More than any other game, this showdown between Atlanta and the Cardinals demonstrates all that was magical about the World Championship 1967 season. It has big name players doing big things. It had role players figuring in the outcome of the game. And it has plays so strange that you had to be there to believe them.
The Braves would start lefty Denny Lemaster and the Cardinals would go with local favorite Ray Washburn. Lemaster was a veteran who would go deep into games but gave up to many runs (home runs in particular) to be able to string together a significant number of wins. Trivia buffs will remember Washburn as the man that threw the first pitch in the new Busch stadium, but fans will remember Washburn as a brilliant pitcher that just had the worst of luck with injuries. In fact another one of these was about to strike (June 21 – a broken hand) but tonight Big Ray was going to be devastating. And as well as the two starters pitched, neither would be involved in the bizarreness that would end this game.
It started off like many others against the Braves in the 60s. Two quick infield groundouts and then one mistake to Henry Aaron for very loud 1-0 Braves lead. But Washburn doesn’t crumble and strikes out Mack Jones to end the inning. Similarly Lemaster would have a typical first inning with Julian Javier reaching base on an error by Clete Boyer and a walk to Orlando Cepeda, but the inconsistent Alex Johnson fails to extend the inning.
The second inning would start off promising with a Joe Torre strikeout and another infield grounder from Felipe Alou. Clete Boyer would atone for his error in the first inning by pulling a double into left field. Washburn would play the odds by walking eighth place hitter Dennis Menke to face his opposite number. Lemaster would only get 7 hits in 1967 and should have been overmatched by Washburn, but he would hit a bloop single to center driving in Boyer for a 2-0 lead. Washburn would bear down after this, shutting the Braves down until the seventh inning with only a few balls getting out of the infield. Once in a groove, Washburn was nearly unhittable. Ask the San Francisco Giants.
Lemaster would continue to struggle, retiring the Cardinals in order only once – the bottom of the order in the fourth. Eventually the Cardinals would break through in the fifth. After two quick outs, a walk to Curt Flood would come back to haunt the Atlanta hurler. Cepeda would rip a double into the left field corner putting the tying runs in scoring position. The light hitting platoon outfielder Alex Johnson would get another chance, and this time he would deliver, lining a single to center scoring both Flood and Cepeda for a 2-2 tie.
Both pitchers would put up zeros in the sixth inning with the Cardinals pulling off a nifty double play started by Cepeda and a strong relay throw by Maxvill to Washburn covering first to complete the twin killing. The Cardinals infield defense in 1967 was the best in baseball – Maxvill and Javier being one the best middle infield combinations in team history.
The Braves would regain the lead in the top of the seventh. With one out, Felipe Alou would hit a double in the right field gap. Clete Boyer again would hurt the Cardinals with a hit up the middle. Javier was able to get to the ball but unable to throw Boyer out. Alou held at third and things momentarily looked good for the Cardinals. Washburn had already induced three double plays and he would try for his fourth. And he almost did. Charlie Lau hit the ball slowly to Maxvill who made the force throw to Javier but Lau beat the play at first and Alou scored the go ahead run.
The bottom of the inning started off nicely with a Lou Brock single. Javier would bunt Brock to second but he would be stranded when Flood flied out to center and Cepeda grounded out to third.
Leadoff man Woody Woodward would lead off the top of the eighth with a single to left center. The Braves would play this the same way the Cardinals did in the previous inning – but the Braves were sending Henry Aaron to the plate after the sacrifice bunt. Not wanting to repeat the first inning, Aaron is intentionally walked to set up another double play chance. Red Schoendienst would play this conventionally going with the big left handed reliever, Larry Jaster against the left handed hitting Mack Jones. The Braves would counter by pinch hitting with Rico Carty – one of the best pure hitters of the era. Carty would miss the entire 1968 season fighting tuberculosis and would put up huge numbers in 1969 and Pujols like in 1970. But this was 1967 and Larry Jaster would win this battle, for now. Carty hit the ball back to Jaster and the Cards would turn a nifty 1-6-3 double play – their fourth of the evening.
The Cardinals would go quietly in the bottom of the eighth, spoiling a one out walk to Tim McCarver.
