COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Game 7 of the World Series is perhaps the greatest stage in sport – with the fate of an entire season hanging in the balance, 162 games and a playoff journey boiled down to just nine innings. Forty-four years ago this week, on Oct. 12, 1967, the St. Louis Cardinals went down to the wire against Dick Williams' "Impossible Dream" Red Sox, who had won their first pennant since 1946 and were attempting to secure their first World Series championship in 49 years. With the series tied at three games apiece, the Cardinals rested their destiny on the right arm of Bob Gibson.
At the end of the '67 season, Gibson was not yet the legend he would ultimately become, but he had already earned a reputation as one of baseball's best big-game pitchers. Primarily a starter since 1961, he averaged 17 wins and 15 complete games per season between '61 and '67. In the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, he threw 10 innings in Game 5 and nine in Game 7, leading the Cardinals over the Bombers four games to three. Those two complete games were the beginning of a streak of eight consecutive complete games pitched (the first seven of which he won) in World Series play, a significant factor in his reputation as a high-stakes performer.
After disappointing finishes in '65 and '66, the Cardinals compiled 101 regular-season wins in 1967, giving them the best record in baseball by nine-and-a-half games. Gibson picked up right where he left off in the Fall Classic, allowing one run in 18 innings combined in Games 1 and 4.
In Game 7, Gibson demonstrated why he was touted as a threat with the bat as well as a dominant force on the mound. He surrendered three hits and two runs in his fifth consecutive World Series complete game win, striking out 10 as he downed the Red Sox 7-2 to put the Cardinals back on top. He went 1-for-4 at the plate, but the one hit was a solo home run in the top of the fifth that gave his team a 3-0 lead.
The victory was Gibson's third of the Series, as he became only the seventh pitcher in major league history to win three games in one Fall Classic.
Gibson went on to one of the best seasons in history in 1968, going 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA and striking out 268 over 304.2 innings as the Cardinals won their second consecutive pennant; although they lost to Detroit in a seven-game series, Gibson again threw three complete games in the final three World Series starts of his career. He retired in 1975 with 251 wins, two Cy Young Awards and a National League MVP Award to his name, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981 – his first year of eligibility – with 84 percent of the vote.
"He [had] a vicious competitiveness... desire and fantastic ability," said Tim McCarver, who caught Gibson during most of the 1960s. "That's a nasty combination to oppose, but it's a hell of a thing to have on your side."
Ana Apostoleris was a public programming intern in the Class of 2011 Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the Baseball Hall of Fame