The Twins won Game 1 of the 1973 season and ended it at 81-81. In between, they shut out their opponents 18 times and were shut out 13 times as well. They also served up 11 walk-off losses, were 3-9 against the New York Yankees (of course) and yet they dominated the best team in baseball, a team that would win the division, the pennant and the World Series in seven games over the New York Mets.
Which team was that? The Oakland A’s.
The Twins were 14-4 against the A’s that season and they set the tone early with a three-game sweep of the team in Oakland to start the ’73 campaign. In that Game 1 win, Bert Blyleven took the mound for the Twins and Catfish Hunter was on the bump for the A’s.
Three innings later, Hunter was chased from the game and the Twins poured it on for the 8-3 win. Blyleven struck out seven over nine innings and Tony Oliva entered the record books, becoming the first designated hitter, a newly established rule, to hit a home run in the American League.
Hunter was 21-5 in 1973 and two of those five losses came against the Twins. They met again on Sept. 26 under similar circumstances. Blyleven was back on the mound for the Twins, Hunter for the A’s and Oliva homered off him again for the 4-1 win. By then, the A’s were 92-67. In that opening day loss to the Twins, they attracted 35,000 fans to Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. In the late September loss, only 3,500 fans passed through the gates. I can picture A’s owner Charlie Finley shaking his head.
Hunter fell to 21-5 after the Sept. 26 loss. Blyleven improved to 20-16. He ended 1973 at 20-17 with a 2.52 ERA and 258 strikeouts in 325 innings pitched, both career highs.
Oliva played in only 146 games in 1973, but he made the most of them. He hit three home runs on July 3 in a 7-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals and ended the season with 16. He also hit .291 and drove in 92.
-Of those 18 shutouts, Blyleven had nine of them.
-For the August 1992 edition of Baseball Digest, Catfish Hunter was asked who was the best hitter he ever faced. “Tony Oliva. Because he could hit any pitch, anywhere. He did not have a weakness.”
-Is major league baseball really going to be played this season? I ask that question as more players test positive for the novel coronavirus, including Twins slugger Miguel Sano and Mr. Popular, Willians Astudillo. The Twins might be fielding a very different lineup come July 23 or July 24.
Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com.