The season long battle came down to a three game series in Detroit. The first to win two games would be the AL East Champion. Here is what the matchups were for the series:
- Mickey Lolich (21-14) v. John Curtis (11-7)
- Luis Tiant (15-5) v. Woody Fryman (13-13)
- Marty Pattin (16-13) v. Joe Coleman (18-14)
Yaz reminded the press before the series that in 1967 the Sox also went into Detroit needing to win two games to stay in the pennant race. “We went in there in ’67 and needed two games and beat Lolich and won the next night, so we can do it again,” he said.
When the Tigers took the field in the top of the first, 51,518 fans cheered with vigor. Surprisingly, this was not the largest turn out of the year for the Tigers. That came on May 21 when 52,150 showed up to watch Mickey Lolich beat the Indians 5-0. When it came to big games, Lolich was no stranger.
In the 1968 World Series against the Cardinals, Lolich started three games and won all three, tossing three complete games. In 27 IP he allowed 20 hits, walked 6 and struck out 21. He won games 2, 5 and 7, beating the great Bob Gibson in a game seven showdown. He was named the World Series MVP. Clearly, Lolich was battle tested.
He had a great stretch of pitching from 1967 to 1973 and was beloved by Tigers fans. In part, because he was a portly, everyman type dude. He said he was “the beer drinker’s idol.” Bottom’s up!
The Sox had their work cut out for them, putting a rookie up against Lolich. After the game, Curtis woud say “I didn’t embarrass myself.” Here’s how it went down.
The Tigers struck first. In the bottom of the first, hot hitting Al Kaline got a hold of a Curtis fastball and sent it into the seats. It was his third homer in three days. The 51,000 went nuts. But, the Sox had chances, which was the story all night long – squandered chances. In the top of the third, with runners on first and third, Yaz stroked a double over centerfielder Mickey Stanley’s head. The speedy Aparicio was on first and held up when he got to second to make sure Stanley did not catch the ball. Then Aparicio sped toward third with Yaz close behind. Unfortunately, after rounding third Aparicio fell and had to scramble back to third. That gave Yaz no place to go and he was tagged out. Instead of up 2-1 with one out and a runner on third, it was 1-1 with two out and a runner on third. Reggie Smith then struck out to end the rally.
Then in the fifth, Aurelio Rodriguez led off with a homer to break the tie. He also knocked in single runs in the sixth and ninth to push the final score to 4-1 Tigers. Lolich went the distance, striking out 15. Later, he said that he felt he had his best stuff of the season that night.
The Sox manager, Eddie Kasko, remained confident. “I’m willing to take my chances with Tiant tomorrow,” said Kasko. “And I like Marty Pattin in the final game against Joe Coleman.” Unfortunately, as we shall see tomorrow, Luis could not twirl his team to victory and the Sox chances at the division would end in a crash.