American League: Detroit Tigers (88-65) - Seventh World Series (won in 1935)
National League: Chicago Cubs (98-56) - 10th World Series (won in 1907, 1908)
It used to be a relatively common occurrence for the Cubs to appear in the World Series. Their National League pennant in 1945 was their 10th in the 43 years of the World Series era, which ranked second to the Giants during that span. And though they hadn't won the Series since 1908, 1945 seemed as good a year as any for that streak to end. The Cubs led the National League in team ERA and team batting average as they won the pennant by three games over St. Louis, ending the Cardinals' three-year reign atop the league.
For the fourth time, the Tigers were waiting for the Cubs in the World Series. Detroit had gotten a midseason spark from Hank Greenberg's return from the war, so it was fitting that his ninth-inning grand slam let them clinch the pennant on the final day of the season. In this series, the Tigers had the best hitter in Greenberg and the best pitcher in AL MVP Hal Newhouser, but the Cubs were deeper on all fronts.
In a way to cut down on travel during the war, the series was set up so that the Tigers would be at home for the first three games, followed by the Cubs hosting for the final four. So while the Cubs had home-field advantage, in reality, they were at a disadvantage in this setup, feeling extra pressure to steal a win on the road.
In fact, they got two. They hit Newhouser for seven runs in the first three innings of Game 1, then watched Claude Passeau throw only the second one-hitter in World Series history in Game 3. Greenberg's two-out, three-run home run in the fifth inning of Game 2 helped the Tigers salvage one of their home games, but they went to Wrigley Field trailing 2 games to 1.
That's when the Tigers bounced back. A four-run fourth inning was all they needed in Game 4 as Dizzy Trout only gave up one earned run in a complete game victory. Newhouser followed that up with a complete game in Game 5, backed by three doubles by Greenberg. Greenberg stepped up again in Game 6 with a game-tying home run in the 8th, but the Cubs bounced back to win in the 12th to force Game 7.
The Tigers had Newhouser ready for Game 7, so giving him the ball was a no-brainer. The Cubs, however, made an interesting choice by going with Hank Borowy. Sure, Borowy had thrown a complete game in Game 1, but he had also thrown four innings in relief in Game 6. If Cubs manager Charlie Grimm didn't realize before Game 7 that Borowy was likely to be tired, he realized it quickly enough as the first three Tigers to step to the plate hit solid singles. Grimm went to the bullpen but Paul Derringer, likely thrown off by not having enough time to warm up, let all those runners score, plus a couple others. With Newhouser on the mound, Game 7 was over before it even began.
It was the only close game of the series, and Game 6 was a true classic. The Cubs built leads of 5-1 and 7-3, but the failed chances might have been the true story; entering the 8th inning, the teams had combined to leave 18 runners left on base. That storyline went away quickly, though, as the Tigers scored four runs in the eighth to tie the game, capped by Greenberg's two-out home run. After both teams left two runners on base in the ninth - with both teams seeing their pitchers make a key out at the plate - the game trudged quietly into the 12th. After a one out single, Borowy struck out - why was he still batting, again? - but third baseman Stan Hack ripped a double down the left field line to score the game-winning run.
Hack's hit boosted the Cubs' morale, as they were now one win from their first championship since 1908. But it has become a bittersweet moment for Cubs fans. The Cubs haven't won a World Series game since Hack's walkoff hit, and their disappointing performance in Game 7 represented their last appearance in the fall classic.
There was no official World Series MVP until 1955, but had there been one in 1945, Greenberg would have been the obvious choice. It wasn't just the fine hitting numbers, but when the hits took place. His clutch hits early in the series kept the Tigers alive. He might not have been the best player throughout the seven games, but he was certainly the most valuable.
(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:
76. 1945 - Detroit (A) def. Chicago (N) 4-3
77. 1940 - Cincinnati (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-3
78. 2009 - New York (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-2
79. 1984 - Detroit (A) def. San Diego (N) 4-1
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
29. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0
45. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago 3