-hander could get the last nine outs. Baseball teams had “stoppers’’ then, not closers, and Mauch – sad to say – pitched Johnson into the ground that summer.
The Angels went ahead 4-3 with two runs off Tommy in the eighth. The Twins then had three singles, three steals and an intentional walk in the top of the ninth, but scored only once for a 4-4 tie.
Tom Burgmeier had finished the eighth for the Twins and Ron Schueler, Bill Butler and Dave Johnson all pitched the ninth to get the game to extras.
The Twins went quickly vs. Dave LaRoche (pitching his third inning) in the 10th. Mauch was out of bullpen and stayed with Dave Johnson … sort of a Deduno in that he had good stuff and a tendency toward the erratic.
As demonstrated in the bottom of the 10th:
Johnson hit Dave Chalk with a pitch. Rance Mulliniks sacrificed Chalk to second. Mauch ordered an intentional walk for Ron Jackson. Willie Aikens pinch-hit and walked, moving the winning run to third base with one out.
And that’s when Mauch, known as “The Little General’’ in his Philadelphia days, marched into action. He waved left fielder Bob Gorinski off the field and moved Hisle from center field toward left. He brought Mike Cubbage into the game to play third, moved Jerry Terrell from third to second, and put Luis Gomez in line with second base (Luis appears in the boxscore as a CFer).
Throw in Roy Smalley as the shortstop and Carew at first base and Mauch had a five-man infield.
The manager explained fully at the mound to Johnson and the infielders that he wanted any ground ball fielded to be thrown home for the forceout. The infielders pulled in close, the crowd in the Big A of 30,000 buzzed at the sight of Mauch’s fielding arrangement, and the Angels’ Gil Flores stepped in the box.
And Dave Johnson threw a pitch over catcher Butch Wynegar, almost to the backstop, and Chalk scooted home with the winning run.
Asked later in his office about the five-man infield, Mauch took a hit off his heater and said: “I should have used two catchers.’’