40th anniversary: Mickey Lolich’s great clutch game

40 years ago today, Mickey Lolich came through with one of the greatest clutch pitching performances in Detroit Tigers history.

Oct. 2, 1972 began the last series of the baseball season. 1972 was a strange season, due to a brief players strike at the outset of the year, all teams lost a handful of games. When the baseball lords decided to just cancel the lost contests instead of making them up, that meant that the final standings for any of the division races could end with teams a half-game ahead or behind.

In fact, that was the situation in the AL Central. The Tigers began the day in second place with an 84-69 record, just a half-game behind of the front running 84-68 Boston Red Sox. And wouldn’t you know it – the season ended with Detroit hosting Boston.

Really, it was simple. Whoever won the series won the division. That made the first game that much more important. If you win it, you put all the pressure on the other squad to win out, while giving yourself a little room for error. That pressure was especially acute on Detroit as they after all began the games trailing.

For the big game, Detroit went with their big guy, ace pitcher Mickey Lolich. Four years earlier he’d won three games in the 1968 World Series, including a Game Seven victory on short rest while against Bob Gibson. He could handle a big game for the Tigers. Then again, just four days ago he’d pitched a whopping 12 innings in a complete game loss. Would he still be tired?

Lolich looked a little shaky in the first, letting two of the first three batters he face reach base. Then he fanned two in a row to end the inning. And then he fanned another pair in the second inning. Meanwhile, Detroit staked him to a 1-0 lead.

The third was Lolich’s danger spot. After fanning the leadoff hitter (already his fifth K of the day), Lolich ran into trouble. Tommy Harper and Luis Aparicio smacked consecutive singles against him, and then longtime star Carl Yastrzemski smashed a line drive to center for extra bases. Smith came around to score, 1-1. Aparicio blew past third on his way home, but the relay throw got to the plate and Aparicio thought better of it and retreated back to third.

And here is where Lolich caught a nice break for himself. Yaz apparently saw the speedy Aparicio go for home but missed him turning around. Not only was Aparicio headed to third – but so was Yaz. Both men ended up on third, and the ump gave Aparicio possession of the bag and called Yaz out. The score was still 1-1 and now there were two outs. True, the go-ahead run was on third and the dangerous Reggie Smith at the plate, but Lolich fanned him for his sixth strikeout victim of the day.

In the fourth Lolich allowed a single and walk, but also racked up another three strikeouts to snuff out any rally. That’s nine Ks in four innings. He had another strikeout in the fifth and two more in the sixth. He let guys on base in almost every inning, but they never had any chances to advance with all the guys going down swinging.

More importantly, Detroit’s hitters came to life, giving Lolich the lead once again. That’s all he needed. After the third inning scare, no Boston player made it to second base until the ninth, and that would-be run died at second.

When it was all said and done Lolich was not perfect—he’d surrendered six hits while issuing five walks and hitting two batters—but he’d also fanned 15 batters while allowing just one run. It was only the fourth time in franchise history a Tiger pitcher struck out at least 15 men in one game – and Lolich pitched three of those games. No other Tiger would fan this many batters in one game until Max Scherzer fanned 15 in seven innings earlier this year.

Detroit won, 4-1 behind Lolich’s gutsy effort. The Tigers won the next day to clinch the division. Lolich’s big game was vital for Detroit’s postseason hopes, and that big game was 40 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other baseball items today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through things.

Day-versaries

3,000 days since Victor Martinez hits three home runs in one game.

6,000 days since Tom Kelly says of young Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera: “He needs to pitch in a higher league, if there is one. Ban him from baseball. He should be illegal”.

7,000 days since the Giants take Scott Sanderson off of waivers from the Angels.

9,000 days since Buddy Bell hits his 200th home run.

10,000 days since Bobby Valentine manages his first big league game.

10,000 days since St. Louis trades Lonnie Smith to the Royals.

15,000 days since Amos Otis steals five bases in one game.

15,000 days since Cecil Cooper makes his big league debut.

