Friday, October 05, 2012

Tigers Hoping for Better Result than 40 Years Ago

This weekend, the Tigers open up a five-game series versus Oakland at Comerica Park.  The first two games will be in Detroit on Saturday and Sunday,  The series will end in Oakland on Tuesday through Thursday or however many games are necessary.  Tigers ace Justin Verlander will face Athletics youngster Jarrod Parker in the opener tomorrow.

The Tigers also played Oakland in a playoff series 40 years ago in 1972.  Under normal circumstances, a Tigers team that won a division title and had an exciting playoff series would have been a glorious season and it was for some.  Unfortunately, 1972 was the year of the first league-wide work stoppage in MLB history.  It only lasted from April 1-13, but that seemed like forever to a nine-year-old boy who didn't understand why they weren't playing baseball games.

As it turned out, the strike may have helped the Tigers win the American League East division title.  Because of games missed to the strike, the Tigers wound up playing one more game than the Red Sox.  That one game proved to be the difference in the race as the Tigers beat out the Red Sox by a half game.

Going into the final weekend, the Red Sox led the Tigers by one half game as the two teams met in a three-game series.  The Tigers won the first two games of the series to clinch the division title. The Red Sox won the final game to pull within a half game, but it didn't matter.  The final records were:

Detroit 86-70  .551  ---
Boston 85-70 .548  1/2

The 1972 season was the last hurrah for an aging Tigers team which had won a championship in 1968.  The offense was led by two players in the twilights of their careers - first baseman Norm Cash and right fielder Al Kaline, both 37 years old.  Other holdovers from the '68 team included catcher Bill Freehan, second baseman Dick McAuliffe and outfielders Gates Brown, Willie Horton, Jim Northrup and Mickey Stanley.

The strength of this team was pitching.  Fiery manager Billy Martin worked his top starters - left-hander Mickey Lolich and right-hander Joe Coleman - very hard.  Lolich won 22 games and posted a 2.50 ERA and 250 strikeouts in 327 innings.  Coleman won 19 games and had a 2.50 ERA and 222 strikeouts in 280 innings.  The final piece was not added until late in the season though.  On August 2, the Tigers acquired pitcher Woodie Fryman off waivers from the Phillies (who thought the southpaw was all done).  Fryman was magnificent down the stretch with a 2.06 ERA and 10 wins, including the division clincher.      

The Tigers then faced the heavily favored Oakland Athletics in the League Championship Series and gave them a good battle.  The A's took the first two games of the series at home, but the series then went to Tiger Stadium for three games.  The Tigers took the third game 3-0 behind a complete game, 14 strikeout effort by Coleman.

The fourth game was one of the most memorable in playoff history.  The score was tied at one after nine innings, but a two-run tenth put the Athletics in front 3-1.  The Tigers then mounted a dramatic three-run rally in the bottom of the inning to win it 4-3.  The tying run scored on a bases-loaded walk to Cash by reliever Dave Hamilton.  The game winning hit was a single by Northrup scoring Brown.

Oakland eliminated the Tigers with a 2-1 win in game five as Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue held the Tigers to just four hits.  One of the hits was a one-out single by Northrup in the ninth, but the Tigers could not score him.

The Tigers are hoping for a better final result this year.  While any short series is largely a crapshoot, I think the Tigers are the favorites in this series.  I would put their starting rotation of Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez against any team in baseball right now.  They've got the best one-two punch in sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.  I'm not big on intangibles, but they also should be more playoff ready than the inexperienced Athletics. 

The Tigers have their faults of course - terrible defense, a sluggish second half of the batting order and a now a questionable bullpen.  We saw a perfect example in the Braves game today of what happens to the Tigers when things go wrong.  The Braves essentially threw the game away by making three errors and leaving a multitude of runners on base.  An awful call by an umpire did not help either.  All of that should look very familiar to Tigers fans.

Still, the Tigers have the ability to out pitch and out hit the Athletics and I'm picking the Tigers in Four.


  1. Did you forget about 2006? Pretty sure that was the last time the Tigers faced Oakland in the playoffs. That went pretty well.

    1. Never mind. I read the beginning wrong. Great write up of the 72 series. Thanks.



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