Season Recap–June: The Schedule Gets Tough (Part I)

Detroit Tiger Alan Trammell swinging a bat

Check out all the recaps of the glorious ’84 season: today, June

June Schedule Brings Baltimore, Toronto

The 1984 Detroit Tigers’ schedule was bizarre.  The formula was essentially: in April, play mostly Western Division teams, with six games scheduled against Eastern foes Boston and Cleveland.  In May, a couple of big road trips, meeting every team in the West but Minnesota, and only Cleveland and Boston from the East.   

June was strictly for the Eastern division (but for a month-ending series hosting the Twins), then July was another April, August another May, September another June.

That means that going into June, the Tigers had yet to face: Baltimore, Toronto, New York, and Milwaukee.  1983’s schedule had been in a similar vein, but in most years in the 80’s, there was more a mix of Eastern teams in the early months, and two or three series against Western teams in June.

In any case, the schedule’s structure had caused the Tigers some criticism.  They stood at 37-9, but were nagged by the national media for not having faced any real tests.  Their schedule hadn’t been very rough.  Almost all the teams in the West would go on to lose as many games as everyone in the East but Cleveland and Milwaukee: K.C. would win the division with an 84-78 record, while the 5th place team in the East, Baltimore, would go 85-77.  The divisions were as imbalanced as the Tigers’ schedule.

I don’t think anyone around Detroit imagined that there was some fluke quality to the fast start.  The team had amassed just too much good play for that.  However, not only was the national media skeptical (or hoping for an angle and a close pennant race) but it was well known that Oriole and Blue Jay fans were salivating for a chance to embarrass these “over-rated” upstarts

1. First Weekend, Welcome Baltimore Orioles

Well, this was it.  School—for me—was out, though maybe not for every kid in Michigan.  But it was June, beginning to feel Summery.  Time to put the parachute pants in the attic and bust out the colorful jams and Ocean Pacific t-shirts.

And Michigan and Trumbull was rocking for the first meeting with the World Champs on Friday, June 1.  While the Orioles were only a pretty good 28-21 and 10 ½ back, they were dangerous, and not just because they held the title.  In ’83, Baltimore had gone 42-34 in the first half and 56-30 in the second.  They’d been 3 games behind Toronto as late as July 6th

Lou Whitaker of the Detroit Tigers; an umpire; a member of the Baltimore Orioles. black and white
Lou Whitaker, Jun 3 vs. the Orioles

So how would it go? Well, visitors from Canada are welcomed to Detroit with Joe Louis’s fist, and that’s about what Detroit had for their Eastern-seaboard friends.  It wasn’t the Orioles who played hungry, with something to prove.

It was an offensive spree for the Tigers. They lashed singles. They drove men in with extra-base hits.  They homered.  It started in the second when the singles parade began.  Baltimore starter Scott McGregor loaded the bases and then plunked Kirk Gibson to open the floodgates with the game’s first run.  Rusty Kuntz singled in two more and Whitaker drove another home with a sac fly.  Up came Alan Trammell, cooling off a bit from his turbo-charged start, but still with great numbers.  His two-run homer sent Flanagan to the bench in favor of young Bill Swaggerty.

Lemon and Parrish both took Swaggerty deep, and Detroit built a 10-0 lead before Dennis Martinez came in. Tram got his second homer on the night off of the veteran, Bair closed out with 3 relief innings, the stadium rocked and waved, and Detroit won 14-2.

                The Orioles Strike Back

Friday night was a party, and should’ve really deflated Baltimore.  But the Tigers had used up their runs and were shut out the next afternoon by an up-and-coming fastball and curve artist, Storm Davis.  The count was 5-0.  The count was 1-1 on the series.  However, the Blue Jays beat the Yanks in 10 to pull up to 4 ½ back.  Since they were up next, you really didn’t want them getting any closer.

On Sunday, Milt Wilcox went up against Mike Flanagan and walked six.  Trailing 1-0 after a Ripken, Jr. sac fly RBI, Wilcox walked John Lowenstein with this bases loaded to make the deficit 2.  It was a crucial at-bat.

The Tigers couldn’t really get anything going—Tom Brookens’ solo homer wasn’t enough, and The Tigers lost 2-1.  Dave Rozema pitched 3 1/3 innings of stingy relief, giving Detroit every opportunity to score just 1 more to tie, but it was not to be.

The Yankees scored 15 to blow out Toronto, so the Tiges didn’t lose any of their lead on the Jays.  But they’d lost the series at home, off to a 1-2 start in the crucible against the division’s other top teams.

