I love baseball, and because I am old, I pretty much prefer reading about the game of baseball as it was played in the 1940s-1980s to sitting down to watch today’s game. I still love the modern game, and I am a huge Dodgers fan and root like crazy for them, but it’s just a different game when catchers can’t block the plate, the games last four hours and of course video replay and blaring walk-up music. And I have no problem with the guys who are enamored with advanced stats, but I will freely admit that they do nothing for this old guy.
With that in mind, perhaps the most “advanced” baseball activity that I enjoy is Diamond Mind Online simulated baseball (https://imaginesports.com/bball), and while the teams I draft tend to be terrible, I nonetheless look forward to the three games a day where my squad plays against the teams of equally enamored SIM baseball owners.
As I mentioned, my teams are typially bad. Take for instance a team I recently put together that was built around the teammates of former Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers, Astros, White Sox, Reds, Angels and Brewers lefty Jerry Reuss (I called them Rolls Reuss). They were somewhat competitive and finished with a respectable 85-77 record, but my teams are forever lacking in one of the three key categories: Pitching, Offense or Defense. In this instance Rolls Reuss was in the top five in pitching and fielding, but just could not score enough runs, this, in spite of the presence of 1990 Barry Bonds, who certainly did his part (.286/.388/.568, 43 HR, 116), but there just weren’t enough other guys to carry the load.
And that is how it usually goes with my teams, as they are forever missing a key element, and of course I’ve had my share of teams that are lacking in more than just one. But there I am each morning and afternoon looking at box scores, tweaking lineups and getting either way too excited about winning streaks, or way too depressed about losing streaks and injuries. The games aren’t real, obviously, but having played for so long now, the line between reality and fantasy is pretty blurry.
I just love the game of baseball and this is the closest I will ever get to owning or managing or being a general manager, so let me have my fun dang it! And imagine my surprise when I actually assembled a team of 1965-1968 Detroit Tigers that ultimately won my league’s World Series. Stunned is probably a better description, and is really why I decided to get the recap and memory out there for me to review when I am feeling blue, or when my latest team is doing terrible. I mean, who knows when I’ll see the post season again, let alone a World Series.
So here it is, mostly for me, but if you stumbled in here and like baseball then maybe you too might enjoy this.
The premise of the league was to assemble a team comprised of the ’65-68 versions of the guys who played for your franchise. I selected the Tigers not out of any allegiance or faraway fandom, but just a healthy respect for Al Kaline and Denny McLain. My Tigers team – the Motor City Kitties – was part of the Eastern Division, which also included the Orioles, Indians and Red Sox. In the Central we had the White Sox, Phillies, Twins and Reds. The Western Division was comprised of the Braves, Giants, Dodgers and Cardinals.
The Tigers featured the following everyday position players (player name and real-life season listed):
Catcher = Bill Freehan – 1967
First Base = Norm Cash – 1965
Second Base = Dick McAullife – 1967
Third Base = Don Wert – 1968 & 1965
Shortstop = Ray Oyler – 1967
Left Field = Willie Horton – 1965
Center Field = Al Kaline – 1966
Right Field = Jim Northrup – 1968, 1966 & 1967
Yeah, that’s right; two Don Werts and three Jim Northrups. I upgraded from a low-cost, yet efficient Wert at midseason at the good suggestion of my brother in law Gene, to a better hitting and fielding version of the steady third baseman. Northrup was a different story. The reliable and powerful 1968 version was looking good through 100+ games, when a hit by pitch befell him for 24 games. This came at a crucial point in the season and I felt I couldn’t wait out the injury with bench guys like Gates Brown or Don Demeter, so I went with his 1966 version, only to see that model go down to the very same injury just five games into his tenure. This was another long injury, and with precious little money to play with, I went all-in with 1967 Jim Northrup, who thankfully stayed healthy.
The Tigers led the league with 208 home runs, and were paced by Horton, who socked 40 and drove in 110 runs, while McAuliffe and Cash had 33/77 and 28/75 respectively. Al Kaline played wonderfully in centerfield, sporting a healthy 2.80 range factor and had seven assists and no errors, and was efficient at the plate with 40 doubles, 24 homers and 90 RBI. Freehan was his steady self behind the plate and also saw some time at first base, while cracking 24 HR and driving in 85 runs. The Jim Northrups combined for 29 homers, 95 RBI and 9 HBP – two of those obviously pretty costly. In looking up these stats I was stunned to discover that Freehan was struck by 27 pitches during the season. Little did I know that Freehan’s propensity for getting hit by pitched baseballs would haunt the team when it mattered most.
Pitching. Okay, to be fair, our league was playing its games in the Pitcher’s Era, so the numbers were bound to be very good, and for sure this was the best pitching staff I’d ever had. The Tigers’ five man rotation was a pleasure to watch. Anchored by 1968 Denny McLain (22-13, 2.90 ERA, 269 K and 326.1 IP), the Kitties surrendered a lot of home runs (177), but walked few (just 442 in 1,440 innings pitched), and McLain wasn’t a one man show. 1966 Earl Wilson (14-12, 2.85 ERA) and 1965 Hank Aguirre (14-10, 2.34 ERA) each pitched 200+ innings, while 1965 Mickey Lolich and 1967 Joe Sparma combined for 20 wins and close to 300 strikeouts. The staff combined for 119 quality starts, and when it needed help from the bullpen they had Larry Sherry (1965), Dave Wickersham (1966) and Mike Marshall (1967). Sherry and Wickersham each got into 60 regular season games, while Marshall saved 21 games in 28 opportunities. Lefty John Hiller (1968) was a regular season disappointment, but there was post season redemption for him.
The regular season:
Final record 85-77.
Week 1 = 11-7
Week 2 = 9-9
Week 3 = 10-8
Week 4 = 5-13
Week 5 = 12-6
Week 6 = 11-7
Week 7 = 11-7
Week 8 = 10-8
Week 9 = 6-12
The Tigers were 42-39 at the halfway point and went 43-38 the rest of the way. Their poor play in the final week cost them a chance to win the Eastern Division, ultimately overtaken by a powerful Orioles squad that featured 1966 Boog Powell (46 homers, 124 RBI), 1967 Frank Robinson (31 HR, 102 RBI), with lefty 1968 Dave McNally (17-15, 3.73 ERA, 229 K) and 1968 Moe Drabowsky (23 saves) anchoring a solid pitching staff.
