Monday, January 4, 2016

Best Postseason Win: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have generally been a pretty solid franchise, steady without being dominant; they've won pennants in seven different decades and have four World Series titles, all of which are separated from the others by at least ten years. So it's a bit surprising that their four best games are in two tightly-grouped pairs - two of them from the 2012 season, and two from the 1934-35 repeat pennant winners.

Of the four, we're picking the game that actually led to them winning a World Series.

1935 World Series Game 3: Tigers 6, Cubs 5 (11). The matchup was the two pitchers who'd led their leagues in winning percentage, though it was a relatively undistinguished duo for meeting that standard; Detroit sent sidearmer Elden Auker against Chicago's Bill Lee (who is almost certainly the second-most famous pitcher by that name, although he was better overall than his successor, Spaceman Bill Lee).

Tiger player-manager Mickey Cochrane reached on a Billy Herman error in the top of the first, but Lee stranded him. Augie Galan and Freddie Lindstrom both singled in the bottom of the inning, but Gabby Hartnett hit into a double play to extinguish the threat. Billy Rogell reached second on a single-and-error in the top of the second, then moved to third on a groundout before being left on. The Cubs then opened the scoring on a Frank Demaree homer in the home half, and extended the lead when Stan Hack singled, stole second, moved to third on an error, and scored on a Lee groundout.

Detroit threatened in the third on a Cochrane walk and a Charlie Gehringer single, but Goose Goslin lined out to leave both men on. Auker set the Cubs down in order in the bottom of the inning, and both pitchers were perfect in the fourth as well. Jo-Jo White singled with two outs in the top of the fifth, but it was the Cubs who would score in the inning when Billy Jurges walked, Lee bunted him to second, and Galan plated him with a single. Herman singled Galan to third, but Lindstrom hit into a double play to squander the chance to augment the lead further.

The Tigers joined the scoring in the top of the sixth when Goslin singled and Pete Fox tripled him home; with only one out, they had a chance to pull closer, but Hartnett picked Fox off of third. Auker worked around a walk in the home sixth, and Lee did the same in the visitors' seventh, coaxing a double play out of Gee Walker, who was pinch hitting for Auker. Chief Hogsett relieved in the bottom of the seventh; he plunked Jurges and walked Galan, but stranded both runners.

With Lee still in the game, White drew a leadoff walk in the top of the eighth, and one out later, Gehringer doubled him to third; Goslin then singled to push both runners home and tie the game at 3. That hit also ended Lee's outing, as Lon Warneke relieved him; Detroit quickly pulled ahead on singles by Fox and Billy Rogell, and added another run when Rogell got himself into a rundown on a steal attempt, which accomplished its presumed goal by allowing Fox to scamper home and push the newfound advantage to 5-3.

Schoolboy Rowe took the mound and tossed a perfect eighth, and Warneke returned the favor in the top of the ninth. Rowe retired the first batter in the bottom of the ninth, but Hack then singled, and pinch hitter Chuck Klein singled as well. Ken O'Dea hit for Warneke and singled to bring Hack home, and Galan's fly ball to center was deep enough to plate Klein with the tying run. Herman then grounded out, sending the game to extra innings.

Larry French worked around a two-out Goslin double in the top of the tenth. The Cubs threatened more seriously in the bottom of the inning, as Lindstrom led off with a double; Hartnett bunted the runner to third, but Demaree and Frank Cavarretta both grounded out to leave the potential game-winner 90 feet away. Rogell led off the eleventh with a single, and Marv Owen bunted into a force at second. Flea Clifton reached on a Lindstrom error; Rowe struck out, but White singled to score Owen with the go-ahead run, and Rowe retired the side in order in the bottom of the eleventh to secure the victory.

So, let's see... both teams overcame deficits of multiple runs within the last two innings of regulation, and then the home team stranded the winning run at third in the tenth before the visitors won it in the eleventh. Yeah, that's a pretty good game, without even accounting for the quality of the participants (Goslin, Cochrane, Gehringer, and Hartnett are all Hall of Famers; Hack arguably should be, and Hank Greenberg was also on the Tigers, but injured for the Series).

The overall series also turned out to be excellent, with two more Tiger victories scoring in the 80th percentile or better by WPL (Game 4, a 2-1 comeback win in which the Cubs put runners at first and second with one out in the ninth before losing, and the clinching Game 6, a see-saw battle that went into the ninth tied at 3, saw Hack hit a leadoff triple in the top of the inning only to be left on, and ended with a two-out walkoff hit by Goslin). The title was the Tigers' first, and helped make up for the seven-game loss to the Cardinals the previous year, which came despite a fine victory in Game 2 (the Tigers came back to tie in the ninth, then won in 12 on a walkoff single by Goslin).

Why yes, we have started the honorable mention section. As mentioned in the intro, Detroit came away with a pair of wonderful wins in the 2012 postseason. WPL has a slight preference for ALCS Game 1, which saw Jose Valverde blow a four-run ninth-inning lead by giving up home runs to the unlikely combination of Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez, but the Tigers recovered to win in 12 anyway. Personally, I prefer the madcap second game of the ALDS, which entered the seventh inning tied at 1, then saw the score go to 2-1, 3-2, 4-3, 4-4, and finally 5-4 on a walkoff sacrifice fly; the only half-inning in that sequence that ended scoreless saw the A's leave runners on the corners. (This description is underselling the game, really; the runs before the walkoff scored on a hit by a utility infielder, a two-out, two-run error, a single-two steals-wild pitch sequence, a solo homer, and another wild pitch. I was following the game live, and it was undiluted insanity for over an hour.)

Those are the best options for within game drama, but it's probably worth throwing in a couple of sentimental picks as well; there's Game 2 of the 1984 ALCS, which the Tigers won in 11 after blowing the lead late in regulation (after which they cruised to the World Series title), and Game 4 of the 2006 ALCS, which was tied for several innings before the Tigers won it on a Magglio Ordonez walkoff homer to clinch the pennant (before losing the World Series).

Basically, the Tigers have some options. In our next entry, we'll be sticking around the AL Central and visiting another original franchise - one with probably the fewest options of any of the original 16.

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