A Deadlock With the Birds

A challenge had been made by doubters in the baseball world—could Detroit keep winning when the higher-quality teams came to town?  Now, in retrospect, we get some great highlights from the June games against Baltimore and the Jays.  A lot of people may remember us getting the upper fist against them. 

However, in the fourteen (!) games against the two teams, the Tigers played to a draw, 7-7. That can be interpreted a number of ways.  Anyone subscribing to the “April and May were flukes” theory could find some validation, since .500 ball is a far cry from 35-5.  However, one couldn’t make the argument that the Tigers weren’t better than these teams and had just enjoyed a lot of Cleveland and Texas on their schedule.  No one in the organization wanted just a stalemate, though.

            June 4, 1984

The iconic game in this swath of the ’84 schedule was on Monday, June 4, when Toronto arrived.  The series opener was the season opener of Monday Night Baseball on ABC. Since it was a weeknight, the crowd was a bit light, with the outfield seats pretty sparsely filled. 

But the intensity level was high, with Juan Berenguer facing Dave Stieb.  The game whispered along peacefully for five innings, outside of a Willie Upshaw solo homer in the 2nd .  But in the top of the 6th, George Bell knocked a two-run homer to left to put his team up 3-0.

In the bottom of the 7th, Stieb hit the oft-beaned Chet Lemon, and then Bergman singled. Howard Johnson came to the plate, got his pitch and lofted one toward the upper deck in right, which threatened to pull foul.  Fortunately for the Tigers’ faithful, the ball found the foul pole, and the game was tied 3-3.

That’s where we were in the bottom of the 9th when Tom Brookens bunted Bergman to second, making the inning’s first out.  A Trammell sac fly got Bergman 90 feet from home, but with two out.  Jimmy Key came in for Dennis Lamp and got Herndon to ground out to send it into extra innings.

          The Legend of Dave Bergman

Everyone sitting in the outfield seats congealed into the front-most rows, appearing like a big family on a campout, singing songs on the riverbank. By the 11th, Hernandez had given way to Lopez, and Jimmy Key to Roy Lee Jackson.  Lance Parrish singled and was moved to 2nd by Evans.  With two outs, Jackson walked Lemon.

Dave Bergman with the put-out, Jun 7

What happened next is now spoken of as though Dave Bergman were a giant woodsman with a blue ox or a jolly fella who planted apple trees to dot the whole country.  A youtube user cut it into a video entitled “The Legend of Dave Bergman.”

The veteran first baseman, who’d been in an awful lot of the action in the season thus far, couldn’t leave two men on.  He fouled off the first five pitches, the count remaining 0-2.  Jackson threw a ball high, then Bergman took a pitch that just missed, making it 2-2.  The count grew full and Jackson kept throwing chest-high stuff, with Bergman hacking pitch after pitch into the net.  On the at-bat’s 13th pitch, Jackson heaved a breaking pitch at Bergman’s stirrups (for a potential ball 4) and Bergman five-ironed it into the upper-deck crowd.

Tigers win, 6-3.

            The Maturation of Howard Johnson

In that night’s entry in his diary of the season, Sparky first narrated Bergie’s seven-minute at-bat, calling it the best at-bat he’d ever seen, then gave more ink to Howard Johnson, who’d tied it in the 7th.  Sparky writes:

            He’s only 23 and has a great athletic body with great physical ability. But he’s never been able to crack that line and walk across that river to be good.  He stays on the bank.  He’s going to have to get good and wet to get to the other side…I hope this homer helped.  Bill Lajoie has been in his corner all the way.  I hope he’s  right.

Well, it wouldn’t be Howard’s last big homer of the month; in July, he’d be featured on This Week in Baseball saying he’d finally learned that it was part of his job to field his position and not just hit.  He was starting more at third by then, and Sparky would begin called him the future of third base for the team.

After the dramatic pair of right-field home runs and the 6-3 win, the Tigers did as they had with Baltimore, drop the next two games of the series.  However, this was a 4-game series, and Detroit won on Thursday to make it a split, and were thus far down 3-4 against the O’s and Jay’s combined. 

The Thursday night victory was fueled by Ruppert Jones, who’d just been called up in favor of Rod Allen.  He nailed a long, majestic homer down the right field line in his Tigers’ debut.  It would end up being the game winner. 

            The Birds’ Marathon Rolls On

It was then on to Baltimore for the first time in ’84.  On Friday night, the Tigers got another crack at Storm Davis, who’d shut them out in Detroit.  Wilcox pitched for the Tigers.  Detroit drew first blood and Al Bumbry beat out a double play to drive a run in, tying it in the 3rd. Eddie Murray got the O’s ahead with a sac fly.