As the wildcard team, the 85-77 Motor City Kitties faced a 92-70 White Sox team that ran away with the Central Division and had the best record in the league. While the Sox didn’t score much, their pitching and defense surrendered the fewest runs (546) of all 12 teams, and their strong rotation was led by 1967 Joe Horlen (21-8, 2.44 ERA), 1966 Gary Peters (13-3, 2.25, 157 K) and 1965 Tommy John (13-11. 2.78). Meanwhile, 1968 Wilbur Wood (34 saves) and 1966 Hoyt Wilhelm (10 saves, 89.1 IP) were solid out of the bullpen.
The first two games of the series were played at Comiskey Park, and Peters was masterful in the Sox’ opening game victory, striking out nine in seven innings, with Wilhelm notching a two inning save. Willie Horton had staked the Tigers to a 1-0 lead with a solo homer in the second inning, but McLain flirted with trouble throughout his 6.2 innings and it finally caught up to him in the fifth. Shortstop Ron Hansen led off the inning with a home run, then McAuliffe made an uncharacteristic error on a grounder from Peters, and when Don Buford doubled and Tommie Agee plated Peters with an RBI ground out, the White Sox ace had all the runs he would need. Beyond the Willie Horton HR the Tigers didn’t hit much, getting just two singles to go with Horton’s homer. Final score: White Sox 3, Tigers 1 (Sox lead the series 1-0)
Game Two of the series was not one for the faint of heart. The Kitties received a solid starting effort from Earl Wilson, who would have likely gotten the victory with some better managing. Detroit took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning thanks to two White Sox errors and a Joe Horlen wild pitch. McAuliffe slammed a solo home run in the top of the eighth to give the Tigers what seemed like a comfortable 2-0 lead, as Wilson was cruising. Heading into the bottom of the ninth, Wilson had struck out seven, walked none and allowed just three harmless hits. The Tigers’ bullpen just stood and watched, presuming that a complete game victory was afoot, but trouble was brewing. Pinch hitter Smoky Burgess started with a line drive single to left field to bring the tying run to the plate. Wilson then walked Buford to bring the winning run to the plate, and the Tigers’ bullpen was suddenly buzzing with activity, as the Comiskey crowd was roaring. Floyd Robinson then dumped a single into shallow left field to load the bases with nobody out. Agee’s sacrifice fly got Burgess home and advanced Buford to third. Time for Mike Marshall, right? Nope. Wilson stayed in the game and surrendered a gut-wrenching double to Pete Ward. In came Buford to tie the game, and right behind him was Robinson looking to score and put the Sox up 2-0 in the series. Al Kaline had other plans. The Tigers centerfielder had to play the ball off the fence in right center, and when he finally caught up to it all he could do was pick it up and hope to make a perfect throw to the plate, which thankfully he did, as Bill Freehan applied the tag to get a stunned Robinson out at home, and take the collective wind out of the drunken Comiskey crowd. Two outs. Tie game. A stunned Wilson finally exited, as Marshall was finally summoned and he got Ken Berry to ground out, sending the game into extra innings.
The reliable Wilbur Wood took the hill in the 10th inning, and promptly gave up a single to pinch hitter Don Demeter, who was then forced out on a McAuliffe grounder. Then, a double dose of Motor City lightning struck, as Northrup slammed a two-run homer into the bleachers in right, and before the booing stopped, Willie Horton followed with a solo bomb of his own. Staked to a three run lead, the Tigers’ bullpen trio of Larry Sherry, Fred Gladding and John Hiller combined to get three outs, but not before surrendering a walk and three singles to allow the Sox to tie the game at 5-5. This is fairly typical of my rare post season appearances in the SIM. Everything that can go wrong usually does, and my teams rarely rebound from such experiences
But I’d never had Willie Horton on any of my teams previously, and following an uneventful 11th inning for both teams, Horton once again delivered, this time slamming a one out home run in the 12th to put the Tigers up by a score of 6-5.
In 1955, the Dodgers finally won their elusive first – and only – championship in Brooklyn, and it required complete game victories by 23-year-old lefty Johnny Podres, first in Game 3, and then with ice water in his veins at Yankee Stadium in Game 7. Well, my Tigers team had Podres languishing in the bullpen all season, and it wasn’t the 23-year-old Podres either, rather it was the 34-year-old model, and he’d only gotten into 29 games during the regular season. Yet here he was now, taking the mound at Comiskey in the bottom of the 12th with the game on the line. Podres wasted little time in disposing of Danny Cater and Johnny Romano on a line out and pop out respectively, but then gave up a pinch single to Moose Skowron to bring the winning run to the plate in pinch hitter Duane Josephson. Perhaps summoning a little of that 1955 mojo, Podres got Josephson swinging on a 1-2 pitch to pick up the save, and sent the series to Detroit tied at a game apiece. Final score: Tigers 6, White Sox 5 (12 innings).
Game 3 wasn’t what you’d classify as a dream match-up, as the Sox sent Tommy John to the mound to face Hank Aguirre, and neither pitcher looked good in the game. John lasted just 3.1 innings, surrendering a Kaline home run and two RBI singles from Norm Cash to fall behind 4-1 through three innings, and just when the Sox got to within a run in the fourth he gave up a single to McAuliffe followed by a Freehan RBI double and his day was done. Aguirre on the other hand was in and out of trouble for 4.2 innings, but may have had a better showing if not for a dropped fly ball error by the normally flawless Kaline in the fifth. Two unearned runs would ultimately score in the inning to trim the Tigers’ lead to 6-5. Reliever Dave Wickersham took over and allowed the tying run in the sixth on a Tommy Agee RBI single that scored Al Weis who had doubled. With the game knotted at 6-6 in the bottom half of the sixth, White Sox reliever Dennis Higgins got a loud out off the bat of Freehan, who lined out to left, and then struck out Kaline. Willie Horton then strutted to the plate having already hit three home runs in the series, and wouldn’t you know it, he slammed an 0-1 pitch from Higgins into the bleachers to put the Tigers back on top, 7-6, a lead they would not relinquish, in fact, Horton collected his third hit of the game in the eighth to plate an insurance run. The relief trio of Wickersham, Mike Marshall and John Hiller allowed just a single run and four hits over the final 4.1 innings, with Wickersham picking up the victory, Marshall the hold and Hiller – who struck out the only batter he faced, Pete Ward – the save. Final score: Tigers 8, White Sox 6. (Detroit leads the series 2-1).