This brings us to the ninth inning, and not even Barnum and Bailey could dream about what happened next.
Jaster was brilliant in the eighth but quite the opposite in the ninth. Joe Torre would lead off with an infield single. I’m not sure what was moving slower, the ball off the bat or the future Cardinal star running down the first base line, but when the dust cleared Torre was standing on first. After an Alou fly out to Brock, Jaster would lose his control. He would walk Clete Boyer and Marty Martinez, loading the bases. Red would again go to his bullpen for his big right hander Ron Willis. Willis would get the Braves pitcher to pop out to second, but Woody Woodward would battle Willis eventually drawing a walk giving the Braves a 4-2 lead. Frustrated and not wanting to see the heart of the Atlanta order, Schoendienst went back to the bullpen for his closer, Joe Hoerner. Hoerner would only face one batter as he struck out Gary Geiger to end the inning.
For most other teams, the game was essentially over. But these were the 1967 Go Go El Birdos and they weren’t going down without a fight. And some serious entertainment.
Journeyman and backup catcher Johnny Romano would lead off the ninth inning reaching base on Clete Boyer’s second error of the game throwing wildly and allowing Romano to advance to second base. Lemaster had gone about as far as he could and the Braves went to their bullpen. And you cannot believe what would happen over the next five minutes.
Knuckleballer Phil Niekro would try to close out this game. The Cardinals had great success with a knuckleball closer earlier in the decade, but this was an unusual move. To say the least. And poor Joe Torre hated to catch a knuckleballer. And would hate it even more before this inning was over.
Niekro immediately threw a wild pitch allowing pinch runner Dick Hughes to advance to third. It is important to note that Hughes was one of the Cardinal starters and went 16-6 in 1967. Red made a move that would make Tony LaRussa cringe – putting one of his starters in harms way on the bases. Apparently Red knew something that we didn’t – Joe Torre can’t catch a knuckleball. With Hughes on third, Brock flew out to center – deep enough to score the runner and cut the Braves lead to 4-3. Javier just stood there while Niekro threw floater after floater eventually walking. And this is when radio announcer Harry Caray asked “He wouldn’t throw a wild pitch would he?” As if Niekro was listening in, a pitch scooted past a frustrated Torre with Javier taking second base. And again Caray “He wouldn’t do it again, would he ?” And yes he would. Another floater that evades the glove of Joe Torre and the tying run in now standing on third. Curt Flood delivers with a line drive single to left and the game is now tied 4-4. Beginning to worry about running out of players, Red pulls another switch that not even Tony LaRussa would consider. He pinch runs for Curt Flood using little Al Jackson who had been warming up the Cardinals bullpen. You can’t make this up. Future Cardinal pitcher Clay Carrol would strike out Orlando Cepeda and get pinch hitter Roger Maris to fly out
to end the inning, but the miracle Cardinals had tied the game and into extra innings we would go. But not for long.
Al Jackson would take the mound and Roger Maris would go into right field. This is exactly the opposite of how you would do this. Jackson was a starter and Maris would be taken out of games late for defensive replacements. But this was the carnival of June 1, 1967 and the normal rules do not apply.
In the previous five seasons the little left hander would lose 20, 17, 16, 20 and 15 games. Not too many pitchers lose 20 games in a season, Jackson did it twice. On this evening, and for the duration of a single inning, Jackson pitched like Sandy Koufax making quick work of the heart of the Braves order with the ball never leaving the infield.
The bottom of the tenth inning would go very quickly. After an infield ground out by Tim McCarver, the light hitting utility infielder Phil Gagliano would hit a weak grounder to third and beat the throw for an infield single. Gagliano barely hit his weight, but his hits always seemed to be in key situations. After an infield pop out Carroll would face Bobby Tolan. And the game would end. One of the most loved players of the era, and one that we let get away, Tolan splits the outfielders with a line drive that goes all the way to the center field wall, scoring the speedy Gagliano from first. Bobby Tolan ends the game with a walk off triple and the Cardinals would have the most improbable 5-4 win.
The Cardinals would sputter a bit over the next few days, but this win ignited a run to the pennant that would have them survive losing both Bob Gibson and Ray Washburn to broken bones. And another World Championship for the Gateway City.