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Playoff Playbacks part one: Revisiting the Twins’ 1965, 1969, and 1970 playoff races

Put on your bell-bottoms and hop in the time machine.

(left to right) Minnesota Twins baseball stars Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, and Bob Allison are all smiles after a World Series game, October 7, 1965. Minneapolis Tribune (now Star Tribune) photo by John Croft.
Minnesota Twins players Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat, and Bob Allison (L to R) are all smiles after a World Series game, October 7, 1965.
John Croft/Minneapolis Tribune (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

This is the first of a four-part series going back in time to the playoff races in Minnesota Twins history in preparation for this year’s team’s playoff run that starts with the American League Division Series on Friday.

Since the Washington Senators moved to the Twin Cities after the 1960 season and were renamed the Minnesota Twins, the team had done fairly well, playing to a 331-314-3 record the first four seasons. They were within grasp of making the World Series twice - in 1962, finishing five games back to the eventual champions, the New York Yankees; and in 1963, finishing third behind the Yankees and the Chicago White Sox. A slump in 1964 still saw the emergence of Twins legend Tony Oliva, who won the American League Rookie of the Year.

This leading up to the 1965 season, when the Twins went 102-60 to win the American League pennant for the first time since moving to Minnesota. This was in thanks to the aforementioned Oliva batting .321, Harmon Killebrew and Bob Allison hitting 25 and 21 homers, respectively, and the arms of 21-game winner Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry and Jim Kaat with their sub-3 ERAs, and closer Al Worthington and his 21 saves, just to name a few.

These names went up against the Los Angeles Dodgers, still somewhat fresh from their move from Brooklyn, and also making a bounce-back season from a mediocre performance in 1964. The Dodgers didn’t have a big offense, but arrived with their strong pitching staff of names like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Ron Perranoski. Maury Wills was on the 1965 team, stealing 94 bases while being caught 31 times and leading the team with his .286 batting average. Los Angeles went 97-65, just enough to hold off the San Francisco Giants for the National League pennant.

The first two games were at Metropolitan Stadium, which the Twins took 8-2 and 5-1. Shortstop Zoilo Versalles went 2-5 with four RBI and a 3-run homer in the first game while Grant would go the distance, allowing ten hits and five strikeouts against one walk. Twins hitters chased Drysdale after 2.2 innings the first game and Koufax went six strong innings in the second game while the Dodgers turned to Perranoski, who allowed three runs to score during his outing, sealing Game 2. Kaat gave the Twins bullpen even more rest as he went the distance.

The series moved to Los Angeles where the home team grabbed the next three (4-0, 7-2, and 7-0) riding on the complete game efforts from Claude Osteen, Drysdale, and Koufax. Koufax was top-notch in the game five shut-out, as he allowed only four hits and one walk while striking out ten Twins batters. On the flip side, Kaat struggled a bit, going only 2.1 innings, allowing three earned runs off six hits and a strikeout. Killebrew and Oliva were the only bright spots while in Los Angeles, launching solo homers in game four off of Drysdale.

Game six was back in the friendly confines of The Met, where the Twins tagged two runs off of Osteen thanks to a two-run homer by Allison, and that’s all they would need as Grant went the distance again. His only blemish was a solo homer by Ron Fairly in the top of the seventh. Besides the homer, he allowed only five other hits and five strikeouts.

Game seven saw a Koufax-Kaat matchup, and Koufax won the fight in the low-scoring affair. Kaat’s mistake would be on a 1-1 count to Lou Johnson, who laced a solo homer down the left field line for a 1-0 Dodger advantage. A Wes Parker RBI single added on another run. The Twins could not come back against Koufax, as they struck out ten times during the game, scraping together three hits and three walks. The Dodgers won their second World Series Championship in three years.

Fast forward to the summer of 1969, the first season of the American League West Division as expansion saw the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Pilots, San Diego Padres, and Montreal Expos. The Twins were now seeing foes such as the Oakland Athletics, California Angels, Chicago White Sox, and the new Royals and Pilots teams.

Minnesota had its name at the top of the division, beating out the Athletics for the first A.L. West crown by nine games, and also atop the statistical leaderboard, too. Rod Carew won his first batting title in his third year of play in the majors, while Killebrew, deep into his own career, would lead the majors with 49 homers and 140 RBI while playing all 162 games, earning the A.L. Most Valuable Player award. Jim Kaat would win the Gold Glove as pitcher. Carew was joined by Oliva and Rich Reese, while Kaat has company again with Perry, Perranoski, and Dave Boswell.

The Twins faced the Baltimore Orioles, who went 109-53 and easily won the A.L. East, leading the second-place Detroit Tigers by 19 games at season’s end. Frank Robinson (.308, 32 HR, 100 RBI) and Boog Powell (.304, 37 HR, 121 RBI), lead the Orioles offense. Mike Cuellar (23-11, 2.38 ERA, 182 K) and Dave McNally (20-7, 3.22 ERA, 166 K) were two lefties that would start and get help from Eddie Watt (1.65 ERA, 16 S) and lefty Pete Richert (2.20 ERA, 12 S) to close out games when needed.

The first two games of the five-game series - both in Baltimore - went to extra innings. Jim Perry started for the Twins in game one, going eight innings and allowing three solo homers to Robinson, Mark Belanger, and Powell. Tony O and Allison carried the Twins offense with a sacrifice fly from Allison that scored Oliva and a two-run shot from Oliva. However, it was Powell’s solo shot in the bottom of the ninth off of Perry that sent the game to extras. Perranoski was called to come in and he went 3.2 innings, getting the L on a bunt single from Paul Blair to bring home the winning run for Baltimore in the 12th.

The next game saw the game go to the 11th with Boswell and McNally both trading zeroes into the final frame. Boswell came out for the 11th and issued a walk, sacrifice bunt, intentional walk, and a pop-fly. Billy Martin went to Perranoski to put out the flames, but Curt Motton singled to right field and score the game’s only run to once again walk off on the Twins.

The Orioles won handily in game three to move on to the World Series, as they scored five runs in the first four innings off of Jim Palmer and Dick Woodson. Blair would go 5-6 on the day with five hits, five RBI, and a run scored while Palmer went the distance, allowing only two runs on ten hits and four strikeouts. The Twins’ two runs would come from two Reese singles.

The 1970 Twins were lead by a new manager - Bill Rigney - and his team went 98-64 to win the A.L. West for a second time in as many years. (Funny thing: they lead the Athletics by nine games at the end of the season, just like in ‘69. Okay, maybe I am the only one that finds it funny.) The also met up with the Orioles for a chance at the World Series again for the second year in a row.

Games one and two would be at Metropolitan Stadium this time, but it didn’t seem to give the Twins an advantage. Mike Cuellar went for the Orioles and allowed all six runs the Twins would score during his 4.1 innings of work. Killebrew would get a homer and an RBI single off of Cuellar, while Cesar Tovar and George Mitterwald did their part in driving in runs as well. Unfortunately, Cuellar helped his own cause as he hit a grand slam off of Jim Perry in the top of the fourth, followed by a Don Buford solo shot that would get Perry the hook. Boog Powell was a part of the action that would put up a seven-spot in the inning, ultimately leading to a 10-6 victory for Baltimore.

Powell, Frank Robinson, and starting pitcher Dave McNally got to Twins starter Tom Hall, giving the Orioles four runs in the by the time the Twins batted in the bottom of the fourth. Killebrew and Oliva would hit back-to-back homers in the bottom of the frame, but it was too little, too late, as zeros were exchanged until the top of the ninth when the Orioles exploded for seven runs against Ron Perranoski and Luis Tiant, leading to an 11-3 victory for the Orioles.

The Twins sent out Jim Kaat to start game three in Baltimore, but the defense would not back the pitching staff as two errors would lead to three unearned runs all game. Kaat allowed two RBI singles before getting into the third, where he left with runners on the corners and no outs in a 2-0 deficit, giving way to 19-year-old Bert Blyleven. Three runs (two unearned) later, the Orioles were up 5-0, and went on to win 6-1 thanks to a complete game effort by Jim Palmer. The Twins were again denied a trip to the World Series, and would not taste the playoffs for another 17 years.

Tomorrow, we’ll revisit the best times in Twins history - the 1987 and 1991 World Series.