Game 5 of the 1984 World Series was a carnival. It had a dizzying array of baseball variations, including a man sliding past home plate, a game-winning RBI by a little-used role player, and a home run off a pitcher who refused to walk a power hitter.
It also gave a World Series title to the city of Detroit for the first time since 1968. And it capped off a wire-to-wire season for a 104-game-winning team that had bolted to the best 40-game start in baseball history.
October 14 was a grey, drizzly day in Detroit. The city had a chance to pre-party and get pumped for the game, since it didn’t start til after the early NFL game, 4:30 to be precise (the Lions won in the Silverdome).
Dan Petry was on the hill against Mark Thurmond—each pitcher was 0-1 in World Series games thus far.
Alan Wiggins, who’d done his best to be a sparkplug for his team all series, opened the game by whacking one at Petry’s head, which went through for a single. The Padres moved him over, and Steve Garvey came up with one out and Wiggins at third.
He hit one hard to Whitaker, who was playing at middle depth, and Lou gunned it to Parrish. Wiggins wanted to slide toward the point of the plate to avoid the tag, and ended up sliding swiftly right past the plate without beginning to touch it—not even close.
Parrish probably didn’t ever tag him, and ran after him to do so. But you’re not safe if you don’t touch the plate, and the Pads had lost an opportunity to draw first blood.
In the bottom of the inning, Lou did Lou by hammering one into right field to open yet another WS game with a hit. After a fielder’s choice that put Tram on, Gibson clubbed a high inside pitch from Thurmond deep into the upper deck. The majestic shot (“a looonnnnnng one” Ernie Harwell dubbed it) put Detroit up yet again, this time 2-0.
Later in the inning, Chet Lemon, who had a big impact on the series for someone who hit .167, banged in Parrish with a hard single to left. Three-oh Tigers.
The Padres Strike Back
In the top of the third, Garvey came to the plate again with a man on third. This time he singled, narrowing the lead to 3-1. As evening turned the stadium into a blazing party saucer, Petry got himself deeper entangled in the fourth. First he walked Bevacqua. Templeton smacked one into left center, and when Herndon slipped while fielding in, Bevacqua motored to third.
Bobby Brown, finally becoming a contributor for S.D., lined out to Lemon to score the veteran role player and make it 3-2. Next up, Alan Wiggins volleyed one over Trammell’s head into shallow left-center to score Templeton and tie the game. It was an impressive comeback, with the Padres reprising the mettle they’d shown back home.
Meantime, Andy Hawkins was having his second solid performance of the series, handling the Tigers, including getting himself out of a 4th-inning jam by getting Tram on a docile pop to center with two runners on.
In the fifth, funky-spooky reliever Bill Scherrer came in. He’d let up a single when he fielded a come-backer and decided not to go to second for the first half of the double play. Trammell was frustrated, and Sparky brought out his hook. Into the game came Aurelio Lopez.
A Clincher in the Balance
The bottom of the fifth was a watershed half-inning. Gibson sent one in the gap between third and short, where Nettles could only get a glove on it, and Gibby was on. Next, Parrish got most of one and hit it to the warning track in left. Disrespecting Carmelo Martinez’ arm all series, Gibson tagged from first and powered safely to second base.
Hawkins’ glue started to lose its strength, and when he walked Herndon, he was pulled for another lefty, Craig Lefferts. Lefferts walked Lemon to load the bases. Rusty Kuntz then came in to pinch hit for Garbey, even though both of them were right handers.
Kuntz popped one into shallow right. Gwynn threw his arms into the air in disgust, later saying he lost it against the delirious Tigers crowd. Wiggins backpedaled halfway into the outfield and caught it, then tried to steady himself and throw home. But his throw was weak and skipped twice, nowhere near in time to get Gibson.
On TV, Vin Scully and Garagiola gave Gwynn hell for several long minutes, only speculating that maybe he’d lost it. But WJR’s Paul Carey had a completely different view (which doesn’t strike me as plausible): that Gibson conned the Padres into letting Wiggins catch the ball by decoying as though he wasn’t tagging and didn’t think the ball was deep enough. But we know Gwynn lost it, necessitating the play by Wiggins, who in any case immediately sprang up to throw home, but who just didn’t have the arm for it.
In any case, it was 4-3. The Tigers fans wanted to get in a World Series edition of “Taste great/less filling!” and Lopez smoked the Padres. He was visibly keyed up, face tight, body nearly trembling, and he struck out four of the seven Padres he faced. It was a virtuoso middle section of the game when the team needed it.
I Ain’t ‘Fraid a No Goose
In the bottom of the 6th, with two out, Trammell nailed one at Nettles, who once again deflected a hard-hit ball. This time, Templeton bare-handed it and gunned it to Garvey. Umpire Mike Riley called Tram out, while the replay showed he was safe. That got the Pads out of the inning, down by just one run. What were the baseball gods up to?
Well, it doesn’t always work that way. It was a blown call in a tight game, but one that never hurt the Tigers a bit. After Lopez lit up the Padres in the 7th, the Tigers came back to bat. This time, Williams brought in the team’s star reliever, Goose Gossage, who’d found little occasion to help his team in the series. How would he do in a “keep it close” role?
