Sunday, April 8, 2012

1968 World Series: Beating Gibson

The Teams
American League: Detroit Tigers (103-59) - Ninth World Series (Won in 1935, 1945)
National League: St. Louis Cardinals (97-65) - 11th World Series (Won in 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1967) 

What Happened
The 1968 season became known as the Year of the Pitcher, and with good reason. The hitting/pitching advantage swung so far in favor of the pitchers that the rules were changed the following season, with the pitching mound being lowered to give the hitters more of a chance.

The two biggest individual stars of the Year of the Pitcher ended up pitching against each other in the World Series. Denny McLain led the Tigers to the World Series with baseball's first 30-win season since 1934; there hasn't been one since. Meanwhile, Bob Gibson led the Cardinals to their second straight series with a 1.12 ERA, the lowest in baseball since 1914 and a mark that hasn't been approached since.

It was fitting, then, that Gibson and McLain, the symbols of the Year of the Pitcher, matched up in the first game of that season's World Series. What had been a highly anticipated matchup soon became a one-man show, as Gibson dominated from the very beginning, striking out a World Series record 17 Tigers in the Cardinals' Game 1 victory.

Detroit's bats got revenge in Game 2, giving starter Mickey Lolich 8 runs to work with. Lolich's complete game helped the Tigers tie the series as it headed to Detroit. Once in Tiger Stadium, the Cardinals' bats came alive, as they scored 7 runs in a Game 3 win, then turned the second Gibson-McLain matchup into a 10-1 laugher in Game 4.

Despite Lolich's valiant pitching in Game 5, the Cardinals entered the bottom of the seventh leading 3-2, only nine outs from their second straight title. That's when Lolich himself started the rally, getting a one-out single that got the Tigers going on a three-run seventh inning to take the lead. Lolich finished the job on the mound, and the Tigers still had life. More importantly, they had momentum, which showed in their 13-1 thrashing of the Cardinals in Game 6. They had rather unexpectedly forced a Game 7 .

Defining Game
But waiting for them in Game 7 was the great Gibson. He was the man who had already beaten the Tigers twice this series, striking out 27 batters in the process. He was the man who entered the game with a 7-1 career World Series record, the only man who had twice won a Game 7 of the World Series. While it had been surprising that Detroit had forced Game 7, it would be downright miraculous if they could beat Gibson.

In their favor was the pitching matchup. It wouldn't be a third McLain-Gibson matchup, as McLain had pitched in Game 6. Instead, the Tigers went to Lolich, who had picked up two complete-game victories already in the series. Beating Gibson was a tall task, but they had the guy to do it.

Despite all the offense in the first six games of the series, it really wasn't surprising that Game 7 was scoreless entering the seventh inning. These were two pitchers at the absolute top of their game, after all, during the season when pitching had all the advantages. The Cardinals were the only team that had threatened to score in the first six innings; they put two runners on base without scoring in the bottom of the first, and Lolich picked off speedsters Lou Brock and Curt Flood in the bottom of the sixth. But that was it. Until the seventh.

It didn't look like the seventh would amount to anything for Detroit, with the first two batters going down quietly. But then Norm Cash singled to right field, and then Willie Horton followed that up with a single of his own. Detroit was finally threatening, but they had to find a way to break through. Then, Jim Northrup got a hold of one, sending it deep to center field. Flood started back on the ball, but then fell down, and he couldn't recover in time to prevent the ball from bouncing off the warning track for a two-run triple. After another hit one batter later, Detroit had a stunning 3-0 lead against a pitcher they had previously seemed hopeless against.

And with Lolich's pitching, that was all the runs they needed. Each team scored once in the ninth, but that was all, as Detroit claimed the title with a 4-1 victory.

Had the Cardinals won, it actually would have been a tough choice between Gibson and Lou Brock, who was simply sensational - a .464 average, 6 extra-base hits, 7 stolen bases. He was outstanding. But he played for the losing team. For the winners, candidates included Al Kaline - with a .379 average and a team-high 8 rbi - and Norm Cash, with a .385 average. However, Lolich could have won this award for simply beating Bob Gibson in a Game 7. He helped matters, though, by getting two complete-game victories leading up to that game. Plus, in a year like 1968, a pitcher had to win the award.

Random Fact
Each of the Tigers first three World Series championships - in 1935, 1945, and 1968 - came in the year immediately after a Cardinals championship. They broke the streak in 1984 by winning a title TWO years after the Cardinals did. And I'm not predicting anything, but the Tigers are loaded this year, and the Cardinals won the title last year. I'm not saying. I'm just saying.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Detroit 0 8315 134
St. Louis 4 17 10 311

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

74. 1968 - Detroit (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-3
75. 1920 - Cleveland (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 5-2
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
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
29. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0 
45. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago 3

No comments:

Post a Comment