Season Recap, World Series Edition. Game 1 with an overview of the Padres.
Padres’ Road to the 1984 World Series
The 1983 San Diego Padres pulled off an improbable feat. They earned the same record as they had the year before: 81-81. That’s 162-162 over 2 years, each time good for a 4th-place finish. Inertia. Lack of real results.
Big Mac Bucks Bring a Bullpen Beast
Under the ownership of McDonald’s franchise mogul Ray Kroc, GM “Trader Jack” McKeon said enough was enough. He made two chief moves, ones that paralleled those engineered by Jim Campbell and Bill LaJoie under the new ownership of Domino’s man Tom Monaghan. While the Tigers were signing corner infielder Darrel Evans and trading for reliever Willie Hernandez, the Pads traded for third baseman Graig Nettles and signed free agent reliever Rich “Goose” Gossage.
Like the Tigers, the Pads had gotten themselves a veteran with leadership skills and power hitting, plus a much-needed stopper. Gossage was known to be particularly deadly against right handers, was a 7-time All-Star, who, in 1981, had finished the year with 32 performances and a 0.77 ERA with a 0.77 WHIP.
At the beginning of the previous season, the franchise had spent its Big Mac money on Steve Garvey, the Dodgers’ perennial All-Star with a resume stuffed with post-season exploits, including 10 career playoff homers.
The ’84 club was an exuberant band of weirdos whose hobbies included trash talking, water wrestling, punching each other over card games, and joining racist organizations and claiming they didn’t know they were racist.
It was a heady brew of veterans and youth, with the younger guys doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Tony Gwynn, third-year outfielder, won the NL batting title with his .351 avg., while scoring 88 times. Twenty-four year old Kevin McReynolds drove in 75 with his .278 b.a. Alan Wiggins supplied 106 scored runs for the team while stealing 70 bases.
Production by Committee
The offensive contributions of Garvey and Nettles and Garry Templeton helped round out a balanced attack, which, like that of the Tigers, didn’t include gaudy stats, outside of Gwynn’s .351 mark. They didn’t have much power, but Wiggins and Gwynn were a formidable duo, with Gwynn often slapping one through the yawning gap on the first base side, getting Wigs to third for the big guys to drive in. Additionally, Templeton’s speed was a great boost at the bottom of the lineup.
Where the Padres really stung opponents was with their bullpen. Gossage was just the tip of the iceberg. While ’84 was a typical year for him, he didn’t have to carry the staff. In fact, big lefty Craig Lefferts led the club with both his 2.13 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. Dave Dravecky gave the Pads a second potent lefty and racked up solid stats as well.
Hitting the bullpen meant negotiating Gossage’s heater and Lefferts’ scroogie. And manager Dick Williams could cross opponents up with the likes of a young Luis DeLeon or Greg Booker.
The starters were something of a committee, with no Jack Morris or Dan Petry. Their ace was skinny righty Eric Show, a jazz guitarist and sinker pitcher with a decent fastball. Then came lefty Mark Thurmond and journeyman Ed Whitson, with stout lefty Tim Lollar chipping in. No one won more than 15 games for the team.
While the Tigers were jumping out to a 9-1 record, the motley Padres went 8-2, a strange alchemy bringing results. But in April, they found a nemesis in the ‘83 NL West champ Dodgers, against whom they went 2-6. By May 14, the ‘Res had regressed to 18-16 and occupied 4th place in the West, with L.A. in the lead.
In June, they went on a 9 of 13 spree including two straight walk-off wins against the Braves (stinging Steve Bedrosian both times). Back in first place, they wouldn’t look back, clinching it on Sept. 20, courtesy a Houston loss hours after a Padres’ win over the Giants.
In the NLCS, the Padres were underdogs against fan favorite Chicago. After getting blown out in Game 1 at Wrigley, they fell behind 2-0, then proceeded to win three at home, an impressive show of guts. In game 5, they manufactured runs with sac flies to narrow an early Cub lead, then benefitted from some bad Cub defense and a lousy hop on a grounder to Ryne Sandberg to pull off a profound upset.
So it was the Tigers (104-58) against the Padres (92-70) for the 1984 Fall Classic.
Here’s how the teams stacked up in terms of key statistics.