Answer, Lance Parrish. He took a Goose fastball and lined it over the left field wall to make the game 5-3. The crowd went nuts. The Summer smash “Ghostbusters” had given fans a great motif with which to chide a pitcher named “Goose,” and a “Goose Busters” banner flew in the upper deck.
He Don’t Wanna Walk You
As great as Lopez had thrown, it would be a bit odd to keep him in for three innings, and in came Willie for the bottom of the 8th. He got the first two hitters up, then shocked the hometown fans by surrendering a homer to Kurt Bevacqua, the Padres’ offensive MVP. Hmm. It was 5-4 in the middle of the 8th.
Marty Castillo led off the bottom of the 8th with a walk against the Goose. Lou Whitaker squared to bunt and got one in the air, but not far enough for Nettles to catch it—instead he one-hopped it and threw it to Garry Templeton, who was standing a couple of inches off the base, allowing Castillo to slide in safely.
In the 7th, Wiggins had booted a harmless Johnson grounder, and it appeared that the Padres were coming completely unglued in spite of the homer that had made it a one-run game. Trammell then bunted one back to Gossage, moving up both runners. That kept first base open when Gibson came up.
Terry Kennedy held up four fingers to Gossage, who somehow let it be known that wasn’t what he wanted. Williams came out and Gossage said he thought he could get him. Oddly, Williams relented. During the confab, as evidenced in highlight reels, Anderson shouted “he don’t wanna walk you” to Gibson.
The first pitch was a ball. The second, Gibson wheeled on and sent into the Autumnal Michigan night, which now lives on as a place where time has no dominion.
It was now 8-4, and there could be no doubt. The Tigers would win the World Series. A long Gibson home run, and a chance for a Hernandez save: what could be more fitting?
Hernandez notched the first out on a Templeton grounder to Trammell.
After pinch hitter Bruce Bochy singled, Alan Wiggins popped one to Parrish behind the plate, and the Tigers were one out away. They’d win it in front of their home fans, as they had the division and the league pennant.
Up came the N.L. batting champ, Tony Gwynn. When he lifted one down the line in left field, Larry Herndon charging, a year’s worth of tension and pride and anticipation struggled against its container. When Larry squeezed the winning out, Tiger Stadium erupted. The Tigers burst from the dugout, Evans, Bair, Lopez, Grubb, Scherrer, and more. Parrish was the first to Hernandez, crushing him in his embrace, while fans invaded the field.
Rusty Kuntz had driven in the game-winning run, with credit also going to Gibson. Parrish had driven in the run that had withstood Bevacqua’s home run, and Gibson had put an exclamation mark on it in a great confrontation.
The Tigers had been themselves in the post-season. They’d gotten timely base hits, yet had also battered opponents with home runs. They’d taken leads early, and put away opponents decisively rather than dramatically.
While Sparky proclaimed Alan Trammell the best player in baseball, fans lost control on the streets of Detroit, setting at least one car on fire and bringing some dubious attention amid the celebration.
It was a profound season for Tigers fans. It was full of that odd feeling one gets when things go right. They went right all season, starting, of course, with that unreal April and May. The Tigers didn’t have a .340 hitter or a 40-home run slugger. They didn’t even have a 20-game winner. They hadn’t been picked to win their division, or singled out by anyone for anything during the pre-season. Pundits had doubted their fast start due to the lack of challenge in the schedule.
The Tigers did something hard to articulate: they just won. Sure, Hernandez saved 32 in 33 opportunities, but that doesn’t speak much for the other 72 wins. Yeah, they scored first in plenty of games, but that wasn’t their only weapon, and, particularly during their hot start, they won an awful lot of games in their last at bat. They played great D with only one flamboyant defensive star, Lemon. They didn’t have a true power pitcher or strikeout king.
They just had bulldogs in Morris and Petry and Lopez, an artist in Hernandez, and a battler in Wilcox. They had hits and hits and hits from Whitaker and Trammell and timely power from Gibson and Parrish. They had a solid catalyst late in the lineup in Lemon, plus an amazing clutch hitter in Bergman and dangerous veterans like Evans and Grubb.
They weren’t flashy or fast or colorful or brash. The only thing they really did was the only thing that mattered: they won. When the bats were cold, Morris or Petry carried them. When the pitching was frayed, someone was there with a big home run. They hit sac flies and grounders in the hole and walked with the bases loaded. They just won.
They had the gall to utterly demolish both Kansas City and San Diego without playing spectacular or mistake-free baseball. They didn’t even make it all that interesting in either series.
In a Summer of pop songs about heroes, in which Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton represented the nation grandly in the Olympics, in which the movies were about an underdog who won the karate tournament, a band of nerds who beat the jocks and a badass archaeologist, the Tigers were nothing so dramatic.
Their story is great not because of its improbability, not because of a particular human-interest angle, a tragedy from which they rose: nothing like that. It is great because the team achieved one of the most difficult types of greatness: one not apparent or advertised or insisted upon due to bluster or style, but one that materialized day in and day out, forged by men who brought out the best in each other.