Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mark Fidrych Diary - June, 1976

The Mark Fidrych Diary will be a regular feature on Tiger Tales during the course of the spring and summer. This year is the 30th anniversay of Fidrych's magical rookie season in 1976 and, to honor the memory of that campaign, I will be writing a regular diary of his season from the perspective of a fan who doesn't know what lies ahead. I will update the diary once or twice a week during the season. I was 13 years old that summer so I have some vivid memories but I will also be using retrosheet.org and various newspaper archives to make sure I get the facts straight.

Entries for previous months can be found here: April, 1976 May, 1976

June 28

The Tigers were on national television tonight – Monday night baseball. It was Fidrych against Ken Holtzman and the Yankees. Tiger Stadium was packed with nearly 50,000 fans, half of them there to see The Bird who has become a big fan favorite in Detroit. It turned out to be one of the most amazing televised games I’ve ever seen.

The Tigers scored two runs in the first inning on a two run home run by Rusty Staub, The Yankees got one back in the second on a solo shot by Elrod Hendricks. It was 2-1 Tigers after 2 innings.

Then Fidrych and Holtzman settled down and cruised through the middle innings. At one point Fidrych retired 13 out 14 while Holtzman retired 15 of 17 (with one of the two base runners reaching on an error). It was still 2-1 Tigers after 6 innings.

TheTigers scored one run in the 7th on a solo homer by Aurelio Rodriguez. They added two more in the 8th on singles by Ron Leflore and Tom Veryzer, a ground out by Staub and a double by Alex Jounson. The Tigers won 5-1. Fidrych is now 8-1 with a 2.05 ERA and 8 complete games.

It wasn’t so much the 5-1 victory which made the game exciting though. It was the electric atmosphere. The crowd went crazy like I’ve never seen a regular season crown get. I don’t know if I’ve ever even seen a post-season crowd get like that. I think the crowd got Fidrych pumped up because he was even more animated than the other times I saw him. And the crowd was with him on every pitch. The concentratrion and pinpoint control was still there though.

When the game was over, he shook every hand in sight including that of a policeman who was on the field for crowd control. The most amazing thing was that almost none of the 50,000 fans left when the game was over. They stayed and chanted “We want Mark” over and over. Finally, at the urging of teammates, he went back out and waved to the crowd. Although he seemed genuinely surprised by all the attention, he certainly enjoyed the moment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player look happier. I think the kid from Northboro, Massachusetts, who even avid Tiger fans knew little about until a month ago, just became a national star tonight. He seemed to thrive on the attention tonight. Hopefully, he continues to do so.

June 24

I went to see the Tigers play the Red Sox at Fenway Park tonight. Fidrych pitched against Rick Wise. There were over 26,000 fans on a beautiful summer night at Fenway.

The first three innings were scoreless and Fidrych allowed only one base runner, a single by Carl Yastrzemski. The Bird was doing his thing – talking to the ball, grooming the mound before the inning, congratulating infielders on good plays, extending his arm and aiming the ball towards the catcher before each pitch, etc. I heard one fan a couple rows in front of me saying that it was a bush league act. I, of course, enjoyed every minute of Fidrych’s routines.

The Tigers scored first in the 4th inning when Rusty Staub singled, Jason Thompson doubled and Alex Johnson grounded out. The Red Sox came right back in the bottom of the inning. Cecil Cooper led off with a triple and scored on a grounder to tie the game. Then Fred Lynn and Yaz hit back to back home runs and Fenway Park erupted. When things calmed down a bit, I heard the fan in front saying that Fidrych would get eaten alive the second time around the league. The score was 3-1 Red Sox after 4 innings.

The Tigers took back the lead in the sixth when Ben Oglivie singled, Staub doubled and Thompson hit a two run home run, his 9th of the year. That would be all Fidrych needed as he held the Red Sox scoreless the rest of the way. The Tigers added two more runs in the 8th to make the final score 6-3 Tigers.

Fidrych was excellent the last 5 innings allowing 0 runs on just 2 hits. He allowed 7 hits for the game. He is now 7-1 with 7 complete games and a 2.18 ERA (3rd in the league behind Bill Travers and Wayne Garland). The Tigers are now in 5th place with a 30-34 record and 9 ½ games behind.

June 20

Fidrych started against Bill Singer and the Twins today. The Twins line-up features one of my favorite players – Rod Carew. He has won 4 consecutive batting titles but is off to somewhat of a slow start this year batting just .309. Their leading hitter at this point is 25 year old Lyman Bostock who is batting .331.

