1967 Game Has Old-Timers Talking 40 Years Later

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The onset Wednesday of the Arizona State vs. University of Arizona regular, season-ending PAC-10 baseball, three-game series marks almost exactly the 40th year anniversary of a memorable playoff game between the Devils and Cats.

Having attended that 1967 game in Phoenix Municipal Stadium, I remember it as the finest I've ever witnessed.

That's also the feeling on the campus of Arizona State in Tempe, where longtime fans still consider it the greatest game in the long and storied history of the baseball program.

As a 1966 graduate of ASU, who had just completed my first year of teaching and coaching, myself and a group of my friends were among the 8,000-plus fans who showed up to see the one-game Western Athletic Conference Southern Division playoff between the Devils and Cats.

The game was a frenzied affair with the right field stands packed with rabid Cat fans and the left side overflowing with fanatical maroon-and-gold clad Devils' disciples.

Throughout the evening, the two sides exchanged taunts, cheers and digs, most of which should not printed in a family newspaper.

The college hijinks and tomfoolery that also went on is the stuff from which great tales are spun.

In fact, the monkey business that occurred that evening continues to send old-timer tongues waggin' in waterin' holes along Mill Avenue.

As was the usually the case when the Devils and Cats clashed, fans doled out brutal hecklings to rival players. Some taunts had me wondering how athletes within earshot didn't require post-game therapy and counseling.

For those on the receiving end of the heckling, group hugs and getting in touch with the inner child would not have been adequate therapy for what they had experienced.

In those days, Wilbur's feline friends refused to acknowledge Arizona State as a university. Rather they called the school "Tempe Normal," referring to the 1920s and '30s when the school was a teacher's college and the mascot was a Bulldog, rather than a Sun Devil.

ASU fans, in turn, nicknamed the Tucson school "Nogales Tech" or "Nogo Tech" in reference to U of A students' propensity to travel across the Mexican border for late night fun and frolic to an area known as "Canal Street."

Simply put, the atmosphere surrounding the game was the Cats vs. Devils rivalry at its turbulent best.

A ducat to the postseason

The playoff game was needed to break a deadlock in the standings, because the Devils had shut out the Wildcats, 3-0, in the final regular season game.

ASU, which had won the national championship two years earlier, entered the playoff nationally 11th-ranked and the Cats were ninth-ranked.

ASU coach Bobby Winkles tapped right-hander Gary Gentry, who years later, went on to star for the New York Mets and Atlanta Braves, to take to the mound.

Only two days earlier, Gentry had hurled the Devils to the win over the Cats.

Most figured Gentry wouldn't be on the mound long, mostly because he was pitching with very little rest.

The Cats scored one run in the first and tacked another on in the fifth to take a 2-0 lead in the crucial clash.

The Devils tied it with single runs in the fifth and sixth.

About four hours and 15 minutes after the game began, the game continued, dead knotted into the 15th inning. with Gentry still on the hill.

The late-night hour didn't discourage the fans who stayed on to see which of the mighty heavyweights would be left standing, when the final punch was thrown.

Word circulating among ASU faithful was that Gentry was gulping sugar pills between innings to keep his strength up.

Finally, in the bottom of the 15th, Jack Lind's RBI two-bagger scored Randy Bobb from second base to break the tie and send the Devils into the District 7 playoffs.

When all was said and done, Gentry had scattered nine hits, walked five, struck out 18 and threw 208 pitches.

In modern-day baseball, coaches and managers often yank pitchers after about 100 pitches, declaring them too fatigued to continue.

Only an American cultural icon, who changed his clothes in a phone booth and had an "S" on his chest, could have duplicated Gentry's effort.

Following the stirring win, the Sun Devils -- behind the play of Ron Davini, Tom Burgess, Larry Linville, Dave Grangaard and Gentry -- went on to capture the College World Series.

While the Sun Devils played in some memorable games on the way to the ‘67 crown -- beating Brigham Young, Oklahoma State, Boston College, Stanford, Air Force and Houston -- the games were almost anticlimactic when compared to the win over Arizona.

The 1967 sports year has gone down in history as the year the first Super Bowl was played and the season sophomore center Lew Alcindor emerged as the country's finest basketball player. But for those of us who were at Phoenix Muni that warm summer evening, 1967 will always be remembered as the year the greatest baseball game in ASU vs. Arizona history was played.

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