With two home games left in the series and needing to win only two to advance, the Tigers had to be feeling pretty good about sending probable Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain to the mound. His performance in Game 1 of the series was nothing like how he’d been during the regular season, so there was every reason to believe that he would return to form. If you are a believer in the Quality Start statistic then a quick glance at the stats line for the season showed that McLain started 45 games and 36 of those were quality, and when he struck out two of the first three batters he faced in Game 3 the feeling was that the old Denny McLain was back. Well, he was, but the White Sox trio of Cisco Carlos (7 IP, seven strikeouts), Wilbur Wood and Hoyt Wilhelm were simply better, limiting the Tigers to just two hits in the game. Meanwhile, a Ron Hansen sacrifice fly brought home Pete Ward in the third inning, and then Ward doubled home two runs in the fifth to give the Sox an insurmountable 3-0 lead, the shutout finally broken by a Ray Oyler sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth. Final score: White Sox 3, Tigers 1. (Series tied 2-2).
Most fans consider Game 5 of a playoff series to be the pivotal one and I would tend to agree. With the series tied and the Tigers potentially playing their final home game, this one was big. White Sox starter Gary Peters – who was dominant in Game 1 of the series – was once again unhittable. He struck out eight, walked just one, while allowing only three hits and an unearned run in the complete game 5-1 victory. At this point he was the consensus series MVP. Mickey Lolich meanwhile, gave up 10 hits and five runs in just five innings, which, combined with the quiet Detroit bats made for a disappointed home crowd. Chicago took two of three in Detroit, the home team plating just two runs total in the final two games and things looked bleak for the Tigers. (Sox lead the Series 3-2).
Must-win games are typically anointed to contests that aren’t really in the “must win” category, but as the Tigers traveled back to Chicago knowing that it was “win or go home” for (hopefully) two games, they had to be feeling some pressure. Earl Wilson, he the unlucky starter in Game 2 who deserved a better fate, was once again on the mound for the Tigers in a game they had to have, and he once again delivered an excellent performance. He went eight strong innings, allowing single runs in the first, sixth and seventh innings and gave the Tigers what they needed. Now it was up to the offense, and while they didn’t necessarily terrify the trio of starter Joe Horlen and relievers Bob Locker and Hoyt Wilhelm, they did have enough timely hits, and when needed, home runs, to force a Game 7. Jim Northrup got the Tigers off to a promising start in the opening inning when he slammed a 2-run home run off Horlen. The game was tense. Ray Oyler singled home Al Kaline in the fourth inning to give the Tigers a 3-1 lead, and when Kaline homered to lead off the sixth inning Detroit had what seemed like a comfortable 4-1 lead, but the Sox nipped away at Wilson and tallied those solo runs in the sixth and seventh to make it a 4-3 nail-biter heading into the eighth. With Wilhelm now pitching, he proved that Willie Horton was in fact human, striking him out, but then walked Norm Cash and Kaline followed with a single. Bill Freehan’s flyout advanced Cash to third, and with two out, Don Wert slammed a 1-0 pitch into the leftfield corner, scoring Cash, and Kaline came around to score all the way from first on a close play at the plate. Insurance runs for the Tigers – a rare commodity.
It was now 6-3 Detroit, and Wilson danced around some trouble in the bottom half of the eighth, quickly getting the first two outs before allowing back-to-back singles to Tommie Agee and Pete Ward. Dick McAuliffe then uncharacteristically bobbled a Ken Berry grounder to load the bases and got the crowd back into it. Once again it seemed like a perfect moment for Mike Marshall to enter the game, but the stubborn Detroit manager stuck with Wilson. Had he not learned from Game 2? Danny Cater promptly hit a scary grounder into the hole where Oyler makes his living, and the shortstop was up to the task, making a terrific play to nip Cater by a step and the threat was ended. Curiously, Wilson batted for himself in the ninth and struck out. Now this normally wouldn’t seem like a big deal, as Wilson was decent at the plate during the regular season, but if you were going to bring in Marshall to close it out – which the manager did – then why not let Don Demeter hit for Wilson? We’ll never know, as the SIM manager is never available after games. With a three run lead, Marshall came in and promptly struck out Johnny Romano and then got Ron Hansen to ground out, but Bill Melton followed with a double, and Marshall was sent to the showers. Don Buford – a switch hitter – batted righty as the Tigers brought out lefty John Hiller to finish things. Buford had other ideas, and singled Melton to third, bringing Floyd Robinson to the plate representing the tying run. Robinson slammed Hiller’s first offering to the fence in left field, where Horton hauled it in for the final out, Tigers fans everywhere and a balding team owner nearly having a heart attack in the process. Final score Tigers 6, White Sox 3. (Series tied 3-3).
Playing a winner-take-all (in this case, the privilege of taking on an Orioles team that steamrolled the Braves in their series) Game 7 is fun and scary. When you first draft your team you feel like you’ve assembled a winner, and then as you make subtle tweaks to your roster (see: The Jim Northrup experience and Don Wert upgrade) that feeling becomes reality as you win more games than you lose, and if you’ve done things right then you find your team in the post season poised for success in a Game 7 should it ever happen. One guy participating in this game at Comiskey who, to this point deserved more success, was Tigers starting pitcher Denny McLain. To this point in the series McLain had a 2.45 ERA, 17 strikeouts and an 0-2 record. He was facing Tommy John, who the Tigers torched in Game 3, so Detroit had to be feeling fairly confident about the matchup, but beyond a couple of baserunners in the opening frame (thanks to two White Sox fielding errors), both starters looked good through the first two innings.