After a scoreless first, Alex Johnson singled with one out in the second, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on a double by Aurelio Rodriguez. In the bottom half of the inning, Fidrych walked Larry Hisle and Steve Brye and then Jerry Terrell singled home Hisle to tie the game at 1-1.

The Tigers came right back in the third. With one out, Tom Veryzer and Dan Meyer got back to back singles to put runners on first and second. Then, with two outs, Jason Thompson hit a three run homer into the upper deck in right field to put the Tigers up 4-1. It was his 8th home run of the year. Thompson is starting hit for some good power lately as he has 4 home runs and 10 RBI in his last 5 games.

The Tigers scored again in the 4th when Bruce Kimm walked with two outs and came around to score on a double by Ron Leflore. That made it 5-1 Tigers. Leflore had 3 hits today and now leads the league in batting at .356.

In the bottom of the 6th, Butch Wynegar singled, Mike Cubbage walked and Brye singled home Wynegar to make it 5-2 Tigers. The walk was Fidrych’s 4th of the game. Ernie Harwell commented that Fidrych’s usual pinpoint control was not there today but he was getting the big outs with men on base.

In the top of the 7th, Leflore singled and Veryzer was hit by the pitch to start the inning. With one out, Singer balked the runners to second and third. Staub then hit a sacrifice fly scoring Leflore. Jason Thompson followed with a single for his fourth RBI of the game. That put the Tigers up 7-2.

In the Twins 8th, Fidrych retired the first batter on a grounder but then walked Cubbage and Hisle. Brye followed with a double to score a run to make it 7-3. Then, for the first time this year, Houk removed Fidrych from a start. The Bird walked 6 batters in uncharacteristic bout of wildness today. John Hiller came in to pitch and got out of the inning. He also pitched a scoreless 9th to give the Tigers a 7-3 victory.

Fidrych’s streak of 6 straight complete games came to an end but he is now 6-1 with a 2.07 ERA. He now has enough innings to qualify for the ERA leaders and he ranks second behind Bill Travers of the Brewers (1.85). The Tigers are 27-33. Here are the AL East standings:


Team

Record

Pct

GB

New York

37-22

.627

--

Cleveland

30-29

.508

7

Baltimore

30-31

.492

8

Boston

29-30

.492

8

Detroit

27-33

.450

10 ½

Milwaukee

24-33

.421

12


June 16, 1976

The Tigers played the Royals today and it was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych against Doug Bird. It would be a tough test for Fidrych as Kansas City came in to the game with a 7 game win streak and the best record (38-19) in the American League. They had the league’s best offense leading in runs scored with 313. The second highest total was 265 by the Rangers. The had a slew of individual batting leaders:


George Brett – 1st in batting average (.356) and triples (6)
Amos Otis – 1st in home runs (12), runs (45) and slugging (.527), 2nd in RBI (43)
Hal McRae – 1st in doubles (16) and on base percentage (.414), 2nd in batting avg (.355)
Freddie Patek – 1st in stolen bases (34)


That’s a really strong offense.



In the Royals first inning, Dave Nelson led off with a single but was caught stealing on a nice throw by Fidrych’s personal catcher Bruce Kimm. Amos Otis followed with a double and then scored when Jason Thompson booted a George Brett grounder. Fidrych, who never seems to get rattled by fielding errors, escaped with no further damage and then set the Royals down 1-2-3 in each of the next 3 innings.



Meanwhile, Jason Thompson made up for his error when he hit his 5th home run of the year tying the score at 1-1 in the 2nd. Thompson hit another home run (his 6th) in the 4th inning to put his team ahead 2-1. It was really good to hear Thompson get those home runs because he was slumping. He had come in to the game batting only .216 and I was worried they would have to demote him to Evansville.



In the 6th inning, Nelson singled and this time successfully stole second. Nelson then advanced to third on a fly ball by Otis and scored on a Brett grounder. The score was tied at 2-2 after 6.


In the Royals 8th, Jamie Quirk doubled, moved to 3rd on a sacrifice bunt by Buck Martinez and scored on a sacrifice fly by Nelson. This made it 3-2 Kansas City. The Tigers failed to score in the bottom of the inning despite Ron Leflore’s 3rd hit of the game. Leflore is now third in the league in batting at .346.


Fidrych retired the Royals in the top of the 9th so the Tigers came up in the bottom of the inning still down by one. Mark Littell, who replaced Bird in the 6th after he left the game with a sore shoulder, allowed a leadoff single by Dan Meyer. Tom Hall relieved Littell and allowed a 430 fly ball by Rusty Staub. Otis caught it at the warning track but it was deep enough to advance Meyer to second base. Hall then retired Thompson on strikes for the second out. Marty Pattin replaced Hall and Alex Johnson greeted him with a sharp single to right to tie the game. He then stole second. Aurelio Rodriguez was then intentionally walked to set up a force at every base. Mickey Stanley pinch hit for Kimm and looped a single to right scoring Johnson. The Tigers had a 4-3 comeback victory.


