Thursday, March 22, 2012

1984 World Series: Gibson's (first) Big Night

American League: Detroit Tigers (104-58) - Ninth World Series (won in 1935, 1945, 1968)
National League: San Diego Padres (92-70) - First World Series

What Happened
For one glorious year, the Tigers could do no wrong. They started the 1984 season 35-5 and kept a double-digit lead through most of the summer. Sparked by their great middle infield of shortstop Alan Trammell and second baseman Lou Whitaker, and following the example of gritty team leader Kirk Gibson, the Tigers were never challenged as they cruised to the AL East title and past the Royals in the ALCS.

With the season they had, they were expected to make mincemeat of the Padres, who in their first World Series were simply in "happy to be here" mode. But San Diego shocked a lot of people by playing the Tigers tight the first two games. They had a lead on Jack Morris through four innings of Game 1 before a Larry Herndon home run gave the Tigers the lead they wouldn't relinquish. In Game 2, the Tigers knocked starter Ed Whitson out of the game in the first inning, but Padres pitchers Andy Hawkins and Craig Lefferts shut down the Tigers the rest of the way, allowing their offense to come back for a surprising victory.

Back home in Detroit, the Tigers showed how good they could be. The Padres made it easy for them in Game 3, walking six batters in the second and third innings combined to let the Tigers get a rather easy win. Trammell and Morris combined to lead the way in Game 4, with a complete game from Morris backed by two 2-run home runs from Trammell. Three more Detroit home runs ended the series in Game 5, and the Tigers completed one of the most dominating seasons of the 80s with a World Series trouncing.

With a team loaded with what seemed to be surefire Hall of Famers, the Tigers looked primed to dominate the 1980s. Instead, they fizzled out. Trammell and Whitaker continued their great play throughout the 80s and into the 90s, but they have yet to get into the Hall of Fame, and it now seems likely they never will. Even Jack Morris, the ace of the 80s, hasn't gotten into the Hall of Fame, though he's right on the precipice. As for the team, the glorious summer of 1984 remains Detroit's last World Series title.

Defining Game
If it wasn't for his one at bat in the 1988 World Series, Kirk Gibson would probably be forever remembered for what he did in Game 5 in 1984. His two-run home run in the first was big, of course, but even bigger was his play in the bottom of the fifth, when he scored on a pop up to the second baseman in shallow right field to give the Tigers the lead for good.

But Gibson's Game 5 will always be about his eighth inning at bat. Leading 5-4, the Tigers put runners on second and third with one out for Gibson. The logical play here would have been to walk Gibson to load the bases, then hopefully get the double play. But Padres closer Goose Gossage didn't want to walk Gibson, and manager Dick Williams listened. I suppose it's showing faith in your future Hall of Fame closer to listen to him in that situation, but Williams probably felt sick to his stomach when Gibson hit the second pitch into the Tiger Stadium upper deck. His blast clinched the game, and the series, for Detroit.

Gibson's home run:

Alan Trammell was an obvious choice. It wasn't just his series-high .450 average, it was when he got his hits. He drove in the first run of the series in the first inning of Game 1, then always seemed to be in the middle of every Detroit rally. Gibson got all the press after his Game 5 heroics, and Morris established his big-game credentials with two complete games, but Trammell deserved his MVP award.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Detroit 3 3 5 4 8
San Diego 2 5 2 2 4

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

79. 1984 - Detroit (A) def. San Diego (N) 4-1
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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