In the top of the third, Bill Freehan walked with one out, and advanced to third on an Al Kaline double. Willie Horton then followed with a solid single to centerfield and the Tigers had a 2-0 lead. Turns out it was more than enough for McLain, who was mostly unhittable on this day, scattering just six singles and striking out eight in eight innings. Freehan would tack-on a home run in the fifth, and Wert added an RBI single an inning later, and Detroit was headed to the World Series with their 4-0 victory.
Winning the final two games on the road was a huge hurdle and they had done it due in large part to the big bat of Al Kaline, who collected six hits in seven at bats, and scored four runs. Willie Horton was the guy with the big stick in the first three games with four of his six hits leaving the ballpark, and drove in seven runs in the series. Pitching was big for the Tigers in the series – the lofty 5.00+ earned run averages of guys like Hank Aguirre, Fred Gladding, John Hiller and Mickey Lolich notwithstanding. Starters Denny McLain and Earl Wilson gave the team opportunities time and time again in their combined five starts and deserved something better than a 2-2 record, and while it is tempting to say that it’s never about wins and losses, you can’t really make that statement in a playoff series. I look at Gary Peters’ stellar 2-0 record with a 0.56 ERA and 17 strikeouts for the White Sox and say bravo, and wonder how things would’ve turned out had Detroit seen him in the deciding Game 7. But still, just wow, Denny McLain. Twenty two innings pitched, 25 strikeouts, only three walks and a 1.56 ERA. Good work. And there has to be a shout-out to Tigers relief pitcher Dave Wickersham, who was more than reliable when called upon. In six innings (two games) he struck out five and allowed just a single run. And so the Tigers moved on to the Big Dance.
World Series: Detroit Tigers (Motor City Kitties) versus the Baltimore Orioles (Charm City Beagles O’s)
Regular season head-to-head: Baltimore 14 wins and 10 losses took the season series against Detroit, including taking 10 of the final 12 games to overtake the Tigers for the Eastern Division crown.
World Series Game 1: Memorial Stadium, Baltimore
Hank Aguirre VS Dave McNally
The Tigers wasted little time in Game 1, as the revamped batting order paid immediate dividends. Lead-off hitter Don Wert started the World Series with a solid single up the middle off McNally, and catcher Bill Freehan followed with a monster two-run home run down the left field line, and when Dick McAuliffe hit a solo home run to start the second inning, the Tigers had an early 3-0 lead. Aguirre meanwhile dodged a first inning bullet when he gave up a pair of singles, but then struck out Frank Robinson and Boog Powell to escape the jam. He surrendered a run in the third on a pair of singles and a pair of ground outs, but again struck out Powell to keep things under control. Both teams tallied single runs in the fifth, a McAuliffe force out with the bases loaded scored Al Kaline, while a Powell single plated Curt Blefary and the Tigers led 4-2. Aguirre was solid in striking out eight, walking three and scattering eight hits. Meanwhile McNally lasted just four innings, surrendering four earned runs, and starter-turned-reliever Wally Bunker kept the game close for two innings until running into problems in the seventh. He walked Willie Horton and Kaline to start the inning, then gave up consecutive RBI singles to Jim Northrup and Norm Cash and his day was over. The Tigers took care of Game 1 with a convincing 6-2 victory, piling up 12 hits in the process. Aguirre managed to keep the heart of the Orioles’ lineup – Paul Blair, Frank Robinson and Powell – fairly tamed, the trio collecting four quiet hits. (Tigers lead the series 1-0).
World Series Game 2: Memorial Stadium, Baltimore
Earl Wilson VS Jim Hardin
This one was a duel for three innings, and then it was a laugher, although it was no laughing matter, as tempers flared in the decisive fourth inning.
Only two Baltimore hits and a lone Detroit infield single accounted for all of the offense through the top half of the fourth inning, and then Frank Robinson stepped in and yanked a 1-1 fastball from Wilson that hooked around the foul pole to put the Orioles on top 1-0. Davey Johnson followed with a comebacker and was the first out of the inning, and then things got ugly. A 1-2 pitch got away from Wilson and hit Baltimore’s catcher Ellie Hendricks in the face. While it was obvious that Wilson didn’t want to hit Hendricks with the stakes so high, it was apparent that he was clearly irked by Robinson’s home run. Now rattled by the sight of a bleeding Hendricks, Wilson was not going to be long for this game. He allowed a single to Dave May, and after getting the second out of the inning, he walked Paul Blair, and then stood stunned when his battery mate Bill Freehan got crossed up and allowed a passed ball to score pinch runner Charlie Lau, with May advancing to third, Blair to second, and the Orioles now leading 2-0. Things really unraveled as Luis Aparicio doubled home two, and when a Brooks Robinson single scored Aparicio, Baltimore had an insurmountable 5-0 lead. Wilson’s day on the mound was over, lasting just 3.2 innings. Fred Gladding and Larry Sherry mopped-up, giving up just two more Baltimore hits for the balance of the game (one of them a Blair solo home run), and by the time the Tigers rallied for three runs in the seventh inning on an Al Kaline two-run home run and a Don Demeter RBI double, it was too little too late. The Orioles made the most of their eight hits in the 6-3 final, and Jim Hardin gave them six efficient innings on the mound, but Baltimore would be without the services of Hendricks, who was lost for the balance of the World Series with a concussion. (Series tied 1-1).
World Series Game 3: Tiger Stadium, Detroit
Steve Barber VS Denny McLain
It was Detroit’s first glimpse of their Tigers since dejectedly walking out of the stadium following their team’s Game 5 loss in the playoffs, so the energy was high. They were treated to classic Denny McLain, who induced a couple of groundouts and a pop-out in the first inning. The Tigers’ 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup delivered once again, as Don Wert walked and came home on a massive Bill Freehan home run to put Detroit up 2-0. With one out, Al Kaline walked and went to third on a Jim Northrup single. Norm Cash singled to bring home another run, and following a Dick McAuliffe sacrifice fly, the home team had a 4-0 lead with freaking Denny McLain on the hill.
