Boston's 'Impossible Dream' broken by Gibson's Cardinals in seven-game battle
One team was living the "Impossible Dream," a whirlwind ride that was thrilling down to the final day of the regular season, ultimately rewarding the team's faithful with a long-awaited berth in the World Series. The other brought the hard, cold glare of reality that experience and dominant pitching are key ingredients to postseason success, and that some ballclubs are simply made to win in October.
The 1967 World Series matched a Red Sox team that was making its first appearance in the postseason in 21 years -- one of several long waits along the course of the 86-year drought that ended in 2004 -- and a Cardinals club flush with future Hall of Famers amid a string of three Fall Classic appearances in five years.
It became a seven-game showdown that showed off the talents of several Cooperstown-bound players such as Bob Gibson and Lou Brock of the Cards and Carl Yastrzemski of the Sox, led by rookie manager Dick Williams.
In the end, the Cardinals prevailed, with Gibson wrapping up the Series with a three-hitter and a homer in Game 7.
"It's that little something extra that wins a World Series," Gibson would say -- and the Cards had it.
With the Red Sox and Cardinals meeting for the fourth time in the Fall Classic this October, the 1967 Series serves as a reminder of just how long this battle has been waged -- through two very distinct eras before this second meeting in the new millennium. While the 1946 Series, the first between the clubs, certainly was in a bygone era, so too was the '67 Series in so many ways.
But one thing that stands the test of time, and was proven again in '67: pitching wins championships. The Series demonstrated the dominance of pitching in an era when the mound was such a powerful place, the stewards of the game decided to lower it two years later.
The '67 Series featured the American League Cy Young Award winner in Boston's Jim Lonborg, and he made his presence felt in his three outings -- including a deep bid for a no-hitter in Game 2. But it was Gibson, his '67 season shortened to 24 starts when his leg was broken by a Roberto Clemente liner in July, who rose above all else.
Yastrzemski, who won the AL Triple Crown during the regular season, belted three homers and batted .400 in the Series, but he was topped offensively by Brock, who had 12 hits, stole seven bases -- a record that stands today -- and scored eight of the Redbirds' 25 runs in the Series, a performance that would have won MVP honors most years. Other Hall of Famers in this Series included Orlando Cepeda, Steve Carlton and manager Red Schoendienst on the Cards, who also had future broadcasters Tim McCarver and Mike Shannon on the roster, along with record-setting slugger Roger Maris, who had a Series-leading seven RBIs.
But Gibson was the star of stars, willing the Cardinals to victory, outshining Lonborg, even if just barely, to secure the eighth of what has become 11 World Series titles in St. Louis history.
The "Impossible Dream" was fulfilled to the point of an AL pennant, but the reality of one of the most dominant teams of the 1960s won out.
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Entering the World Series, the Cardinals and Red Sox were coming off two completely different journeys in the regular season.
St. Louis, putting to rest a couple of down years after the 1964 title with a 101-win season, won the National League going away, finishing 10 1/2 games ahead of San Francisco. The Sox, meanwhile, had to wait until after their final game to find out their fate.
Boston, which had fallen back to fifth place as late as Aug. 13, was in a four-team race down to the final weekend, entering the final day tied with Minnesota overall and tied with Detroit in the loss column. The Red Sox beat the Twins behind Lonborg on the final Sunday. But they still had to wait for the Tigers to lose the second game of a doubleheader to clinch the AL pennant, sending the Sox to the Series for the first time since they met the Cards in 1946.
Boston went from 72-90 in '66 to 90-72 in '67 -- hence, the "Impossible Dream," and the reason the 2013 team's turnaround has conjured so many references to '67.
Bringing the World Series to Boston for the first time in 21 years obviously was no small feat, and Fenway Park would be ready for Game 1 on a warm October day. The Cardinals naturally took notice of the Green Monster, and Schoendienst warned his players about it.
"I told the boys to keep their eyes on the ball and forget the wall," Schoendienst said.
When Game 1 began, the biggest wall was Gibson, who set the tone for the Series from the outset.
With Lonborg not asked to go on two days' rest -- yet -- the Sox went with Jose Santiago as the Game 1 starter. Brock got things started offensively, scoring the first run of the Series on a groundout by Maris in the third and winding up with four hits and two steals. Although Santiago actually took Gibson deep to tie the score in the third, Gibson went the distance, allowing six hits while striking out 10 in a 2-1 victory.
"I don't think they're any better club than we are," Yastrzemski said. "And I can't wait to face Gibson again."
Then it was Lonborg's turn, and he almost turned Game 2 into a piece of history. Lonborg, who went 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA in the regular season, got all the offense he'd need thanks to a pair of homers by Yaz, a solo shot in the fourth inning to open the scoring and a three-run blast in the seventh.
