Friday, November 11, 2011

1972 ALCS: Stealing runs

How they got here
For the first time, a players strike cancelled Major League games in 1972, as the first 13 days of the season - and 86 games - were lost because of a labor dispute. When the players returned, their bats didn't, as run scoring dropped and team batting averages hovered around the .240 mark.

With runs so hard to come by, the Oakland A's rode a great pitching staff and just-good-enough offense to their second straight AL West title. The A's only scored 3.9 runs a game, but that total was good for second in the league in 1972 (for comparison, the 2011 A's also scored 3.9 runs per game - and finished 12th in that category. And remember, 2011 was considered a good year for pitcher). But the A's had pitching, and a lot of it. So much, in fact, that starters Vida Blue and Dave Hamilton, each of whom had an ERA in the 2.80 range, were relegated to the bullpen for the playoffs because they were the odd men out.

The A's opponents were the Detroit Tigers, four years removed from a World Series title in 1968. Like that previous year of the pitcher, the Tigers rode to the top of the standings, but they had a little luck in 1972. With the cancelled games that were never made up, not all teams played the same number of games. The Tigers won the AL East by a half-game, because they played one more game than division rival Boston.

Like Oakland, Detroit's primary offensive weapon was the home run, as they both finished in the top three in the league. That was really all Detroit could do, as they stole a stunningly low 17 stolen bases all year, the third-worst team total in Major League history.

In the ALCS, the home team won each of the first four games, but not without drama. While two of the games were shutouts, each team blew an extra innings lead in one of their road games. The A's blown lead came in Game 4, when they had a 2-run lead with a chance to clinch the series before allowing the Tigers to score three runs without getting an out.

Game 5 replay of Game 2 matchup; Blue Moon Odom beat Woodie Fryman 3-0.

The Game
With nothing decided after four games, Oakland's Blue Moon Odom met Detroit's Woodie Fryman in a rematch of Game 2. While Odom shut out Detroit in their first meeting, the Tigers scored first in Game 5, getting on the board in the first inning on a single, a walk, a passed ball, and a groundout.

It wasn't exactly a thrilling rally, but that's how runs were scored in 1972. Oakland showed that again in the second, when Reggie Jackson led off the inning with a walk, stole second, then moved to third on a flyout. After an unproductive out, Jackson boldly stole home with two outs. Though he pulled his hamstring on the play and had to leave the game, his daring play tied the game at 1.

Move ahead to the fourth, where George Hendrick, who replaced Jackson in center field, reached on an error. After being bunted over to second, Hendrick scored on a Gene Tenace single, the first run-scoring hit of the game.

Leading 2-1, Oakland put it into cruise control. Odom only pitched five innings before being replaced by Blue, but the two Blues held the Tigers to just five hits, all of them singles. Oakland only had four hits themselves, but their two runs were enough, and they won 2-1 to advance to the World Series.

The Aftermath
With such a low-scoring baseball season, it would make sense that the World Series was low-scoring, too. And low-scoring World Series games often mean tense World Series games. The 1972 series between Oakland and Cincinnati was exactly that. Six of the seven games in the '72 series were one-run games, with Oakland prevailing to win their first championship since 1930, when they were based in Philadelphia. In an odd coincidence, both teams batted .209 and slugged .295 in the series.

Oakland's title was their first of three in a row, as they staked their claim to being known as the team of the 70s. Detroit, meanwhile, was already getting old in 1972, and they didn't return to the postseason until 1984.

What I'm doing.

The list so far:

14. 1972 ALCS: Oakland 2, Detroit 1
15. 1973 ALCS: Oakland 3, Baltimore 0
16. 1985 ALCS: Kansas City 6, Toronto 2
17. 2007 ALCS: Boston 11, Cleveland 2
18. 1991 NLCS: Atlanta 4, Pittsburgh 0
19. 1973 NLCS: New York 7, Cincinnati 2
20. 1987 NLCS: St. Louis 6, San Francisco 0
21. 1988 NLCS: Los Angeles 6, New York 0
22. 2004 ALCS: Boston 10, New York 3
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0

Still to come:
1972 NLCS: Cincinnati vs. Pittsburgh
1976 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1977 ALCS: Kansas City vs. New York
1980 NLCS: Houston vs. Philadelphia
1981 NLCS: Los Angeles vs. Montreal
1982 ALCS: California vs. Milwaukee
1984 NLCS: Chicago vs. San Diego
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh
2003 NLCS: Chicago vs. Florida
2003 ALCS: Boston vs. New York
2004 NLCS: Houston vs. St. Louis
2006 NLCS: New York vs. St. Louis
2008 ALCS: Boston vs. Tampa Bay

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