Former Twins stopper Al Worthington was born in Birmingham, AL on February 5, 1929.
The Twins purchased the 35-year-old pitcher’s contract from the Reds on June 26, 1964, the same day that Twins pitcher Gerry Arrigo took a no-hitter vs. Chicago into the ninth at Met Stadium. Arrigo would complete a one-hit shutout of the Sox. Worthington, meanwhile, would appear in 41 of the Twins’ 81 remaining games, posting a 1.37 ERA.
Worthington was the first Twin to save 20+ games, going 10-5 with 21 saves and a 2.13 ERA during the Twins’ 1965 American League championship season.
Worthington was the first Twin to lead the league in saves with 18 in 1968 at age 39. The others to do so were Ron Perranoski in 1969 and 1970, Mike Marshall in 1979, and Eddie Guardado in 2002. (Note: saves weren’t an official stat until 1969)
With the Twins hosting the Senators on August 9, 1967, Worthington was involved in what must be one of the greatest relief pitcher duels in major league history. The Twins pieced together a 7-0 lead through six innings, but Washington tied it in the seventh with a two-out, seven-run rally.
Worthington and Senators reliever Darold Knowles both entered in the eighth. Worthington went 8.2 scoreless innings, allowing just two singles and two walks, at one point retiring 17 consecutive Senators. For the sabermetrically inclined, Worthington’s performance scored a WPA (Win Probability Added) of 1.176, the most valuable relief performance in Twins history (per Chris Jaffe’s August 27, 2012 Hardball Times article).
Knowles, meanwhile, pitched 10 scoreless innings, allowing three singles and two walks while striking out 10. The walks came back-to-back with one out in the 11th to the pitcher Worthington and Zoilo Versalles, putting the winning run on second with César Tovar and Tony Oliva coming up. Knowles, however, got Tovar to fly out to center, and Oliva to pop out to the catcher. Knowles performance scored a WPA of 1.231, the most valuable relief performance in Senators/Rangers history.
Despite a combined 18.2 innings of relief work, neither pitcher factored in the decision. After the Senators scored two in the top of the 20th, Sandy Valdespino led off the bottom of the inning with a single. As remarkable of a game as this was, here’s my favorite part: with two out in the bottom of the 20th, pitcher Jim Kaat pinch-hit for shortstop Jackie Hernandez, representing the tying run! Kaat flew out to right to end the game, but still, when’s the last time you heard of a pitcher pinch-hitting in a situation like that?
Check out the game log on Baseball Reference (click here).
Did you know the Twins weren’t the first Minnesota team Worthington pitched for? Dick Reusse went to the 1950 College World Series in Omaha and recruited the Alabama pitcher for the Fulda Giants. He was called “Red,” and late arriving, according to Dick’s son, Patrick, who was four years old that summer. A left-hander named Bob Wagner was the Fulda ace in 1950, according to Patrick.
After 12 seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs, Hilton Smith played for Fulda in 1949 (he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, the same class as Kirby Puckett, and Dave Winfield).
“Hilton ended up there because his arm went dead,” according to Patrick Reusse. “He actually played more first base (and was a terrific hitter) than he did pitch for the Fulda Giants. My Dad brought in a second black player — Earl Ashby — that summer. He was great catcher and also wound up pitching more than Hilton.” [Reusse researched accounts of Smith in the Fulda Free Press on the occasion of his 2001 Hall of Fame induction]