It was not an ideal day for baseball, with temperatures in the mid-60s and a 30 percent chance of rain. Despite the foggy conditions, 51,901 Tigers fans flocked to the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in great numbers on October 14, 1984.
It was Game Five of the World Series, the Tigers vs. the San Diego Padres, and Detroit was primed to celebrate a championship.
The team was a tonic for a town that badly needed one. With a 35-5 start to the season, and wire-to-wire domination of the American League, the Tigers had given the city a reason to feel good, in spite of the bottomed-out economy and high unemployment.
The Tigers had won the first game of the Series in San Diego, 3-2, with Jack Morris pitching a complete game. They had lost the following night, 5-3, when Dan Petry gave up five runs in 4⅓ innings. When the Series moved to Detroit, the Tigers won the third game, 5-2, thanks to strong pitching by Milt Wilcox, Bill Scherrer, and ace reliever Willie Hernandez. Jack Morris went the distance again in Game Four for the win.
The Tigers wanted a win in this Game Five. They didn’t want to go back to a raucous Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego for a possible Game Six or Seven. If the Tigers were going to win the World Series, they (and their fans) wanted it done in Detroit.
Petry was on the mound again for the Tigers. He’d gone 18-8 in his 35 regular-season starts, with seven complete games, two shutouts, and an ERA of 3.24. He’d gotten no decision in the second game of the American League Championship Series, but had taken the loss in Game Two of the World Series. The Padres countered with lefty Mark Thurmond, who had a 14-8 record in 29 regular-season starts, with an ERA of 2.97. He’d pitched the second game of the National League Championship Series and lost, 4-2, to the Chicago Cubs. In Game One of the World Series, he’d given up three runs in five innings and took the loss.
San Diego didn’t score off Petry in the first. The Tigers, however, started off with a bang, with second baseman Lou Whitaker hitting a line-drive single to right. Shortstop Alan Trammell hit a grounder to Garry Templeton, his San Diego counterpart, forcing Whitaker at second. Right fielder Kirk Gibson then blasted Thurmond’s first pitch into the right-field upper deck. Detroit tacked on a third run thanks to three straight singles by Lance Parrish, Larry Herndon, and Chet Lemon.
Padres manager Dick Williams pulled Thurmond and put in 24-year-old Andy Hawkins, who had a record of 8-9 in 22 starts and 14 relief appearances. At 4.68, he had the highest ERA of all the Padres starters, but he’d taken over in Game Two of the Series when starter Ed Whitson had not been able to get out of the first inning, and Hawkins had got the win. He got out of this inning without further damage. The Padres were relieved, while Tiger fans were thrilled; they loved to watch their boys hit.
The Padres struck again in the top of the fourth. Petry began to lose command, and a walk, a double, and a single eventually tied the score, 3-3. Detroit manager Sparky Anderson pulled Petry and put in Bill Scherrer, who had a 1.89 ERA in 18 regular-season games after joining the team in late August. Tony Gwynn flied out to right on Scherrer’s first pitch.
And so things remained until the home half of the fifth. Gibson led off by slashing a sharp grounder to third. Graig Nettles dove for the ball, but it banged off his glove into left field, and Gibson had himself a single. Parrish hit a high drive to left that looked as though it had a chance to leave the yard, but Carmelo Martinez hauled it in at the warning track. Hustling all the way, Gibson advanced to second. Herndon then walked on four pitches. Craig Lefferts replaced Hawkins on the mound. Lemon also walked, loading the bases.
Left-handed-hitting Johnny Grubb was scheduled to bat against the southpaw Lefferts. But Anderson, playing the percentages, sent in an unlikely pinch-hitter, Rusty Kuntz. Mostly riding the pine in 1984, he’d hit .286, but had become something of a folk hero in Detroit owing to his underdog status.