15,000 days since Richie Zisk makes his big league debut.

25,000 days since Snuffy Stirnweiss makes his big league debut.

30,000 days since Earl Weaver is born.

30,000 days since 200 game winner Earl Whitehill is halfway there, notching his 100th win fro a 100-86 career record. He’ll go 118-99 from here on out.

Anniversaries

1882 Hall of Famer George Wright plays in his final game.

1891 Abner Dalrymple, star hitter of the 1880s, plays in his last contest.

1892 Star hurler Parisian Bob Caruthers surrenders his only walk-off home run. Pete Browning hits it, a two-run shot for a 12-10 Cincinnati Reds win.

1900 Jack Clements, one of the best hitting catchers of the 1890s, plays in his final game.

1903 It’s the first shutout in World Series history, as Boston’s Bill Dineen three-hits the Pirates for a 3-0 Red Sox win in Game Two of the first AL-NL Fall Classic.

1904 After 54 consecutive scoreless innings, Chicago White Sox pitcher Doc White allows a run.

1905 Connie Mack manages his 1,000th game. His record is 550-443 so far.

1907 Phillies third baseman Eddie Grant goes 7-for-7 in a doubleheader against the Giants and their pitches, future Hall of Famers Rube Marquard and Christy Mathewson.

1908 It might be the greatest pitchers duel of all-time. Chicago White Sox stud Ed Walsh, who will win 40 games this year, fans 15, but it’s not enough as Indians star Addie Joss throws a perfect game for a 1-0 win. This comes in the midst of a heated pennant race for Chicago, too. Longtime outfielder John Anderson appears in this game and makes the last out. It turns out to be the final game of his career.

1909 Happy Jack Chesbro, Hall of Fame pitcher who won 41 games in 1904, appears in his last contest.

1916 Phillies ace Pete Alexander throws his 16th shutout of the year, the modern record. (George Bradley had 16 in 1876, but in far more starts).

1919 Black Sox first baseman Chick Gandil demands the gamblers cough up another $20,000 the players are due before today’s game. Friction between the players (who want their money) and the gamblers (who want to stiff the players) will be a theme of the fix. The Sox lose, behind the indifferent pitching of Black Sox Lefty Williams. After the game Clean Sox catcher Ray Schalk attacks Williams under the seats.

1920 Two of the best players of the last decade play in their last games today: slugger Gavvy Cravath, and second baseman Larry Doyle.

1920 The Pirates and Reds stage the only tripleheader of the century. Clearly, they want to get their season over with.

1921 George Sisler steals a personal best four games in one day.

1924 The A’s purchase Lefty Grove on the installment plan from the minor league Baltimore Orioles for $100,600.

1925 Bobby Veach, former Tigers star outfielder and later the only man to ever pinch hit for Babe Ruth, appears in his last game.

1925 Leo Durocher makes his playing debut as a big league shortstop.

1927 Two notable infielders play their last game: Heinie Groh, who is arguably the best third baseman of his day, and first baseman Jack Fournier, who is a hard-hitting first baseman.

1927 Dick Bartell, shortstop, makes his major league debut.

1931 George Bradley, pitcher who threw 16 shutouts in 1876, dies at age 79.

1931 In Game Two of the World Series, St. Louis pitcher Wild Bill Hallahan throws a three-hit shutout for a 2-0 win over the defending champion A’s.

1932 Base stealer Maury Wills is born.

1933 The Browns take pitcher Bobo Newsom from the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft. Also in the draft, the Phillies take Curt Davis from the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco squad. A later bloomer, Davis will become the best pitcher to begin his big league career after his 30th birthday.

1935 The Cubs top the Tigers 3-0 in Game One of the World Series with Lon Warneke throwing a four-hitter.

1936 In one of the most one-sided Fall Classic contests of all-time, the Yankees destroy the Giants, 18-4.

1937 Veteran pitcher Rube Walberg plays in his last game.

1937 Ken Keltner makes his big league debut.

1938 18-year-old Bob Feller fans 18, which ends up being his personal most. It’s his fourth time with at least 15 Ks in a game, but despite being so young he’ll never get that many again. Oddly enough, he loses 4-0 to the Tigers by allowing seven walks and seven hits.