B.A. R H HR RBI ERA WHIP SV’s
Tigers .271 829 1,529 187 788 3.49 1.262 51
Padres .259 686 1,425 109 629 3.48 1.294 44
The Tigers had it over the ‘Res in every category except team ERA, where San Diego had a one-point bulge. Up and down the lineup, Lemon and Gibson and Parrish edged out the likes of Carmelo Martinez, Graig Nettles, and Terry Kennedy overall. The Tigers had more power and explosiveness. But what was a bit unfair to Diego was that Kevin McReynolds had busted his wrist in Game 4 of the NLCS. His replacement was vet Bobby Brown, a decent hitter, but one who lacked the pop of McReynolds.
Yeah, the Tigers had the advantage in depth and bench. Either Grubb or Jones would’ve had good prospects to play every day for the Padres, and Bergman towered over any San Diego reserve with the possible exception of infielder Tim Flannery. The Padres had John “Champ” Summers, who may have given Tigers fans a few memories, but who’d hit .185 on the year, with a solitary home run. Utility player Kurt Bevacqua went an even .200, while Luis Salazar had clocked in at .241.
Detroit also figured to have an edge in the series’ pitching matchups: when Morris went up against Thurmond, when Petry faced Whitson, and when Milt Wilcox teed it up against Tim Lollar. Eric Show had pitched in the NLCS Game 5 for S.D., and Williams opted not to go with him until Game 4 of the World Series.
The Padres had more options in the bullpen, including left-right combos, but Detroit was nearly guaranteed 8 or more innings from Morris on his starts, with Aurelio capable of pitching 2 full on any night, setting things up for Willie. If the Tigers played like they had all year, the Padres wouldn’t be taking many leads into the late innings.
Game 1: Holding Out for a Herndon
The 1984 World Series, due to the alternating-years concept, had the DH in place, with the N.L. team pre-determined for the home field advantage. That meant the Series began in the Navy town with its chicken mascot and its fans who’d been saddled with the “laid back” stereotype. Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola were on the call for NBC, good news for those hungry for references to obscure players from the ‘50’s.
Mark Thurmond took the mound for the Padres. The low-ball hurler had gone 9-3 in the second half to finish with a 14-8 record, with a truly good 2.97 ERA.
The Tigers sent up the core group, plus Garbey at DH against the left-hander. The only wrinkle was that Lemon was in the 7th spot rather than his more common 8: 7-8-9 went Lemon, Evans, and Castillo, the latter starting at third. As previously discussed, Howard Johnson was in Sparky’s Chez Canine, due, by the manager’s accounting, to some errors in August that seemed to mean HoJo couldn’t handle pressure; Brookens was ostensibly not 100% after a September hamstring pull; and with a lefty on the mound, it didn’t make sense to start Bergie at first and send Darrell to the other corner. So while Marty had started just 42 games on the year, hitting an underwhelming .234, he had the nod. In the ALCS, Al Michaels had referred to a Castillo start by musing the Sparky was a manager who went with hunches.
Tigers Threaten, But Back Down
Lou Whitaker led off the first inning, getting the count to 3-2 and fisting off several Thurmond offerings for fouls. He then treated Tigers fans to a vintage 1984 episode by leading off a game—in this case Game 1 of the World Series—with a base hit. This one looked at first like a catchable fly over Bobby Brown’s head and ended up as a double. Why not get off to a hot offensive start?
Southern California native Trammell used a compact swing to lash one into left. Carmelo Martinez’ throw was cut off by Nettles and it was 1-0. Detroit had scored in the first for the third time in this, their fourth post-season game. They’d never trailed.
A little hiccup: Trammell got picked off trying to run, cut down by a Garvey-to-Templeton throw. Parrish and Herndon then copped two infield hits to the left side, a lucky development to capitalize on, even with two out. But while Garbey hit it hard enough, he sent it straight to Nettles for the force at third, and Thurmond was out of the lurch. Detroit had left two on, with a third picked off, and had scored one when it should have been two or three.
Next, the 1984 World Series stage was brightened by a striking figure, Jack Morris, Detroit’s 19-game winner. Morris, not always with his best stuff immediately, ran into trouble after getting the first two out. It was stud against stud with NLCS hero Garvey at the plate. The post-season guru got the better of the World Series rook, slamming it to right.
Nettles then went to left center with it, to put two on. It’s the kind of mini-jam Morris could claw out of without breaking a sweat, but instead Kennedy touched Morris for a triple into the right field corner (with the bullpen bench right there for added convenience) and both runners scored. Now, the Tigers had trailed in the post-season.
