On July 23, 5000 fans had welcomed the Red Sox at Logan Airport after a 6-0 road trip and a 10-game winning streak. When they returned from their next trip three weeks later, only about 60 assorted relatives were on hand to welcome the Townies, losers of 7 of 9 in Minnesota, Kansas City and California. There were some positive signs, however. First of all, Sox pitching had remained strong and secondly, the team had lost only two games in the AL standings.
In the last game of the home stand on August 3, Boston had to rally to top the pesky A’s 5-3. The big hero was Mike Andrews with three hits, including a two-run single in the sixth and a homer in the eighth for an insurance run. Carl Yastrzemski again helped out in the field, throwing out his fourth runner of the homestand. Dave Morehead was the winning hurler with 5 shutout relief innings.
“I think we’ll do all right,’ remarked Dick Williams as his team left for Minnesota after a less-than inspiring homestand. But the Twins were in a hot streak, and Sox hitters were slumping. First Jim Merrett threw a 5-hit 3-0 shutout to boost his record to 8-3 and his league-leading ERA to 2.06. Sox starter Bucky Brandon saw his mark fall to 4-9. The following day it was Dave Boswell in charge, surrendering only 3 safeties in a 2-1 triumph. Lee Stange hurled 7 good innings, but surrendered a homer to Zoilo Versalles for the winning run. Only a Rico Petrocelli round-tripper averted a shutout.
Only a few weeks before, everything was going the Sox’ way. Things had changed, though. On Sunday afternoon, Twins ace Dean Chance retired the first 15 Boston hitters and had a 2-0 lead. The contest had already been delayed by rain, and with one out in the bottom of the sixth, a terrific thunderstorm hit the Twin Cities. Fifty-seven minutes later, the dugouts were flooded and the outfield, according to Globe writer Bob Sales.”looked like Minnesota’s 101st lake”. The umps called it, and Chance had only the second 5-inning perfect game in major league history. Even Dean admitted it was a “cheapie.”
Despite the losing streak, Williams, who had always been cautious about pennant talk, predicted that Boston would win at least 90 games, and that the last two at Fenway against the Twins would decide the flag. This time, he was right on.
A trip to Kansas City provided a short respite, but even taking 2 of 3 from the Athletics was not easy. In a Tuesday twinighter, the Townies had to rally with 3 in the ninth for a 7-5 win and a split. Morehead was again disappointing as a starter in game 1, giving up all 5 KC runs for a 5-0 advantage and eventual 5-3 loss. Future Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter survived a late rally with the help of reliever Jack Aker for his tenth win of the year. Things looked bleak in game 2 when the home squad reached Gary Bell and reliever Jose Santiago for a 4-0 lead after three. But Boston got one back in the fifth and tied it in the seventh on some backfiring moves by manager Al Dark. After a walk and single with two outs, Dark relieved starter Blue Moon Odom with lefty Tony Pierce,who yielded a run-scoring single to Yaz. He then went to righty Aker, and Tony Conigliaro doubled in two to tie the contest. It stayed that way until the ninth, when two-out lightning struck again, begun by a Yastrzemski double. Norm Siebern, another reliable reserve, came through, singling a pair off Bill Stafford. A throwing error made it 7-4, but Sparky Lyle and Brandon, in a rare relief role, barely squeaked by as the A’s tallied one in the bottom half and left the bases filled.
The final game in Kansas City belonged to Jim Lonborg. Still shuttling to and from army reserve duty, Lonny shut down the Athletics 5-1 for his sixteenth win. Boston broke it open with three in the seventh, capped by Jerry Adair’s two-run single. Lyle pitched 1 2/3 shutout innings to earn the “save”.
The Red Sox then headed to the West Coast for three games against the Angels, which would result in three close losses. The Impossible Dream looked like it might be becoming a mirage. Within a few days of their return to Boston, however, a serious injury to a Sox star would propel them on another streak, but also result in eventual tragedy.