That was the first game of a Tigers-Indians doubleheader. In the second game, the umpire calls it for darkness after seven innings. It’s disappointing because Hank Greenberg is stuck on 58 homers, a little shy of Ruth’s record. The home plate ump tells him, “I’m sorry Hank but this is as far as I can go” when he ends the game.

1938 Tommy Thevenow, a longtime infielder who hit just two homers in his career, plays in his final game.

1947 In Game Three of the World Series, the Dodgers nearly blow a six run lead but still top the Yankees, 9-8.

1949 The Yankees and Red Sox meet for a special winner take all playoff game to decide the AL pennant. New York wins, 5-3, despite a three-run ninth inning rally by Boston. Bill Dickey is so excitied to claim the pennant that he jumps up and clocks his head on the dugout ceiling, knocking himself out.

1949 In the first game of a season ending doubleheader, the Browns decide to use a different pitcher in every inning. In the second game, 20-year-old Eddie Albrect throws a five inning one-hitter before the game is called.

1949 Wildfire Schulte, outfielder on the Tinker-Evers-Chance Cubs, dies.

1951 In the second game of the best-of-three playoff series for the pennant between the Giants and Dodgers, the Brooklyn Dodgers keep their hopes alive by beating the Giants, 10-0. This will force a winner-take-all deciding game. Leo Durocher tells a reporter who asks what happened, “We got the #### kicked out of us. Does anybody else have a bright question?”

1953 In Game Three of the World Series, Carl Erskine fans 14 for Brooklyn, leading them to a 3-2 win over the Yankees. It was 2-1 after seven innings, but then the Yankees tied it in the top of the eighth only to see Brooklyn regain the lead in the bottom half of the inning.

1958 The Baltimore Orioles trade future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams to the A’s for Chico Carrasquel.

1959 The Braves announce that manager Fred Haney has resigned. This came a few days after reports he was about to be fired for losing the pennant to an inferior Dodgers team.

1959 The Dodgers top the White Sox 4-3 in Game Two of the World Series, but that’s not what makes this game memorable. It’s notable for the inadvertent beer bath Sox outfielder Al Smith gets. When a Dodger hits a homer, a fan in the front row of the outfield seats reaches for it – and accidentally knocks his beer over the wall. It lands perfectly over Smith’s head splashing all around. You couldn’t choreograph it better if you tried.

1960 Willie Mays hits the fifth of his six career inside-the-park home runs.

1960 Several players make their last big league appearance today, including: Alvin Dark, Sandy Amoros (who is remembered for his famous catch to save a title for Brooklyn in Game Seven of the 1955 World Series), and Gil McDougald. Well, McDougald will play in the 1960 World Series, but this is his last regular season game.

1960 Lou Boudreau manages his final contest.

1960 The original AL Washington Senators play their last game, and lose 2-0 to the Orioles. Next year the old Senators will be in Minnesota and called the Twins, while an expansion team will take their place as a new Washington Senators club.

1960 The Yankees win their season finale. It’s their 15th straight win and 19th of their last 20 contests, one of the greatest stretch runs ever. Casey Stengel’s managerial record is 292 games over .500 (1,730-1,438), his peak. The Yankees will fire him after he loses the 1960 World Series.

1962 In the second of a three-game series to decide the pennant, the Dodgers rally from a 5-0 deficit to beat the Giants 8-7 and force a pennant-deciding game No. 165.

1963 In Game One, Sandy Koufax sets a World Series record by fanning 15 in Los Angeles’ 5-2 win over the Yankees.

1964 Pittsburgh signs amateur free agent Manny Sanguillen.

1965 Don Zimmer plays in his last big league game.

1965 It’s the only game in the last 90 years where both starting pitchers have Game Scores over 110. Chris Short of Philadelphia and Bob Gardner of the Mets both go 15 innings in a game that ends 0-0 after 18 frames. Short has a Game Score of 114 with 18 strikeouts. Gardner has a Game Score of “only” 112.

