|Jim Lonborg, who went 22-9 for the 1967 AL-pennant winning Red Sox, threw out the first pitch before Game 2 of the ALCS. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)|
Lonborg's toss is memorable
The pitching line on Lonborg: One pitch, a ball, no runs, no hits . . . and all the rest zeroes.
"Just don't bounce it," said Jim Lonborg, the legendary Red Sox righthander who threw out the first pitch last night at Fenway before Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. "That's all I was thinking."
Forty years and a couple of weeks after hurling the Sox to their first pennant since 1946, the lean, graceful, and genteel Lonborg, now 65, once more stood atop the modest Back Bay hill where he once gave his command performances.
Known for his ability to explode hard, menacing sinkers inside on both lefties and righties, Lonborg's sole offering last night was considerably wide of the plate. But his motion was still fluid, his arm limber, reminding graying, misty-eyed Baby Boomers of the 1967 summer that brought baseball back alive in the Hub and now stands as the Charter Oak of Red Sox Nation.
"It shows you how special that team was to what has become an incredible outpouring of enthusiasm toward the Red Sox," said the California-born "Gentleman Jim."
"That was the spark that lit this bonfire."
Lonborg, who lives in Scituate and remains a practicing dentist, hasn't kept his glove stored with mothballs and memories. When his adult children visit, he is eager to play a game of backyard catch or toss a little batting practice. He said he likes to volunteer his serves and services in Scituate for home run-hitting contests. He's fortunate, he said, that he "left baseball intact," free of injury and with joints that have ample range of motion.
"I can still throw 30 minutes of batting practice," said Lonborg, his eyes sapphire blue, his hair thinning and white. "Of course, if I stop, I can't start again, but . . . "
Throughout his entire career (15 years, 157 wins, 137 losses, 1,475 strikeouts), especially in his prime with the Sox, Lonborg pitched every fourth day. That practice has gone the way of the $1 bleacher seat in today's game of five-man rotations and all manner of bullpen specialists, including long relievers, short relievers, and flamethrowing closers.
In that storybook '67 season, Lonborg went 22-9 in 39 starts and threw 273 2/3 innings. Seven years later, in a 17-13 season with the Phillies, he threw a career-high 283 innings. He finished with a career 2,464 1/3 innings pitched.
"The concept was to throw as much as you possibly could," recalled Lonborg, who broke in with the Sox in '65, not long after graduating from Stanford. "It might have taken away from your 'great' stuff, but it kept you more in touch with the baseball - that was the concept."
Reminiscing over the '67 season, which has become the duty and domain of the surviving cast members of the '67 Kardiac Kids, Lonborg remains "amazed" over the fact that so many pitchers that summer refused to pitch around the blistering Carl Yastrzemski. That remained true in the final weekend, right to the final day, with the Twins in town and the AL pennant on the line.
"Now you see them pitch around the hot guy a lot," he said. "And we did that, too. We weren't going to let Harmon Killebrew beat us."
Lonborg recalled the final game of the '67 season. The afternoon ended with Rico Petrocelli catching a Rich Rollins popup to short, and Lonborg carted off on the shoulders of his teammates, the sellout crowd spilling out of the stands to join in the celebration.
Later, Lonborg recalled, when the frenzy had quieted down, he made his way out of the clubhouse, ball in hand, in search of team owner Thomas A. Yawkey.
"I remember walking up through the catacombs . . . it was like the movie, 'The Natural,' " he said. "There was a big room up there, behind home plate [what was the press room, with its long mahogany bar, a favorite Yawkey hangout]. And I gave him the ball."
Lonborg, his mind sharp for details, couldn't remember exactly what Yawkey said when he handed it over.
"No, I'm afraid I don't remember," he said. "You know, he loved us like sons . . . and I remember he was so cheerful that we won. If only I knew where that ball was."
Lonborg has looked for that ball but hasn't been able to find it. It was with the Yawkey Foundation for some time, he said, but it is no longer there.
"No one knows where it is," he said.
And in a pocket of his stylish black jacket, Gentlemen Jim, who shall live long and lovely in the memory of Sox fans, tucked away the ball from last night's first pitch.
The final line on Lonborg: One pitch, one ball, headed home for safekeeping in Scituate.