And McLain was cruising through five innings, the only blip coming on a Curt Blefary solo homer in the second inning. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ offense chased Steve Barber after only three innings, and when McLain singled home Cash in the fourth, Detroit had what seemed like a cushy 5-1 lead heading into the sixth. Bob Johnson started the inning with a solid single to center, and when Cash could not turn two on a Brooks Robinson chopper, it brought up big Boog Powell with Johnson on second. Boog made the most of his opportunity, turning on a 1-1 fastball and depositing it into the seats in right field, and when Frank Robinson followed with a home run of his own the Orioles only trailed by a single run, 5-4. Cash slammed one into the seats in right field in the bottom of the inning to once again put the Tigers up by a pair, and then two outs later McLain hit an improbable triple – he would be stranded there – the Detroit crowd was back into it. But the Orioles kept pecking away and ultimately tied the game, scoring single runs in the seventh on a Paul Blair single to score Davey Johnson, which chased McLain, and in the eighth as Powell scored on a Larry Haney groundout, setting the stage for a wonderfully exciting and painful final inning.
Joe Sparma had taken over for McLain in the seventh and calmed things a bit, but the starter-turned-reliever flirted with disaster in the eighth, ultimately allowing the tying run on the Haney groundout, so his return to the mound in the ninth inning of a tense 6-6 game was a bit of a surprise. Things got off to a bad start for Sparma when he walked pinch hitter Curt Motton on four straight wide ones. Sam Bowens was sent in to pinch run for Motton, and advanced to second when Blair – who was attempting to sacrifice – was hit by Sparma’s inside fastball. Out went Sparma to a booing Detroit crowd, and in came Mike Marshall to try put out the blaze set by his predecessor. Marshall managed to get the inferno down to a much smaller fire by retiring Bowens on a force at third when Bob Johnson bunted back to the mound, and then got the second out on a lazy fly ball to right field off the bat of Brooks Robinson. With two out and lefty John Hiller warming in the bullpen to face Powell, the Tigers opted to stick with Marshall, who allowed just one home run to lefty swingers all season. Make that two. Powell hammered an 0-2 pitch into the lower deck at Tiger Stadium to put the Orioles up 9-6 and completely silence the home crowd. When Marshall got Frank Robinson on a weak grounder to second to end the inning, the applause had a sarcastic tone, but all sarcasm aside, if the Tigers were to have any chance in the bottom of the ninth they at least had the top of the order coming up to face Baltimore closer Moe Drabowsky.
Things started quietly, as Wert fouled out to Superman Powell and Detroit was down to its final two outs. Freehan strolled to the plate, his first inning home run a distant memory at this point. The big catcher took his place in the box, but then Drabowsky’s 2-2 pitch nailed Freehan on the elbow, the sickening thud and horrific scream like a living nightmare for all Tigers fans and players. The trainer took one look and the diagnosis was instant – the elbow was shattered. Freehan was done for the game and the Series. Jim Price sprinted from the dugout to run for his fallen mate as audible sobs came from the crowd. The place was funereal. Willie Horton followed with a strike out and fans started to pack their things, but then Kaline singled Price to third and Jim Northrup came to the plate representing the tying run. Can you imagine? The youngest and oldest in the Detroit stands fantasized of a Northrup home run, flying majestically onto the roof in right field. Oh that would just be perfect. And Northrup delivered…mostly, hitting a high fly deep, deep into right field, where Frank Robinson took it in at the wall for the final out of an exhausting, exhilarating and exasperating contest. Orioles 9, Tigers 6 (Baltimore leads the series 2-1).
World Series Game 4: Tiger Stadium, Detroit
Wally Bunker VS Mickey Lolich
Faced with the prospect of going down 3-1 in the World Series and now without the services of Bill Freehan, the Tigers summoned Mickey Lolich to the mound, and while the lefty struck out the side in the top of the first inning, he was also very wild, walking two, and allowed a single plus a wild pitch, but the Orioles somehow only touched him for a single run and carried a 1-0 lead into the fifth. Bob Johnson led off the inning with a base on balls, a borderline call that clearly irritated Lolich, and so bothered was the southpaw that he hung one over the plate for Frank Robinson to crush into the leftfield bleachers, and Baltimore now led 3-0. Detroit managed to cut that back down to two runs on an Al Kaline sacrifice fly, but the Orioles quickly struck back in the top half of the eighth, as reliever Mike Marshall got the first two hitters before walking Curt Blefary, then a single to Paul Blair, followed by a triple off the bat of Davey Johnson, and the Tigers came to bat in the bottom half of the inning, trailing 5-1. Wally Bunker was cruising to this point, striking out seven, walking two and allowing just the lone run on six Detroit hits. But he was tiring. One hundred pitches into the ballgame, it was interesting to see that he was allowed to hit for himself in the eighth, making the final out, but with a four run lead it seemed like a safe bet. Bunker walked Norm Cash to begin the inning, and when Kaline hooked one around the foul pole in left it was suddenly a 5-3 game and Bunker was gone, replaced by Eddie Watt.
This was not an improvement, as the normally reliable relief pitcher walked Don Wert, allowed a single to Ray Oyler and then walked Jim Price to load the bases with nobody out. Baltimore stuck with Watt and they were rewarded with a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of pinch hitter Don Demeter, which scored Wert and advanced Oyler to third, but now there were two outs in a game that was suddenly close at 5-4. With the crowd imploring him to do something amazing, Dick McAuliffe lined a 1-0 fastball into centerfield and we had us a tie game. Exit Eddie Watt and welcome to the fray Dick Hall to face Jim Northrup with the improbable go-ahead run on first base. Behind in the count 1-2, Northrup got out in front of a changeup and lined it into the gap in right field – all the way to the wall. McAuliffe scored easily while Northrup cruised into second with a heroic double, and the Tigers led 6-5. Willie Horton grounded out to end the inning, but Detroit had come back from the dead and scored five in the inning.