1966 As the season winds down, many players appear in their last regular season game, including: Joe Nuxhall, Joey Jay, Sandy Koufax, and Bobby Richardson. Nuxhall and Jay appear in the same game, and Koufax will still pitcher in this year’s World Series.

1967 It’s groundbreaking for Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, maybe the most maligned of the multi-use stadiums built in this era.

1968 Bob Gibson has his signature game, striking out 17 Tigers in a complete game shutout 4-0 St. Louis victory in Game One of the World Series.

1969 Only 5,473 attend the last Seattle Pilots game ever.

1969 Reliever Al Worthington and hitter Leon Wagner each appear in their final game.

1970 Everyday Eddie Guardado is born.

1972 Bill Stoneman throws a no-hitter, his second one, for the Expos. He walks seven but fans nine in the 7-0 win over the Mets. He might be the most forgettable pitcher to have more than one no-hitter.

1974 According to WPA, George Brett has his worst game ever today. He’s 0-for-6 with a K and two GIDP for a –0.519 WPA as the Royals lose to the White Sox, 5-2 in 12 innings.

1974 In his last bat as an Atlanta Brave, Hank Aaron homers for his 733rd career dinger.

1974 Al Kaline plays in his last game and then announces his retirement.

1976 Hall of Famer Billy Williams plays in his last game. Veteran outfielder Tommy Davis also plays in his final contest. Finally, longtime manager Bill Rigney fills out his last lineup card.

1976 Phil Niekro nearly throws a no-hitter against the greatest offense of all-time, the 1976 Big Red Machine. With one out in the ninth, Cesar Geronimo – the least notable player in their everyday lineup – tags Niekro for a double.

1977 Alvin Dark manages his last game on the 17th anniversary of his final game as a player.

1977 Dusty Baker hits his 30th homer of the year, giving the Dodgers five guys with 30 homers, a level no other team will reach in decades. When Baker completes circling the bases, he and teammate Glenn Burke have what is reputedly the first ever high-five. And then Burke belts a home run.

1977 Carlos May, slugger, plays in his last game. Random fact: May was born on May 17, and whenever possible had uniform No. 17, so his back would read “May 17” – his birthday.

1978 It’s the day that drove a generation of Red Sox fans to despair. Bucky Dent homers and it helps propel the Yankees to a division crown, ending their comeback from 14 games back earlier that year.

1979 In Game One of the NLCS, the Pirates triumph 5-2 over the Reds in 11 innings.

1981 Iron man reliever Mike Marshall pitches in his last game.

1981 Mike Schmidt hits a walk-off pinch-hit home run.

1982 It’s Fan Appreciation Day as only the Yankees can do it. When security guards see two fans putting bags over their heads (to protest the team missing the postseason), the guards beat up the fans. The fans don’t feel very appreciated while their heads are slammed into the wall.

1982 Shortstop Mark Belanger and pitcher Stan Bahnsen both play in their final game.

1983 Carl Yastrzemski, long-lasting Red Sox, appears in the last of his 3,000-plus games.

1984 The Cubs play in their first postseason games in 39 years, destroying the Padres, 13-0. There are five homers by the Cubs – two by Gary Matthews, and one by Bob Dernier, Ron Cey, and starting pitcher Rick Sutcliffe.

1985 Orel Hershiser notches his 11th straight win, his personal best. Here are his numbers over the stretch: 16 G, 16 GS, 118.2 IP, 79 H, 26 R, 18 ER, 34 BB, 73 K, and a 1.37 ERA.

1986 As the season winds down, several players appear in their last game, including: Bobby Grich, Pete Vukovich, and Terry Forster. Last by not least is 200-game winner Vida Blue, who ends his career by being ejected. Ooph!

