December 6, 2019

Jim Lonborg: Coming Close

October 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

On Wednesday, Don Larsen was joined by Roy Halladay as the only two pitchers ever to throw a no-hitter during the postseason in MLB history. Back in 1967, Larsen almost had company in that group.

Jim Lonborg was having a fantastic season for the Boston Red Sox. The third-year pitcher lead the American League in wins (22) and strikeouts (246), while playing a pivotal role in helping the Red Sox reach the World Series. On the final day of the season, the Red Sox faced the Minnesota Twins in what was a win-and-your-in scenario for both squads, who were tied atop the AL standings. That afternoon, Lonborg out-duelled fellow 20-game winner Dean Chance, helping his Red Sox to a 5-3 win and propelling them into the World Series.

Three days later, the 1967 World Series began. Boston lost game one to the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 2-1, running into the good pitching of Bob Gibson. In game two, the Red Sox sent Lonborg up against Dick Hughes, who would be starting for the Cardinals. Before the game Lonborg said, “When I have my stuff and feel right, I think I can beat any team in the majors.”

Now it was time to corroborate it.

Top of the First: Brock lined out to Petrocelli. Jones threw out Flood. Maris flied to Tartabull.
Over 35,000 spectators were on hand at Fenway Park for the second game of the 1967 World Series. The game started off well for the home side, as Lonborg was able to sit down the Cardinals 1-2-3 in order.

Top of the Second: Cepeda flied to Yastrzemski. McCarver grounded out to Scott. Shannon struck out.
Top of the Third: Petrocelli threw out Javier. Maxvill lined to Scott. Hughes struck out.
Despite being at home, Lonborg slept the previous night at a hotel in Boston. He did the same thing before the pennant-clinching game against Minnesota. Lonborg explained that he just did not want to be distracted in his apartment that he shared with former Red Sox pitcher Dennis Bennett.  “I just wanted to make sure I got a good night’s sleep,” he explained after the game. “I have a lot of buddies around the apartment and my family is in town.”

Top of the Fourth: Adair threw out Brock. Petrocelli threw out Flood. Maris popped up to Petrocelli.
Lonborg had retired the first nine hitters of the game in order but heading into the fourth, the game was still scoreless. The hurler got some good defensive help in the fourth from his middle infield. The leadoff hitter of the inning, speedster Lou Brock, hit a ball to the right of Red Sox second baseman Jerry Adair. Adair took a few steps towards the middle; sharply backhanded the ball, turned, and threw Brock out at first.

The next batter was Curt Flood, who hit one into the hole between short and third. Shortstop Rico Petrocelli made a nice play on the ball, bobbled it briefly, but regained his composure and threw Flood out at first. Lonborg was able to get Maris to pop up to Petrocelli to end the fourth.

Top of the Fifth: Jones threw out Cepada. McCarver flied to Yastrzemski. Shannon called out on strikes.
Lonborg got some run support by the time he trotted out to the mound in the fifth inning. Leading off the fourth inning, 1967 AL Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski blasted a ball off of Hughes that landed about a dozen rows outside of the right field fence. It was Yaz’s first hit of the series, after going hitless against Gibson in Game 1. “The guy is just fabulous,” Lonborg said afterwards. “He’s the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen.”

Top of the Sixth: Javier flied to Tartabull. Petrocelli threw out Maxvill. Hughes struck out.
Boston’s middle infield once again came up with a big play. With one out, Maxvill hit a slow grounder past the mound. Petrocelli, this time having to range to his left, dashed behind second base and made a strong throw to retired Maxvill. After six innings, St. Louis had yet to get a base runner. Light rain began to fall at this juncture of the game.

Top of the Seventh: Adair threw out Brock. Flood walked. Maris flied to Yastrzemski. Cepeda out on a fielder’s choice.
The score was now 2-0 Boston, thanks to a sacrifice fly from Petrocelli. After getting the first out of the inning, Lonborg got a 2-2 count to the next batter, Curt Flood. The next pitch was close, outside and home plate umpire Al Barlick called it a ball, giving Flood a full count. “I thought it was a strike.” Boston catcher Elston Howard said when asked about the pitch postgame.