It was the 6th straight complete game including two 11 inning games for Fidrych. It was also the 4th straight time he won when the Tigers scored in their last at bat. He is 5-1 with a 1.86 ERA and all of his wins have been one run victories. The Northboro native is on a roll!

June 11, 1976

The Tigers played the Angels today but before I get to that, I’ll talk about yesterday’s transactions. The Tigers traded Gary Sutherland to the Brewers for Pedro Garcia, another second baseman. Garcia is doing no better than Sutherland (they are both hitting about .200 with no power) but he is younger (26 years old) and has more potential. Garcia had a pretty good rookie year in 1973 hitting 15 home runs and a league leading 32 doubles but has not done too much since then. The new Tiger line-up will typically look like this:


Ron Leflore cf
Pedro Garcia 2b
Alex Johnson lf
Rusty Staub dh
Jason Thompson 1b
Ben Oglivie lf
Bill Freehan c
Aurelio Rodriguez 3b
Tom Veryzer ss


The Tigers also purchased Milt Wilcox from the Cubs. Wilcox was a great prospect for the Reds a few years ago but hasn’t developed as expected. The Tigers having nothing lose by trying to revive his career. He’ll be pitching for Evansville.


In the game today, it was Fidrych versus Nolan Ryan. Ryan is not having a great season so far (4-6 4.25) but everyone knows how dominant he can be when he’s on. It was a pretty big crowd tonight – over 36,000 for Polish American Night at Tiger Stadium.


In the Angels’ first inning, Bobby Bonds singled and stole second. Garcia then got off to a bad start as a Tiger by making an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Bonds came all the way around to score. Bonds is not hitting for as much power this year but he is still one of the most exciting players in the game. He’s supposed to be kind of a jerk but I’d love to see him on the Tigers. Fidrych settled down after the error and retired 13 in a row.



Meanwhile, Ryan had no trouble with the Tigers through the first 3 innings – 0 runs, 1 hit and 4 strike outs. In the 4th inning, Ryan struck out the lead off batter Garcia but he reached on a wild pitch. Johnson then struck out for the first out. Rusty Staub followed with a single to put runners on 1st and 2nd. Then the rains came. First there was a 21 minute rain delay. The game resumed only long enough for Ryan to throw 3 pitches and a 34 minute rain delay followed. All the waiting seemed to throw Ryan out of his rhythm as he struggled with his control when he came back out. Thompson drew a walk to load the bases. Ben Oglivie then scored one run on an infield hit and another scored on an infield grounder by Rodriguez. It was 2-1 Tigers after 4 innings. In the fifth inning, Ryan walked 3 batters and another run scored making it 3-1 Tigers. Paul Hartzell replaced him in the 6th.



In the Angels’ 6th, Andy Etcherbarren and Bonds singled. Then Chuck Scrivener made an error on a grounder by Ron Jackson and Etcherbarren scored. Tommy Davis followed with a single to score Bonds. It was tied 3-3 after 6 innings but only one of the runs off Fidrych was earned. Fidrych did a good job recovering from the sloppy play behind him and the Angels did not score any more runs.


On the other side, Hartzell was mowing down the Tigers and it was still a tie score after 8. In the Tigers’ 9th, Dan Meyer popped to third for the first out. Leflore reached on an infield hit. He was then picked off but was safe at second on a throwing error by Hartzell. Garcia moved Leflore to third on an infield grounder. Leflore finally scored on an infield hit by Johnson. The Tigers won 4-3. It was the 3rd straight time the Tigers won the game in their last at bat in a Fidrych start.


It might have been the rain but this was a really sloppy game all around. Nevertheless, it was the 5th consecutive complete game for Fidrych. He has not needed a reliever in any of his starts so far. He is now 4-1 1.84. I know it’s still early and he might have trouble the second time around the league but this is getting exciting. The Bird could be for real.

June 8, 1976

The Tigers beat the Royals 3-1 today as Dave Roberts got a complete game victory. Jason Thompson hit a two run homer, his 4th of the year. Thompson is down to .218 after a hot start. Hopefully, this will get him going again. The Tigers are now 22-27 in 4th place 7 ½ games back. They are only 1 ½ behind the 2nd place Orioles.


The big news of the day happened off the field. First, Willie Horton was placed on the disabled list with a knee problem that hs been bothering him for a long time. Horton’s bat will be missed as he’s batting .299-7-33. The good part about this though is that it will mean more at bats for Dan Meyer and Ben Oglivie.


