The death of Bob Gibson, the magnificent St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, on Friday led to the MLB Network offering a Saturday telecast of Gibson’s 17-strikeout effort in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
That strikeout total still stands as a World Series record. Yet, the Tigers rallied from down 3-1 to win their first Series since 1945, with Mickey Lolich (making a third start, this on two days’ rest) beating Gibson 4-1 in Game 7 in St. Louis.
Gibson was a sleek athlete, including a terrific basketball player. Lolich was a lefty with a big gut. Selected as the Series MVP, Lolich said:
“You could say I’m the redemption of the fat man. … A guy will be watching me on TV and say, ‘Hey, Maude, get a load of this guy, and he’s a 20-game winner.’ ”
That was only a portion of a screwball World Series. Al Kaline had returned from a lengthy injury. Detroit manager Mayo Smith wanted him in the lineup and shortstop Ray Oyler out.
Smith’s brainstorm: Move Mickey Stanley, a Gold Glove center fielder, to shortstop, where he had no experience. Stanley played there for the last week of the season and then the Series. He made a couple of errors, but the zany lineup decision assisted in the Tigers’ upset title.
I would be a witness to Mayo zaniness in the Twins Room (hospitality) on April 25, 1970, after the Twins beat the Tigers 4-3.
Pitcher Earl Wilson struck out on a pitch in the dirt to presumably end the Tigers’ seventh. Catcher Paul Ratliff didn’t tag Wilson and rolled the ball to the mound. Wilson was signaled to start running and the Twins did not react.
Wilson was rounding third, but by then, shortstop Leo Cardenas and left fielder Brant Alyea had taken note. With the plate now covered, Wilson put on the brakes, pulled a hamstring, fell in agony near third and was tagged out.
Postgame, with drink in hand, Mayo Smith circled the Twins Room tables, mimicking Wilson’s adventure, and bellowed: “My big pitcher wasn’t satisfied with a triple. He wanted an inside-the-park homer.”
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• Denny McLain was the Game 1 loser. He made three Series starts, after 41 in the season. McLain was 31-6 (first 30-game winner since 1934) and pitched 336 innings.
• Gibson’s record-low 1.12 ERA (34 starts, 304⅔ innings) and the general lack of hitting so terrified owners that the mound was lowered by 5 inches to its current 10.
• That lower mound helped Tigers shortstop Ray Oyler’s average to rise from .135 in 1968 to .165 in 1969.