Now it was up to the Tigers’ bullpen to finish things. Steady Dave Wickersham started strong, striking out Bob Johnson, but then gave up an infield single to Frank Robinson, and Detroit wasted no time in calling upon John Hiller to face left handed monster and Tiger-killer Boog Powell. Sam Bowens was sent in to run for Robinson, and Hiller, obsessing with the baserunner, and got behind Powell 2-0 before crossing-up Price, and the passed ball sent Bowens into scoring position and the count to 3-0. Hiller ultimately conceded to Boog and walked him. What a fine mess the Tigers were in now. Hiller, still consumed with the thought of Bowens running on him, had the count even at 1-1 to Larry Haney when he decided to make a showcase throw over to second, and wouldn’t you know it, he caught Bowens leaning and picked him off for the second out. The Detroit crowd loved it, and it made Hiller look like some sort of crazy left handed genius. Haney grounded out to Wert to end the game and it was complete bedlam at the Stadium. Who cares that it was only Game 4, and who cares that the win simply knotted the World Series at two games apiece. The Tigers won a game they had no business winning, and when a working class team overcomes serious odds it is certainly reason to celebrate and look forward to Game 5.
World Series Game 5: Tiger Stadium, Detroit
Gene Brabender VS Hank Aguirre
No matter what happened in this ballgame, it was definitely the Tigers’ final home game of the year, and the crowd was there expecting victory, especially with Game 1 starter Hank Aguirre on the hill, he having surrendered just two runs and striking out eight in eight innings in a game that seemed like it had taken place months before. Well-rested, Aguirre should have been better, but he was not on his game and lasted less than four complete innings. The Orioles tore into him for seven hits in just 3.2 innings, including home runs from unlikely guys like Bob Johnson and catcher Larry Haney. Johnson’s two-run bomb scored Paul Blair in the first inning, and a more traditional slugger in Frank Robinson doubled home two more in the third to put Baltimore up 4-0. Norm Cash got the Tigers close in the bottom of the third with his own two-run homer, but Gene Brabender kept the Detroit bats mostly quiet, striking out nine Tigers over seven innings. Haney’s solo shot put the Orioles up 5-2 in the fourth, and it stayed that way until the top of the ninth, when Boog Powell singled home Johnson and the final score was a decisive 6-2 Baltimore victory. Brabender won it, with some relief help from Pete Richert and Moe Drabowsky, and Aguirre most certainly lost it, but where were the Detroit bats? Without Bill Freehan, and with only Al Kaline hitting consistently the Tigers officially had their collective backs to the wall now trailing the World Series 3-2, with Game 6 and if necessary, 7 in Baltimore. It was going to take some luck, timely hitting, better pitching and perhaps a break or two if Detroit was going to have a chance to win the Series, but for now they could only look back at the lost opportunity of Game 3 – a game they thought they had won – and kick themselves. No time for that though. They had a plane to catch, a raucous Baltimore crowd to endure, and the bats of Brooks and Frank Robinson, Paul Blair and of course the ominous Boog Powell awaiting them. The Orioles were one win away from a championship.
World Series Game 6: Memorial Stadium, Baltimore
Denny McLain VS Jim Hardin
If the Tigers were to see a Game 7 they first had to take Game 6, and a betting man (sorry) would assume that Denny McLain was just the man for the job, and that was a safe bet for 8+ innings, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
For the first two innings McLain had met his match in Jim Hardin, the Orioles’ starter who’d tossed an efficient Game 2 victory, but Detroit solved Hardin in the third. McLain got things started with a solid single up the middle, and one out later Baltimore second baseman Davey Johnson botched a double play ball from Norm Cash when his toss to second pulled Bob Johnson off the bag. Willie Horton’s groundout pushed McLain to third and Cash to second, and with two out, Al Kaline walked to load the based for Jim Northrup. The third iteration of Northrup, his predecessors felled by pitched balls back in the regular season, stepped up and whacked the first pitch he saw from Hardin high and deep and over the head of right fielder Frank Robinson and into the disappointed hands of a Baltimore fan. Northrup’s grand slam gave McLain a considerable cushion at 4-0, and when Kaline homered in the fifth it softened that cushion to 5-0.
Prior to the ninth inning, the only blip on McLain’s game resume was a two-out RBI double that he surrendered to Boog Powell in the sixth inning, but when Kaline singled home Cash in the top of the ninth, the Tigers led 6-1, and as the Orioles came to bat with a five run deficit and down to their final three outs, McLain had already struck out 13 and was dominant. But just as it had happened in Game 3, McLain’s unraveling came quickly and maddeningly. He started off the inning by hitting Davey Johnson, but then struck out Larry Haney for his 14th strikeout of the contest. Dave May and Paul Blair then followed with consecutive singles to load the bases with one out. Shortstop Bob Johnson was next, and while it wasn’t a save situation just yet, bringing in Mike Marshall at this point was likely the smart move, but not the one chosen by the Tigers, so when Johnson dispatched McLain’s 2-2 offering over the wall in left center field for a grand slam and turn a 6-1 blowout into a 6-5 classic, all the second-guessing in Detroit was angry second-guessing.
Now Marshall strolled in from the bullpen. Now he was here, and now he would close it and send the Tigers to a winner-take-all Game 7. Brooks Robinson was hitless on the day, and stayed that way when he grounded out to Don Wert, and the Orioles were down to their final out. Tiger-killer Boog Powell stepped in, and everyone in the Motor City was collectively demanding, wishing, willing the Tigers to bring in lefty John Hiller to strike out Boog and end this thing. No such decision was made, and when Powell slammed a 1-1 screwball from Marshall into oblivion we had a 6-6 ballgame. Incredibly, the Orioles had done it again, coming back from the dead and once again a dejected Tigers dugout sat and wondered how it had screwed up so badly. They had completely wasted an amazing effort from Denny McLain, and when Marshall got Frank Robinson to ground out and send the game into extras, there was no life whatsoever from Detroit.
