Roberto Clemente won his fourth batting title in 1967. He finished that year with a .357 average, 18 points ahead of Tony Gonzalez of the Philadelphia Phillies and 19 points ahead of teammate Matty Alou. Clemente went 1-for-8 in the first two games of a September series against the Cincinnati Reds, which dropped him down to a .349 average. It cut his lead in the batting race to just six points over Gonzalez at the time. On September 13, 1967, Clemente did something about that shrinking lead. Here’s the story of that night game at Crosley Field in front of 4,966 fans.
The Pirates lineup on this date was a strong one, with All-Star Maury Wills batting lead-off, followed by Alou, Clemente, Willie Stargell, Donn Clendenon, Gene Alley, Bill Mazeroski and Manny Sanguillen. Tommie Sisk was pitching and batting ninth. Despite those names, they had a 72-74 record coming into play, and there was some turmoil with the team, as Clemente gave an interview with the local media saying that some players on the team weren’t giving 100% and they seemed to quit on the season early when the club got off to a slow start.
The Reds were 80-66 coming into this game. They had some big names as well, with Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench leading the way, as well as Vada Pinson, Lee May, Tommy Harper and Tommy Helms. Bench was just two weeks into his big league career at this point. The pitcher was Mel Queen, the son of the Pirates pitcher by the same name. He went 14-8, 2.76 in 1967, which was not only his first full season in the majors, it was by far his best season.
Queen had a somewhat easy first inning, allowing a single to Alou before getting Clemente to pop up to first base, and Stargell to ground out to first base. Sisk gave up a two-out single to Pinson, who was thrown out by Sanguillen trying to steal second base.
In the second, the Pirates got a lead-off single by Clendenon, who only made it as far as second base. Alley grounded out, Mazeroski flew out to center field and Sanguillen struck out. Sisk issued a two-out walk to Helms before getting Bench to fly out to center field to end the inning.
The fireworks started in the third inning. Sisk singled, then scored on a single by Wills, along with an error by right fielder Tommy Harper, which allowed Wills to scoot to third base. Alou followed with a sacrifice fly. We started this article talking about Clemente, then noted that he made an out in his first at-bat. In his second at-bat, he singled to left field for his first hit of the day. Stargell also singled, but Clendenon and Alley were retired on fly balls. Pirates held a 2-0 lead, and Sisk kept it that way, despite allowing back-to-back singles to the 8/9 hitters to start the bottom of the third. Harper struck out, then Rose hit into a double play.
Manny Sanguillen had a one-out single in the fourth, but remained at first base. The Reds got a double by Pinson to start the bottom of the fourth. Lee May got him to third base on a fly ball and Tony Perez got him in with a ground out, making it 2-1 Pirates after four frames.
Matty Alou reached on a bunt single to start the fifth, only to get picked off with Clemente up. That was too bad for the Pirates because the Great One hit his 21st home run of the season to make it 3-1. That RBI on the homer was his 100th of the season. The Reds got a two-out double in the bottom of the fifth by Queen, his second hit of the day. He remained at second with Harper grounding out to end the inning, sending the game to the sixth with a two-run lead for the Bucs.
In the sixth, Bill Mazeroski doubled to start the inning. One out later, Queen uncorked a wild pitch and Mazeroski tried to score on the play, but he was cut down at home. The Reds got their lead-off man on in the sixth as well, though he was erased immediately on a double play.
The Pirates broke things open in the seventh and it all started with Maury Wills reaching on an error. After an Alou out, Clemente doubled home Wills to make it 4-1. Stargell was walked and Queen was replaced by Don Nottebart. An error on a Clendenon grounder allowed Clemente to score. Stargell and Clendenon then scored on a Gene Alley single. After Alley was erased as second base on a grounder by Mazeroski, Sanguillen doubled home Mazeroski to give the Pirates an 8-1 lead.
Sisk allowed a lead-off single in the bottom of the seventh to Perez, but one batter later, Bench ended the inning with a double play ball. The Pirates were back on offense in the eighth. Wills walked to start the inning, then came around to score after back-to-back singles by Alou and Clemente. Stargell grounded into a double play, but Alou was able to score one batter later on a wild pitch, which made it a 10-1 game. Sisk retired the side in order in the bottom of the eighth.
In the ninth, the Pirates got singles from Sanguillen and Wills, which put runners on the corners. Clemente singled to center field to make it an 11-1 game. The Reds added two meaningless runs in the bottom of the ninth on four singles and a sacrifice fly, but Sisk stayed around until the end for the complete game and an 11-3 victory.
Clemente made an out in the first inning, then picked up hits in each of his next five at-bats. His last four hits all drove in one run, including his home run. Clemente had eight games in his career with five hits. This game was his first in that group since August 3, 1961. Everyone in the Pirates lineup had at least one hit. Matty Alou and Manny Sanguillen each had three hits. Gene Alley was the only player who didn’t score a run, but he had two RBIs.
Here’s the boxscore and play-by-play from Baseball-Reference.