The other big move of the day was Joe Coleman (2-5 4.86) being sold to the Cubs. Coleman has been pretty lousy for two years so I’m glad to see him go. This team needs to keep getting younger. Fidrych will now be a regular member of the 4 man rotation which is awesome news. Here is the rotation:


Dave Roberts 5-4 3.01
Vern Ruhle 4-2 4.74
Ray Bare 3-4 3.92
Mark Fidrych 3-1 2.03


Finally, the Amatuer draft was held today and the Tigers chose Pat Underwood from Kokomo HS in Indiana with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. Floyd Bannister was taken first by the Astros. Both of them are supposed to have amazing talent. Here are some of the other top picks by the Tigers:


2. Alan Trammell
3. Scott Johnson
4. Dan Petry
5. Jack Morris
6. Lawrence Douglass
7. Ozzie Smith


I really don’t know anything about these guys. Hopefully, it will be a good draft for them because they need young talent badly.


June 5, 1976

Fidrych started his 4th game today and once again he had a tough opponent. The Rangers’ starter was Bert Blyleven who was making his first start since being acquired in a 6 player deal with the Twins earlier in the week. Just like, Fidrych’s previous starts, this one was a pitching duel.

The first two innings were scoreless but the Rangers broke through for two runs in the 3rd. Jim Sundberg led off the inning with a single to center. Gene Clines followed with a single to left. Greg Prior then moved the runners over two 2nd and 3rd with a sacrifice bunt. Mike Hargrove grounded to second to score Sundberg. Finally, Toby Harrah doubled to right scoring Clines and the Rangers had a 2-0 lead after 3 innings.

The 4rd and 5th innings went quietly and it was still 2-0 Rangers after 5 innings. In the 6th, Chuck Scrivener drew a lead off walk for the Tigers. Dan Meyer singled to right moving Scrivener to third. Rusty Staub then hit hinto a 4-6-3 double play but Scrivener scored. The Tigers were down 2-1 after 6 innings.

Nobody scored in the 7th. In the 8th, Alex Johnson grounded out to second for the first out but then Scrivener singled to left. Danny Meyer followed with a single to center to advance Scrivener to third base. Staub then singled to right to score Scrivener. The score was tied 2-2 after 8 innings.

In the 9th, Aurelio Rodriguez singled with one out but was left stranded. Fidrych retired the Rangers 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning. So, the game went into extra innings with Fidrych and Blyleven still pitching. Staub reached first on a walk in the 10th but again the Tigers stranded a runner. Fidrych pitched another 1-2-3 inning in the 10th. He had now retired 11 batters in a row.

In the Tiger 11th, Ben Oglivie led off with a single to center. Blyleven struck out Jason Thompson for the first out. Aurelio Rodriguez reached on an error by third baseman Roy Howell and Oglivie went to third. Bruce Kimm then hit a grounder to third. The Brewers tried to turn two instead of coming home but all they could get was the force at second base as Oglivie scored. The Tigers now led 3-2 going into the bottom of the 11th.

Fidrych went out there one more time to face three tough batters in Mike Hargove, Toby Harrah and Jeff Burroughs. Hargrove flied to right, Harrah grounded to second and Burroughs flied to center. That made it 14 Rangers retired in a row by the Bird and the Tigers had a 3-2 victory in 11 innings.

It was Fidrych’s 4th straight complete game, the last two going 11 innings. He is now 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA. Houk has still not committed to Fidrych remaining in the rotation but it would be pretty hard not to give him regular starts now. There is no word on when he’ll pitch next. The Tigers went 5-2 this week and they are now 21-25 and in 5th place 6 ½ games out.


7 comments:

  1. Back to back 11 inning stints on the mound? Is that good for a young kid?

    ReplyDelete
  2. It doesn't seem like it would be good.
    He seemed to be cruising in the last game but I was really surprised Houk left him in there so long in the game before that.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lee,

    I just want to say thanks for doing the Fidrych Diary. It's a cool little look back to a special year I was not able to witness. Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm sure that LeFlore is going to be our centerfielder for many years to come, but wouldn't it be cool to see Fred Lynn in a Tigers uniform?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fred Lynn in a Tiger uniform? It will never happen.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I watched the game on ABC too. I don't think the Stadium has a crowd as rocking as that since '68. How cool would that be to see Fidrych pitch in a post-season game?!?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hey, you have a great blog here! You really are very talented and deserve an honest compliment, congratulations! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

    I have a home business career site/blog. It successfully covers home business career related stuff.

    Come and check it out if you get time, Scott.

    ReplyDelete

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