Flood fouled the next pitch and the one after that. The eighth pitch of the at-bat was down and away, another tight call, but was again called a ball by Barlick. “I don’t know about that 2-2 pitch,” Flood would say about the at-bat. “Although I know Howard though it had cut the corner. But that next one, on which I walked, was awfully close to being a strike, too. It could have been called either way. Right at my knees and on the outside. I didn’t swing because I couldn’t have done anything with it.”

The perfect game was gone, but the no-hitter was still intact. However, that was close to disappearing later that inning as well. With two outs and Flood still on first, Orlando Cepada hit a ball hard up the middle. The shortstop Petrocelli again raced to his left, this time diving to prevent the ball from reaching the outfield. With no play at first, he flipped the ball to Adair, alertly covering second, and forced Flood out.

“I didn’t think I had a chance,” Petrocelli said of the play on Cepada, “But I stuck my glove out and got it in the webbing. I never could have got the man at first, but Adair called for the ball and we got him at second.”

Top of the Eighth: Adair threw out McCarver. Petrocelli threw out Shannon. Javier doubled to left. Jones threw out Tolan.
Boston was able to extend its lead to five in the bottom half of the seventh, when Yaz hit his second home run of the day into right-centre fielder, a three-run shot off Cards reliever Joe Hoerner. “I threw a fastball up high,” Hoerner said. “I got two strikes on him high and inside, but I didn’t quite get the one he hit where I wanted…and, boy, did he hit it.”

In the eighth, the eyes again turned to Lonborg. After getting the first two hitters out, Cardinals second baseman Julian Javier came up to the plate. A .281 hitter in the regular season, Javier, like the rest of his teammates, was wearing the collar. That was about to change. “Javier hit a hanging slider. As soon as I threw it, I wanted it back. It was the only bad pitch I threw all day,” said Lonborg.

The result was a double down the left field line. Fenway Park fell silent when the bat contacted the ball, and gasped when the ball bounced off the outfield sod. The hit broke up the no-hit bid. “That’s the only bad one he threw all day,” his catcher Elston Howard said. “I’ve never caught a better pitcher. It’s a shame he didn’t get that no-hitter. He deserved it. Until Flood walked, I kept thinking of Larsen’s perfect game.” Howard backed up Yogi Berra on the day Larsen threw his perfect game in the World Series, but did not play that game.

Top of the Ninth: Ricketts popped up to Petrocelli. Adair threw out Brock. Flood flied to Smith. BOSTON 5, ST. LOUIS 0
Before his at-bat in the eighth inning, Lonborg received a standing ovation for the Fenway Faithful. He rewarded them by finishing off his one-hit performance and giving the Red Sox a 1-1 series split heading into Game 3. He received praise from both sides of the dugout, from his own guys to the players in the St. Louis clubhouse.

“He was better today than Larsen was that day,” his pitching coach, Sal Maglie said, who was the opposing pitcher in Larsen’s perfect game back in 1956. “He’d have beaten anybody today. His fastball was moving and he was keeping the ball down. If you pitch that way, you’ll never lose a ball game.”

“I’m always happy when I pitch well and we win, but I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the no-hitter. It’s the one goal that has eluded me during this fabulous season,” Lonborg said in the clubhouse after the game. “I had good stuff, but I wasn’t trying to strike out anyone. I just wanted to throw strikes and make them hit the ball. And that infield was too much. Rico (Petrocelli), Jerry (Adair), and Dalton (Jones) came up with some great play. The infield has played that way all season. It’s one of the big reasons we’re in the World Series. That, and Yaz, of course.”

Yaz was the other story in Game 2. With his three hits, two home runs, and four RBIs, Yastrzemski did the job on offense for the Red Sox. “I told somebody I was going to get three hits today,” he said. “I just felt it.”

Lonborg pitched twice more in the series. With his Red Sox facing elimination in Game 5, he pitched a complete game, three-hitter in a 3-1 Boston win. Lonborg would also start the seventh and final game on short rest. He took the loss in a 7-2 St. Louis win, giving the Cardinals the World Championship.

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