"When I hit the first homer, I told Jim, 'You have enough, Big Guy. Go get 'em,'" Yaz said.
That, he did. Lonborg was perfect into the seventh and took a no-hitter into the eighth, Julian Javier breaking it up with a clean double down the left-field line on a hanging slider.
"As soon as I threw it, I wanted it back," Lonborg said. "It was the only bad pitch I made all day."
Javier's double would be the only hit in the third of what has become six complete-game one-hitters in the postseason, and the Red Sox evened the series with a 5-0 victory.
"I'll get that no-hitter someday," Lonborg said, although he never did in his 15-year career.
With the arrival of Game 3, the Series shifted to Busch Stadium, which in its second year of existence was hailed as a modern marvel -- and it had natural grass on the field back then. The Cardinals' previous appearance in the World Series in 1964 was at old Sportsman's Park, which was under the name Busch Stadium since 1953.
Brock christened the new ballpark for the postseason in the bottom of the first with a triple, scoring the game's first run on a Curt Flood single. The rest was up to Nelson Briles, a swingman who only joined the rotation when Gibson got hurt -- reeling off 10 wins in 12 decisions down the stretch. Briles convinced Schoendienst that he could finish the job in the ninth, and he did, securing a 5-2 victory that put the Cards in control.
Gibson gave the Cardinals even more momentum toward a title in Game 4, getting four first-inning runs of support and then cruising to a five-hit complete game, putting the Cards up 3-1 heading into their last home game of the Series with a 5-0 win.
"I'd like to end it Monday and go home," Gibson said.
But the Sox weren't done. Once again, they'd rest their hopes on the shoulders of Lonborg in a must-win Game 5.
"I'm ready and will give it everything," Lonborg said. "I just have to come through. Otherwise, there'll be no tomorrow for us."
With a clinch in sight, the Cards went with 22-year-old lefty Carlton, just beginning his Hall of Fame career, and he battled Lonborg into the middle innings, allowing only one run. In the ninth, the Red Sox scored two runs on a blooper off the bat of Elston Howard, and the Sox took a 3-1 victory that sent the Series back to Boston, Lonborg setting a postseason record with just four hits allowed in consecutive complete games.
In Game 6 back at Fenway, the Sox put on a powerful show to send the Series to the limit. Rico Petrocelli got it started by depositing a second-inning David Hughes offering into the screen over the Green Monster, the first of two for Petrocelli and four for the Sox on the day.
"They both surprised me," said Petrocelli, who had 17 homers in the regular season. "Any time I get a hit, it surprises me. I just threw the bat out, and the ball hit the bat. After the second one, I was in another world. I got chills running around the bases."
Although the Cardinals rallied a couple of times, the second homer from Petrocelli and solo shots from Yaz and Reggie Smith in the fourth knocked Hughes out of the game. A four-run, six-hit Sox seventh inning proved too much for St. Louis to overcome, and Boston claimed an 8-4 win to extend the Series to a finale, with Gary Waslewski -- whose last start had been two months earlier with Triple-A Toronto -- pitching into the sixth for the win.
"All season long we've had our backs against the wall," Yastrzemski said. "Now we've rebounded once again into a seventh game of the World Series."
Said Williams: "They still have to drive 27 nails."
It came down to a Game 7 pitting Gibson against Lonborg, and with the same advantage to St. Louis that would have existed in Game 1. Gibson entered Game 7 on his regular three days' rest -- the norm of the day back then -- but Lonborg would come in on two days' rest.
By the fifth inning, the pitching matchup -- and the Series finale -- would tilt toward the Redbirds, and Gibson. Flood had opened up the scoring by driving in a run and then scoring on a Lonborg wild pitch in the third, but it was Gibson's bat that did the damage in the fifth, a solo homer his first long ball in World Series play.
Gibson took a no-hitter into the bottom of the fifth before George Scott tripled for the first hit, scoring on a wild relay by Javier to third for the first run on the same play. But Gibson settled down, and Javier added a three-run homer in the sixth for more than enough insurance in a 7-2 clincher.
With a strikeout of Scott, his 10th of the game and 26th of the Series, Gibson closed out Game 7 in dominant fashion, just as he had done against the Yankees in 1964, earning MVP honors again as the Cardinals claimed their second title in four years.
"Each time you do it seems bigger than the last," said Gibson, who was 31 at the time. "As you get a little older, maybe you cherish these things a little more."
The "Impossible Dream" had ended for the Red Sox, but it sure had a happier ending than any of the previous 21 seasons, matching the 1946 World Series team by coming so close to the title -- only to have the Cards wrest it away.
"They had a game club and made a good run for it, but we were a little too strong," Schoendienst said.