In the 7th, the dynamic Bergie-HoJo duo struck again.  Bergman walked and HoJo hit one to right—Jim Dwyer’s muff of the fly allowed Bergman to score, tying it 2-2.  Trammell hit a sac fly to score Howard, and it was 3-2 the gritty way.

Bair and Hernandez closed out the game of manufactured runs for the Tigers.  Their record was 41-13, good for a 5 ½ game bulge over Toronto. 

Give Baltimore credit, though.  They knew how to bounce back, with their solid pitching staff taking the lead role.  Mike Flanagan shut the Tiges out on Saturday, 5-0.  Give credit to the Yankees, too, for knocking off Toronto, which kept the Tigers’ lead where it was.

In a mop-up role, reliever Carl Willis made his major league debut for Detroit.  They’d just brought him up, while purchasing the contract of veteran reliever Sid Monge from San Diego.  Willis, Monge, and Jones were the new additions to the club, representing a small number of roster moves that had been made by early June.  If ain’t broke, right?

On Sunday, the two teams laced up for a double-header.  A sweep for either team would be a big deal, and the Blue Jays were certainly rooting for Baltimore.  In game one, the Tigers displayed, for the skeptical Baltimore crowd, just how relentless they could be.  Having put up a 14-2 route back in Detroit, they were hungry for another blowout.

They picked apart Mike Boddicker with a litany of singles, triples, and sac flies.  In the 5th, Gibson chased Boddicker with a two-run single, bringing in Castillo and Whitaker to put the Tigers up 5-3.  It stayed that way for a couple of innings—a perfectly close game.  But in the 7th, Evans singled in Whitaker to make it 6-3. 

In a slightly bizarre top of the 8th that included an interference call on C Floyd Rayford, the Tigers loaded the bases with two out.  Trammell ripped a double off of Sammy Stewart to score Lemon, Brookens, and Whitaker, and put the game to bed 9-3.  But not quite yet.  Gibson came up and singled in Tram: 10-3.  Final score, Tigers 10, Orioles 4.

Then came the nightcap, in which Dan Petry threw a 3-hit shoutout.  Offensively, as in game 1, the Tigers kept pouring it on throughout the game.  Already up 4-0 in the 8th, Brookens, Whitaker, and Gibson all drove in runs to push it to 7-0.  The Tigers added a run on a groundout in the 9th to win it 8-0.  The count on the day was 18-4, Tigers.

Gibson amassed 6 hits on the afternoon.  Johnson had a great day, homering in the second game and driving in Herndon with a single.  As for his passage across the River of Good, Sparky now pronounced, “I think we’ll wind up with a pretty good player here.”

Sparky said something compelling about his post-game interviews.  The Baltimore media wanted to know if this dominating performance had proven that the Tigers were for real.  They were asking this to the manager of a 43-14 team.  Sure, the Tigers had entered the day 4-5 against Toronto and Baltimore combined, but you can’t chalk up their amazing start merely to poor competition.  Sparky said he set them straight, saying the question was whether or not Baltimore could play with them.

Detroit Tiger Howard Johnson hitting a baseball--in profile. Black and white
Howard Johnson |Photo-Sporting News via Getty Images

“We’ll win this whole thing,” he writes, adding that the Tigers were the best team in baseball.  What’s a bit funny is that the next night, he’d tell ABC’s Monday Night Baseball crew that he still thought Baltimore was the team to beat, being sure to praise Toronto, too, then saying he wasn’t trying to duck the issue.  After the spot aired during the game, former manager Earl Weaver, doing color, said Sparky was trying to duck the issue, Al Michaels adding that you don’t want to say anything about any opponent that will get them fired up.

All fourteen games against Baltimore and Toronto were consecutive, and the final 3 began on Monday the 11th in Toronto.  According to a very clear pattern, our guys won the first game and couldn’t finish.  Not only did they lose games 2 and 3, but they got hammered.  They just weren’t themselves.  Toronto’s bats got to Morris and Wilcox and relievers like Monge and Bair.  Dave Collins, Damaso Garcia, and Willie Upshaw had great series, and the Jays strung together hits and sac flies like the Tigers had throughout April.  The two losses brought the tally against the two teams to the aforementioned 7-7.  Thanks to the double-header victory, Detroit had built up enough of a lead that it was still 6 at the end of it the Toronto series.

Part two looks at game-winning homers and Jack’s painful month.

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