Kuntz hit a fly to shallow right field. The ball should have been right fielder Gwynn’s play to make, but he had his arms spread indicating he had lost the ball in the lights. Backtracking second baseman Alan Wiggins was forced to make the catch. Gibson took everyone by surprise by tagging up and scoring on the weak-armed Wiggins, giving the Tigers the lead 4-3.
“If Gwynn catches that ball, I’m still going,” Gibson insisted later, “but there probably would have been a severe collision at the plate. Instead, I scored easily.”1
It was gutsy run for the money on Gibson’s part, and the key play of the game. “I’m an aggressive player. It was 3-3. What are you going to do? Play scared?”2
Neither team managed another baserunner until the bottom of the seventh, when Parrish greeted new pitcher Rich “Goose” Gossage with a home run over the left-field wall to pad Detroit’s lead to 5-3.
Willie Hernandez, Detroit’s sensational reliever, took the mound to start the eighth. He retired two batters on four pitches, then Kurt Bevacqua sent his first pitch over the wall in deep left, bringing the Padres back to within a run, 5-4.
The close game was blown open in the bottom of the eighth, however, when Gibson hit a three-run home run deep into the right-field bleachers, scoring Marty Castillo and Lou Whitaker and giving the Tigers an 8-4 lead. Before the homer, Padres manager Dick Williams had conferred with Gossage on the mound. Williams had apparently wanted to walk the left-handed-hitting Gibson to load the bases, preferring the righty-righty matchup of Gossage and Parrish. But Gossage talked his manager out of it, figuring he could get Gibson out.
“I didn’t expect to be walked,” Gibson said. “I looked over to the dugout and Sparky was holding up four fingers and saying, ‘They’re gonna put you on.’ And I looked back at him and shook my head and held up 10 fingers and said, ‘I’ll bet you 10 bucks I’m gonna hit it out.’ Sparky still owes me the 10 bucks. I’m not worried, though. He’ll pay.”3
Gibson’s blast brought a roar from the crowd that could reportedly be heard for blocks. The most memorable image from the World Series was Gibson jumping up and down with his arms above his head in triumph after he circled the bases. Reliever Aurelio Lopez threw strikes on 21 of his 25 pitches and struck out four of the seven batters he faced, picking up his second win of the Series. When Hernandez earned his third save by getting Gwynn to fly out to Herndon for the final out, the Tigers were World Series champions for the first time since 1968.
“I guess this is what fairy tales are made of,” Gibson gushed in the post-game celebration in the Tiger clubhouse.4
Trammell was named the Series MVP. “We’re the champions. We get the ring. This is what it’s all about,” he exclaimed.5
“This team is so good, it can go as far as it wants,” said a jubilant Sparky Anderson.6
Wrote Martin F. Kohn in the next day’s Detroit Free Press: “For Detroit, for Michigan, for the Midwest, for everybody who has been with the Tigers in spirit, the victory was a moment to cherish in a season to savor.”7
Columnist Tom Gage summed it up succinctly: “And the enchanted team lived happily ever after. Thus ends the Tigers’ storybook season.”8
This article appeared in Tigers By The Tale: Great Games at Michigan and Trumbull” (SABR, 2016), edited by Scott Ferkovich. To read more articles from this book, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com were also accessed.
Photo credit: Ernie Harwell Sports Collection, Detroit Public Library.
1 Tom Gage, “Tiger Magic: It’s Real,” Detroit News, October 15, 1984.
2 Jerry Green, “Hard Work Wins it For a Rough Town,” Detroit News, October 15, 1984.
3 Dave Nightengale, “The ‘Real’ Kirk Gibson Ends the Padres’ Misery,” The Sporting News, October 22, 1984.
4 Jay Mariotti, “Gibson Homer Marks the Climax of Fabulous Season,” Detroit News, October 15, 1984.
5 “Quotable,” Detroit News, October 15, 1984.
7 Martin F. Kohn, “Gr-r-reat! Fans Go Wild Over Tigers,” Detroit Free Press, October 15, 1984.