Bill Freehan’s understudy Orlando McFarlane, shortstop Ray Oyler and Marshall’s pinch hitter Don Demeter went quietly in a thoroughly uninspired top of the 10th. Now John Hiller took the mound, and Baltimore’s Curt Blefary greeted him with a single into right field. A sacrifice bunt and sacrifice fly later, and the Orioles had the World Series winning run on third with two out. Baltimore pinch hitter Luis Aparacio stood in, looking to be the hero, but his first-ball swinging pop fly to Dick McAuliffe at second had many in the crowd booing his effort. To the 11th it went, where Orioles reliever Pete Richert immediately dispatched McAuliffe with a strikeout. Cash then followed with a single and advanced to second when a Richert sinker eluded Haney for a passed ball. Horton then stood in, and his home run heroics from the White Sox series seemed so much like a distant memory. He was a bust so far in the World Series, with no home runs and no RBIs, and only five hits in 25 at bats. Perhaps he was due. Horton, who nearly struck out on the pitch that resulted in the passed ball, lined Richert’s 2-2 pitch just beyond the reach of a diving Brooks Robinson and Cash, who’d initially waited to see if Robinson came up with the ball, was now churning around third and headed for home as Blefary picked up the ball and fired home. There would be a play and the plate, and incredibly, Cash slid around the sweeping tag of Haney, and the Tigers led 7-6. Horton took second on the throw, and after Kaline struck out he advanced to third on Northrup’s infield single (and fifth hit in the game).
Then, with Don Wert at the plate, Richert forgot that he was pitching in the World Series and balked home a run, so when Wert grounded out to end the Tigers’ half of the inning it meant that the Orioles would come up in the bottom of the 11th needed two runs to tie. John Hiller, of course, had to make it interesting. After getting Blair on a groundout, he gave up consecutive singles to Bob Johnson and Brooks Robinson. No big deal – he just had Boog Powell and Frank Robinson coming up, each representing the World Series-winning run. No big deal is right. First, Hiller took care of Powell, freezing him on a full count fastball that caught the outside corner for a huge strikeout. Detroit fans did not dare take a breath, as The Judge came to the plate. Hiller once again went the distance, and with the count full again, but with two out, the runners were off…Frank Robinson swung at Hiller’s changeup – expecting a fastball – and swung right through it, the strikeout coming as a huge relief for Detroit and tremendous frustration for Baltimore, who had staged a comeback for the ages, only to lose in extra innings. As for the Tigers, the win was much needed, but curiously there wasn’t much in the way of elation from the team as they still seemed to be in shock from the frantic, disappointing ninth inning. But Hiller wasn’t among the morose players walking off the field, as he embraced McFarlane and kissed Horton on the top of his head. Northrup and Kaline laughed at this, and the rest of the players loosened up and drank a few beers in the clubhouse. And why not?
They were about to play in a World Series, Game 7.
Game 7: Memorial Stadium, Baltimore
Workhorse Dave McNally got the start for the Orioles. In five regular season starts against the Tigers he’d posted a 3-1 record, including two complete games, while racking up 34 strikeouts, although his lofty 5.54 ERA and nine home runs allowed in 39 innings, along with his poor outing in Game 1, where he allowed four earned runs in only four innings – including two home runs – provided Detroit with some hope. McNally was well rested, and the obvious, perhaps perfect guy to have going in a Game 7.
Less of a certainty was who the Tigers would send to the mound. From a rest perspective it was time for Earl Wilson to shine, however there was a question concerning his recovery from a disastrous start in Game 2, where he not only lost the game, but lost his composure after hitting Baltimore catcher Ellie Hendricks in the face with a pitch. Wilson was penciled-in to start following Detroit’s Game 6 win, but that pencil had an eraser. Intriguing was the possibility of starting lefthander Mickey Lolich, who was wild, but effective in Game 4 against the Orioles, where a wild pitch and a two-run Frank Robinson home run were offset by nine Lolich strikeouts and kept the Tigers in the ballgame, ultimately permitting his mates to put together that incredible five-run inning to knot the Series at two games. Lolich’s gutsy seven inning performance was enough to satisfy the Detroit brass, who replaced Wilson with the lefty for Game 7.
Both lefties went right to work, and it was obvious from the early going that we’d have a classic pitcher’s duel, as McNally started off with a harmless groundout by Dick McAuliffe followed by a couple of weak pop outs from Don Wert and a frustrated Willie Horton. Lolich had the Tigers’ brain trust questioning itself as he started the first inning by allowing consecutive singles to Bob Johnson and Frank Robinson, and immediately Earl Wilson started warming in the bullpen. But Lolich took a deep breath and settled down, striking out the dangerous Boog Powell, and for good measure he got Larry Haney on a check swing with the count full. Brooks Robinson then lined out to Norm Cash and the threat was ended.
And then the two lefties – McNally and Lolich – were simply masterful, each facing the minimum three batters per frame until the bottom of the sixth when Frank Robinson smacked a two out single, but was left stranded when Lolich struck out Powell again. Meanwhile, McNally was perfect through six innings, allowing no hits, not walks, no baserunners and had struck out eight Tigers. The tense, scoreless game was everything a Game 7 was supposed to be, and McNally was flirting with history. Think Don Larsen, but in a Game 7. Well, a simulated Game 7.
McAuliffe led off the seventh inning by lining a 2-2 pitch to right field where a normally reliable Frank Robinson patrols, but in this particular game in this pivotal moment, Robinson misjudged the trajectory and path of the ball and ran back, and then forward, but it was too late as the ball kissed the green grass for Detroit’s first hit and baserunner of the game. The Baltimore crowd stood in unison to salute McNally’s effort, and he rewarded them with a tip of the cap. He then went back to work, and when Wert’s sacrifice bunt was successful the Tigers were suddenly in the unfamiliar position of having not just a baserunner, but a runner in scoring position with one out. Horton then unloaded on a 1-2 offering, but he’d just gotten under it instead of driving it like he had so many times against Chicago, and this time Robinson in right center played the deep fly ball perfectly for the second out of the inning, with McAuliffe tagging and going to third. The Tigers were now just a base hit or wild pitch away from taking an improbable lead in Game 7, and they nearly got that run when a wild one from McNally hit Al Kaline in the ribs rather than go to the backstop. Now with runners at the corners Norm Cash stood in looking for something to drive, but instead struck out on a high fast ball to end the threat, a rejuvenated McNally running to the Baltimore dugout as the dejected Cash stared at his bat in disbelief.
