August 2, 1967: Pete Rose homers from both sides of the plate to power the Reds to a 7-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves. The win keeps the third place Reds eight games behind the league leading St. Louis Cardinals and makes a winner out of starting pitcher Milt Pappas.
The home runs are Rose’s seventh and eighth of the year. Pete Rose is the only Reds player to homer from both sides of the plate in the same game and he accomplished the feat twice. On this day, he victimized Braves starter Denny Lemaster in the third inning and Braves reliever Cecil Upshaw in the eighth inning. Rose had three hits in the game as did centerfielder Vada Pinson and left fielder Lee May. May’s output included a three-run homer in the third inning off Lemaster.
The score was tied 1-1 entering the home half of the third inning. With one out, Rose hit a solo homer to give the Reds a 2-1 advantage. Pinson singled to right and Tony Perez tripled into the leftcenter field gap, scoring Pinson (3-1, Reds). Deron Johnson was intentionally walked to set up the double play, but youngster May homered giving the Reds their 6-1 lead.
Pappas gave up 10 hits and 3 runs in 6 1/3 innings to improve his record. Reds reliever Ted Abernathy, having an incredible season, finished the last 2 2/3 innings of shut out ball to earn his 18th save and drop his earned run average to 1.64.
Many may not realize that the Reds had baseball’s best pitching staff in 1967. In Frank Robinson’s last Cincinnati season (1965) the Reds averaged 5.1 runs per game and had a team OPS+ of 112. The second best offense in the National League belonged to the Milwaukee Braves (102 OPS+ and 4.4 runs per game). The Minnesota Twins had the American League’s best offense at 4.8 runs per game (100 OPS+). However, the Reds had one of the worst pitching staffs and defenses in baseball. The Reds’ allowed 4.3 runs per game with only three National League teams doing worse. Reds’ pitching posted an ERA+ of 97 (only two teams worse) and the Reds defense had a negative run total of -26 runs, which, again, was third from the bottom.
The Robinson trade played havoc with the team’s offense. The Reds’ 1966 offensive produced a putrid OPS+ of 87, which was third lowest in the league, and it dropped to 82 in 1967, the second lowest in the league, just ahead of the 61-101 New York Mets. However, the Reds’ pitching staff and defense were turning around. There was a year’s delay, but new Reds GM Bob Howsam’s diligence made the Reds’ team an entirely different team. The 1966 team’s pitching staff again had an ERA+ of 97, but their defense dropped even further to -50 runs for the year. Changes had to be made.
One change was to move budding Reds’ hitting star Pete Rose to the outfield. Rose was a below average fielding second baseman who became a Gold Glove outfielder. Leftfielder Deron Johnson moved to first base with Tony Perez moving to third base, Tommy Helms moving from third base to second base, and Lee May was given increased playing time at 1b and LF. Helms became a Gold Glove second baseman, and while the others weren’t Gold Glovers, it did get Johnson out of the outfield and minimized some risk. But, the big improvement was in the team’s pitching staff.
By 1967 the Reds’ pitching staff posted a team ERA of 3.05, the team’s lowest ERA since 1944, and an ERA+ of 125, allowing only 3.5 runs per game. The San Francisco Giants placed second with a team ERA+ of 115. The team’s defense turned around remarkably, coming in just below average performance at -12 runs for the year, fifth in the National League.
The starting pitchers were led by 19-year-old fireballing phenom, Gary Nolan. Nolan was the Reds #1 draft choice picked in the 1966 amateur draft and had made it to the majors before the 1965 first and second round picks, Bernie Carbo and Johnny Bench, respectively. Nolan won his first major league game, 7-3, and those three runs allowed in 7 1/3 innings were the only time all year that Nolan’s ERA was over 2.93. He finished his rookie season 14-8 with a 2.58 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 226+ innings. He hurled five shutouts and struck out 10 or more batters on four occasions his rookie season, with a high of 15 (in only 7 2/3 innings) in a 4-3 loss to the Giants. He led the league in K/9 innings (8.2) and his K/BB ratio was 3.32. His ERA+ was 147.
Another Reds first year pitcher, Mel Queen, was almost as good. Queen, 25-years-old, went 14-8 with a 2.76 ERA. In 195 innings, he struck out 148 and threw 2 shutouts. His K/9 rate was 7.1 with a 2.96 K/BB ratio, and ERA+ of 137. Queen was not a rookie for he was a converted outfielder who batted .210 on the year and was used as a pinch hitter 18 times. Queen had 10 or more strikeouts in three different games.
Milt Pappas was the steady guy of the group, finishing the season 16-13 with a 3.35 ERA with three shutouts. His ERA+ was 113 with a 3.39 K/BB ratio. Villified throughout history for the infamous Pappas-Robinson trade, Pappas was actually a very good pitcher for a very long time. He pitched a near-perfect game for the Cubs in 1972, coming within one ball of the perfecto, before walking Larry Stahl and settling for a no-hitter.
Veteran fireballer Jim Maloney was still a no-hitter waiting to happen in every game. Maloney was 15-11 with a 3.25 ERA, 153 K’s, three shutouts and an ERA+ of 116. For his career, Maloney threw two official no-hitters, but took other hitless games into extra innings, and there were other hitless performances where he had to leave the game early due to injury. Maloney had two games with 11 or more strikeouts in 1967.
Former 22-game winner Sammy Ellis was the weakest link in the rotation with an ERA+ of 99. He finished the year 8-11 with a 3.84 ERA. Reliever Don Nottebart had an ERA+ of 197, Gerry Arrigo was 120, Billy McCool was 111. Bob Lee was 86.
But, the big bullpen star was 34-year-old submariner Ted Abernathy. Abernathy had been acquired throught he Rule 5 draft from the Atlanta Braves. The Braves had demoted Abernathy after he had posted a 4.55 ERA for the 1966 season (6.18 with the Cubs and 3.86 for the Braves). As recently as 1965, with the Cubs, Abernathy had been lights out, pitching 136 relief innings with 31 saves and a 2.57 ERA. He was even better with the Reds in 1967 when he posted a miniscule 1.27 ERA and 28 saves in 106 innings pitched. He pitched another 136 innings in 1968 with a 2.46 ERA. He led the league in games pitched in 1965, and 1967-68.
Abernathy’s 1.27 ERA at season’s end was his lowest ERA of the season dating back to the Reds’ fifth game of the season when he gave up four runs. He allowed two runs three times in the season, and those were the only games of 70 he pitched where allowed more than one run. His WHIP for the season was 0.978 and he allowed 5.3 hits per nine innings pitched. He finished the season with 21 scoreless appearances, covering 30 scoreless innings pitched. Abernathy was eventually traded after the 1968 season, to the Chicago Cubs for backup catcher Bil Plummer. He went on to pitch five more relief seasons in the majors, posting yet another sub-2.00 ERA (1.70) in his final season. As a Red, Abernathy pitched in 148 relief appearances, with a 16-10 record, a 1.94 ERA, and 41 saves.
The Reds spent 62 days in first place in 1967, most of them early in the season. Their biggest lead was 4 1/2 games ahead on June 6th, but they could not overcome their lack of hitting. They finished the season at 87-75, in fourth place, 14 1/2 games behind the league champion St. Louis Cardinals.