1987 Padres catcher Benito Santiago extends his hitting streak to 34 games. That’s a record for a rookie, but it ends in his next game.

1987 Gary Matthews plays in his last game.

1988 35-year-old George Brett plays an inning at short. He hasn’t been there in six years.

1988 Many notable players appear in their final contest, including: George Hendrick, Larry Parrish, Phil Garner, Ray Knight, and Ted Simmons.

1991 Greg Maddux picks up the only RBI in a 1-0 Cubs win over the Phillies. It comes on a seventh inning single.

1991 William A. Shea, the driving force to get the National League to return to New York City, dies at age 84.

1991 Former NL MVP Dave Parker plays in his last game, as does flaky pitcher Pascual Perez.

1991 For the second consecutive game, Jack Clark reaches base via catcher interference. That’s rather rare.

1992 Mike Scioscia plays in his last game, as does pitcher Walt Terrell.

1993 Ken Griffey Jr. plays first base for an inning. It’s the first of only two times he plays there (or anywhere in the infield for that matter).

1993 Bye-bye, Bye-Bye Balboni! Slugger Steve Balboni appears in his last game. Former AL MVP George Bell also appears in his last regular season game, though he’ll play in the ALCS for the White Sox. (Then, after Bell insults Chicago’s manager after the series, the Sox cut him and no one else picks him up).

1995 Sparky Anderson resigns, ending his Hall of Fame managerial career.

1996 In Game Two of the ALDS, the Yankees come from behind to beat the Rangers 5-4 in 12 innings. The Yankees will go on to dominate the Rangers in the ALDS for the rest of the decade.

1996 In Game One of the NLDS, the Braves top the Dodgers 2-1 in 10 innings in a game featuring a total of only nine hits.

1998 The Yankees continue their ALDS dominance of the Rangers, beating them 4-0 in Game Three to finish this year’s sweep. Texas scores just one run in the series, on 13 hits over three games.

1999 Jeff Montgomery, closer, and Paul Sorrento, slugger, both play in their final game.

2001 Randy Johnson wins his 200th decision. Since 1920, only four pitchers have a better record than Johnson’s 200-101 mark at the time of the 200th win: Whitey Ford, Lefty Grove, Juan Marichal, and Pedro Martinez (who joins the club a few years later). Johnson will go 103-65 for the rest of his career.

2004 Another herd of players appear in their last games, including: Robin Ventura, Ellis Burks, and Mark McLemore.

2004 For one last time, the Montreal Expos take the field. They go out as winners, topping the Mets, 6-3.

2005 Another group of players have their last regular season games, most notably: Jeff Bagwell (who will play in that year’s World Series), John Olerud, Larry Walker, Tino Martinez, Al Leiter, Ugueth Urbina, Jose Offerman, B.J. Surhoff, Ben Grieve, and Hee Seop Choi.

2008 The Chicago Cubs turn in one of the most pathetic postseason performances by any team ever. In Game Two of the NLDS, the Cubs get killed 10-3 by the Dodgers in a game where every single Cubs infielder makes an error, including two on back-to-back plays. Fittingly, the Cubs will be swept in three games. (It’s even more pathetic when you realize the Cubs actually had the better regular season record).

2009 B.J. Upton hits for the cycle. I believe it’s the first one ever done in October.

2011 In Game Two of the ALDS, Detroit’s Max Scherzer carries a no-hitter into the sixth. He and the Tigers hold on to win despite a shaky bullpen performance, 5-3 over the Yankees.

2011 In Game Two of the NLCS, the Phillies take an early 4-0 lead over the Cardinals, but despite ace Cliff Lee pitching, Philadelphia folds, as the Cardinals win, 5-4.

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Comments

  1. Paul G. said...

    More good stuff.  I hadn’t realized that there was such a good pennant race in 1972.  The Oakland A’s winning 3 straight overshadows everything, I guess.

    For the record, Detroit won the AL East (not the Central, which didn’t exist at the time) and Harper is the runner who scored (not Smith).

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