Mickey Lolich, meanwhile, was not perfect, but he was every bit as effective as his counterpart, and as he took the mound in the bottom of the seventh he’d allowed just three hits and walked none, and no Baltimore runner had advanced as far as second base since Bob Johnson back in the opening inning. But Lolich was tiring. At 100 pitches with the steady trio of Wilson, John Hiller and Dave Wickersham constantly warming behind him, Lolich assumed that his first mistake in the seventh would be his last. He got Haney on a weak grounder to second, followed by a Brooks Robinson flyout to Kaline in center. With two outs and Curt Blefary in the batter’s box, Lolich was fading and struggling to find the strike zone, ultimately conceding first base when his 3-1 pitch – and final pitch of the ballgame – sailed high and outside. It was Lolich’s only base on balls allowed, and his clutch performance in Game 7 was appreciated by the classy Baltimore fans, who stood and cheered his effort and were likely glad that they’d seen the last of him. In came Wickersham, who’d been mostly untouchable in the World Series to this point, and he continued his dominance by striking out Paul Blair looking to end the seventh.
When Jim Northrup led off the eighth with a single, it had both dugouts and both sets of fans thinking, and for Detroit fans, lamenting. On the Baltimore side there was concern that McNally was tiring, and nearing 90 pitches, they were correct, but he was also one of those rare pitchers who oftentimes actually became tougher to hit the deeper into the game he got. Still, Moe Drabowsky, Eddie Watt and Pete Richert fought for space in the Baltimore bullpen in the event that McNally faltered. For the Tigers and their fans the sight of fallen catcher Bill Freehan with his arm in a sling trying to be supportive in the Detroit dugout offered a glimpse of what could have been. It could have been a different series with a healthy Freehan. It could already be over with a healthy Freehan, and instead of a shattered elbow he could be waving to the fans in a victory parade. Instead, the tandem of Jim Price and Orlando McFarlane had been tasked with the catching duties in his absence, and while neither was viewed as anything other than a stand-in for the superstar catcher, McFarlane had more than proven his worth in the craziness of Game 6, contributing two hits and calling all 166 pitches in the 11 inning marathon.
All fantasies aside, McFarlane took his place in the box to face McNally with Northrup leading off from first. The lefty had fanned him in his first at bat in the third inning, but McFarlane had put a charge into McNally’s sixth inning offering, sending Blefary to the wall in left field to haul it in. With the count 1-1, McFarlane checked with his third base coach to see if perhaps he was being called upon to sacrifice, or maybe the hit and run would be on with the speedy Northrup being allowed to take an extra base if McFarlane could make contact. Perhaps the signal to sacrifice was missed by McFarlane or maybe he went rogue, but it was more likely that he was told to swing away, which he did and launched a high fly ball into the left center gap. It was high and far and it was gone – a 2-run home run – that stunned the Orioles and their fans and thrilled the Tigers and theirs. Greeted by an ecstatic Northrup and shortstop Ray Oyler at home, McFarlane hopped, skipped and jumped his way into the awaiting arms of the rest of his Detroit teammates, who poured out of the dugout to mob him. Celebration over, he made his way to the end of the bench to ponder what he’d just done while he put on his gear. McFarlane looked up to see Freehan standing there smiling. McFarlane stood and hugged Freehan, perhaps a little tighter than he’d intended as Freehan grimaced a bit, but then they both had a laugh about it, but then it was time to refocus. Once Oyler, Wickersham and McAuliffe were retired it was up to the Tigers to get the final six outs. They had to try and put the thought of celebrating out of their collective minds.
Wickersham’s first pitch in the bottom of the eighth was a low fastball to Davey Johnson that the second baseman golfed to the deepest part of the ballpark and was hauled in by Kaline for a loud first out. McNally’s amazing day had finally come to an end, as Charlie Lau picked up a stick to bat for the disappointed starting pitcher. His final line: eight innings, 10 strikeouts, no walks and only three hits – two of them consecutively from Northrup and McFarlane. Lau hit a little roller down to Cash on the first pitch he saw from Wickersham and the first baseman carried it to the bag himself for out number two. Bob Johnson then hit a 2-1 pitch for a chopper that McAuliffe gloved and ultimately took care of the final out of the eighth inning. Three outs to go.
Eddie Watt took over for McNally and got two quick outs before walking Kaline, who promptly stole second, but there was no insurance run to be had, as Cash flew out to Frank Robinson, who would bat lead-off in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Three outs to go.
Just like the question of who to start in Game 7, the perplexing issue for the Tigers now was how to handle the bottom of the ninth. Did they stick with Wickersham or turn to the guys who closed-out victories all season, Mike Marshall and John Hiller? They stuck with Wickersham, who induced a Frank Robinson grounder to Oyler, who dropped it, recovered, but threw too late to Cash, and now the tying run would come to the plate in the form of Boog Powell, and while most thought that Hiller would be summoned, Wickersham was the man looking at the signals from McFarlane and struck out Powell on a 3-2 changeup. Two outs to go. Wickersham then got Haney looking on a full-count fastball that just nipped the corner, and just like that, the Orioles were down to their final out. Brooks Robinson stood in and took a called first strike. The crowd was standing and imploring their amazing third baseman to once again do something…amazing. Robinson did hit the next pitch extremely hard, and Wert saw it take a bad bounce but stayed with it, playing it off his chest, and he didn’t panic. Instead, he calmly reached down and picked it up barehanded and the final glorious out of this wonderfully entertaining World Series was recorded on a force play at second base, Wert to McAuliffe, erasing a hustling Frank Robinson, and then the Tigers’ celebration commenced.
Wickersham leapt into the arms of McFarlane. Lolich dashed out of the dugout in his warm-up jacket, arm-in-arm with Don Demeter. Norm Cash joined the Wickersham-McFarlane dance, and was soon joined by Oyler, Wert and McAuliffe. The outfield trio of Kaline, Northrup and Horton converged behind second base and they danced and sang a joyous song. Bill Freehan wrapped his good arm around McFarlane and soon the Tigers disappeared into the night, first into the dugout, then through a tunnel and into the steamy visitor’s clubhouse where the champagne and beer flowed well into the night.
They say the suds were never colder and certainly never tasted better than the night my SIM Detroit Tigers won the World Series.
This post will serve as my “drink” as I intend to revisit the glorious excitement of their post season often. I most certainly have a newfound interest and respect for the real life 1960s Detroit Tigers, who comprised my SIM roster.
Here are their SIM stats for both the regular season and post season. Thanks for reading.
Regular Season Statistics:
The Post Season: