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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Classic Twins Game of the Week: Bert Blyleven Beats Champion A's On Opening Night, April 6,1973

Last edited, April 7, 2013

The year: 1973. 40 years ago!

In Minnesota, Jim Kaat's tenure ended as one of the original Twins players to migrate from Washington in 1961, as he was placed on waivers and claimed on August 15th by the rival Chicago White Sox. Tony Oliva was coming back from knee surgery that all but wiped out his 1972 season. Harmon Killebrew was going into steep decline as a hitter, the warning signs more evident as the season progressed. And Bert Blyleven made the All-Star team, solidifying his stature as one of the best pitchers in the American League...

The newspaper clippings to follow are from the Minneapolis Star (4/7/73), recapping the Opening Night of that 1973 season.

I love the memory of laying awake on that Friday night, listening to the voice of Herb Carneal call that game all the way from Oakland, California into my bedroom.

It was an excellent, memorable game at that. Besides Blyleven's hurling, Larry Hisle turned in a 4 for 5 performance in his first game in the American League, after beginning his career in the National League with the Phillies.

He basically took long time super-sub Cesar Tovar's outfield spot. Little "Pepi" had been traded by the Twins to Philadephia the previous November for Joe Lis (oooh-start printing those World Series tickets!), Ken Sanders and Ken Reynolds (Ken's applenty). Beyond that, Tony's homerun as the first hit by a DH is a nice piece of history. It was nice, too, for the fact that it was in his very first at bat as a designated hitter!*  Oliva would turn in a fine, comback season after a long absence from the field - his misfortune to have had to undergo the old, invasive surgery, and not the arthroscopic procedure now common in lengthening athletic careers.  *

Check out this very cool audio link From "Only A Game-NPR," with DH's Orlando Cepeda, Ron Blomberg

Also interesting to share is this writeup by Twins beat writer Stoneking in The Minneapolis Star. Hope you enjoy and find some noteworthy stylistic differences in this 40-year old example of sports journalism!

There was no way of knowing then as a fan that Harmon's knee would remain an omnipresent problem for the rest of the year. That situation, plus the "Killer's" declining reflexes, would stand in contrast with Bert Blyleven's rising status as the best righthanded pitcher (along with Nolan Ryan) in the American League. Nice analogy, btw, comparing his clutch pitching to a "California freeway driver."

After each of Bert's strikeouts in critical situations, it was fun to hear the excitement in Herb Carneal's voice. Odd to think, he was only in his 12th year as "The Voice of the Twins." Also unthinkable was the fact that he'd have to wait another 14 seasons before calling games for another championship Twins team. But that was another baseball lifetime away! 

The Twins really had no answer to the A's and Royals in the 1970's, with the possible exception of 1977, when they were in first place as late as August 16th. They still finished in 4th place, it was, 1973 was to be Bert's finest year, a year which could have become a Cy Young Award-winning season (see post), with some assistance from the voters.

Speaking about that curveball: after that game, Boston's legendary slugger, Orlando Cepeda (known to his friends as "Cha-Cha"), rated Blyleven's curve the best he'd ever seen. And that was after batting for years as a National Leaguer against Sandy Koufax (known to opposing batters as "The Left Arm of God") - the best combo fastball/curveballer of the 1960's. Two Hall of Fame players in that last sentence, mind you.

Wonderful stuff! Check back for more vintage stories, pictures and off-the-wall Twins history!

May Your Taters Fly Far!


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