Monday, October 30, 2006

Tigers-Cards 2006 Not Great, But '68 Version Was (And So Were These)

Watching the Tigers fall down and go "boom" against the Cardinals in the World Series got me to thinking about the great Fall Classics that I've been fortunate to have witnessed. Of course, the 2006 version wasn't one of them, but neither was the 1984 Series, even though the Tigers won and Kirk Gibson belted the most dramatic homerun in franchise history (sorry, Maggs).

There was 1975, of course.

The Cincinnati Reds -- the Big Red Machine -- were up on the Red Sox, three games to two, with Game 6 in Boston's Fenway Park. The Series had already included a very controversial play in one of the games in Cincinnati. The Reds' Ed Armbrister had bunted in front of the plate, and Boston catcher Carlton Fisk had trouble fielding it and throwing the ball to second base, because Armbrister was sort of in his way. The home plate umpire (Marty Springstead, I think) failed to call Armbrister out for interference, enraging Fisk and his manager, Darrell Johnson.

So here the Reds were, up three runs in the bottom of the eighth in Game 6. And up to the plate strode pinch-hitter Bernie Carbo, a native of metro Detroit. Carbo slammed a game-tying homerun into deep right center, a three-run shot. The game carried on into the 12th inning, when Fisk ended it with his now famous shot that was just fair. You've seen it a million times -- Fisk using body language and throwing his hands to the right, willing the ball to stay fair. But the Reds scored in the top of the ninth in Game 7, and won one of the best World Series since World War II.

It's not a fit of homerdom to say that the 1968 World Series between the Tigers and Cardinals was one of the better ones. There was the comeback from the 1-3 deficit, the nailing of Lou Brock at home plate in Game 5 that turned things around, and Mickey Lolich's three complete game victories. And Bob Gibson's 17 strikeouts in Game 1.

1977 comes to mind. That was the Series in which New York's Reggie Jackson hit three homeruns -- on three first-ball swings -- to clinch it in Game 6 in Yankee Stadium. But it was also a Series in which third baseman Graig Nettles of the Yankees put on a fielding clinic, topped only by ...

Baltimore's Brooks Robinson in the 1970 World Series was a human vacuum cleaner. Perhaps you've seen those newsreels, too. The one I remember most was of him backhanding a ball hit by the Reds' Lee May, that was crushed with such ferocity that the momentum of simply spearing it carried Robinson several feet into foul territory. But Brooks planted himself, spun, and threw May out from foul territory, nipping him by a half step with a throw that reached Boog Powell on one hop. It remains the most amazing play I've ever seen made by a third baseman. In addition to that gem, Robinson made several other spectacular plays in that five-game Series, won by the Orioles.

In 1972, little-used Gene Tenace hit four homeruns against the Reds. He did it in 23 AB, after only hitting five homers in over 200 AB in the regular season. In '73, the Mets, who won only 82 games in the regular season and were in last place in late August, gave the A's fits before succumbing in seven games. The 1991 Series was memorable for Jack Morris' brilliant performance in Game 7, which followed Twins teammate Kirby Puckett's dramatic walk-off homer that won Game 6 over Atlanta.

And who can forget Billy Buckner's error in Game 6 of a memorable seven-gamer against the Mets?

There've been a few others, should I spend some more time racking my brain. Maybe the Mets' defeat of the Orioles in 1969 should be one of them, even though it was only a five game Series, because of how severe of underdogs they were.

Regardless, neither the '84 Tigers win over the Padres or this year's Tigers loss to the Cardinals is among the great World Series in recent years. But I doubt the Cardinals fans at the parade in St. Louis Sunday cared much about that.


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