Over the next few innings, the Tiges would get a few isolated men on base. In the 2nd, Trammell stole second, but was forced out two hitters later. Most of the times we got runners in scoring position, there were two outs. In one such situation–in 4th, Whitaker left Lemon at the third and Castillo at first with a fly out.
In the 5th, with the score still 2-1 home team, Gibson walked. Sparky was very froggy on the night, and he sent his speedster. Once again, a Tiger runner chose the wrong time to go, and Thurmond’s pickoff throw resulted in Gibson getting cut down by Garvey. Lose by one run with two runners picked off, and it would be a quiet clubhouse—and a noisy fan base.
Herndon Takes the Game Back
Well, Parrish sent a grounder down the left field line where it got caught up in the World Series bunting for a ground-rule double. Then came to the plate Larry Herndon. Herndon, an offensive dynamo in ’82 and ’83, had found a slump during the Tigers’ halcyon days of April and May. But on this night, he got his arms out with an idiosyncratic tennis-like swing on a high fastball and sent it into the Pacific evening for a two-run homer. Detroit was now up 3-2 and the entire complexion of the game had changed.
It wasn’t quite as though something snapped inside Jack Morris—he’d really been cruising since the rocky opening stanza. But now he had a lead and he started to snarl. In the bottom of the 6th, he got on the ropes for what would be the last time in the game, surrendering singles to Nettles and Kennedy. He took things into his own hands, striking out Brown, Martinez, and Templeton, all swinging, all on pitches out over the plate. With Jack feeling that kind of momentum, it was lights out Padres, even if the lead was only 1.
In the next inning, Morris did get hit hard, by controversial DH selection, Kurt Bevacqua. The Padre laced one into the corner, where Gibson had to dig it out of the bullpen bench with relief pitchers scrambling. Gibby got it into Whitaker, who threw a bullet to Castillo. While the throw was up the line a bit, it gave Castillo an avenue to tag the sliding Bevacqua on his back.
Tony Gwynn, who’d earlier swiped a base, got on with a walk. With Steve Garvey up, Roger Craig called a pitchout, one Morris executed minimally, giving Parrish enough time to throw Gwynn out. The potential tying run had made the last out of the inning, and Craig looked like the wizard he was.
Because of the thrown-out runner, Garvey got to finish his at-bat in the 8th. Morris nailed him with the split-finger pitch, for his seventh K of the night. Two batter later, Kennedy would become the 8th.
From there, it was simply time to close it out, with Morris becoming the first Anderson-managed pitcher to get a complete game in a World Series. Big Jack whiffed Bobby Brown, got Martinez on a crisply-played grounder to Brookens, and got Templeton to ground out meekly to Bergman. And the Tigers had won Game 1 of the 1984 World Series, 3-2.
The national audience—many of them only vaguely familiar with Detroit so far—had seen a vintage Jack Morris game. He’d given up 8 hits and had walked three. He’d had two or more on base three times, but had wrestled out if it. His 8 strikeouts had been a big part of his arsenal, getting him out of jams. People who didn’t follow the team were getting a baptism into the idea that Morris wasn’t sleek or elegant—yeah, he’d no-hit the White Sox, but even in that game he’d walked the bases loaded. He wasn’t a one-hit, one-walk shoutout pitcher most of the time. He won, throughout the 80’s, dozens of games that weren’t pretty, but that also didn’t require a lot of offense or relief help. And that was him that Tuesday night in San Diego.
The Tigers were not perfect, and no major league team can be for a 162 games plus the postseason. And as happens, their bats seized up a bit after the first inning. They had a hard time driving men in. But Herndon’s homer was illustrative of the way in which, all year, it was usually just a matter of time before someone stepped up. The home run had been a chief weapon all year, and despite what most would have you believe, Detroit hit more homers on the road (17 more) than at Tiger Stadium.
It was a meat-and-potatoes performance for Detroit. They did well–but not as well as possible–in the first, then did what they had to do to take the lead, which Morris jealously guarded. The Tigers remained undefeated in the 1984 postseason.
 Collier, Phil. Gwynn Boosted for Bat Crown. The Sporting News. Jul. 2, 1984.
 Atlanta Braves at San Diego Padres box score June 12, 1984. https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SDN/SDN198406120.shtml
 Collier, Phil. Padres Calm for Clincher. The Sporting News. Oct. 1, 1984.