The Detroit Tigers have climbed their way out of postseason deficits before. Although it might take the older Tiger fans to recall the last time Detroit made a successful comeback from a multi-game deficit in the World Series as Jim Leyland’s team looks to dig out of a hole in Sunday’s Game 4 at Comerica Park vs. the visiting San Francisco Giants.
The year was 1968, and the Tigers were on the ropes in the Fall Classic vs. Bob Gibson and the defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals. After Denny McLain was hammered in Game 4 at old Tiger Stadium, Mayo Smith’s team was one loss away from elimination.
Riding to the rescue, however, was portly lefthander Mickey Lolich, who steadied the ship in Game 5 after the unique and memorable National Anthem performed by Jose Feliciano. After allowing three runs in the first inning, Lolich settled down as the Tigers rallied for a 5-3 win to stay alive, with Al Kaline’s two-run single in the seventh inning proving the big hit.
Back to Busch Stadium for Game 6, Smith decided to start McLain on two day’s rest and was rewarded when the Tigers broke open the game with a 10-run explosion in the third inning, routing Cards starter Ray Washburn. That 13-1 win set the stage for a decisive Game 7 on Thursday afternoon, October 10. Smith, pushing the right buttons, decided to start Lolich on two days rest as he did McLain in Game 6. And Lolich was brilliant, outdueling the menacing Gibson, who was victimized in the seventh inning by a Jim Northrup triple that many believe was misplayed by CF Curt Flood, who got a slow break on the ball hit over his head. Two runs scored, and when Bill Freehan doubled in Northrup, the damage was done. Lolich cruised to a 4-1 win, his third win of the World Series (all complete game wins, still the only such feat in World Series history), and the Tigers had completed an amazing comeback.
Fast-forward to the present, however, and Leyland could sure use a Mickey Lolich to emerge in Sunday’s Game 4 vs. San Francisco. Instead, however, he’ll turn to Max Scherzer, to be opposed by the Giants’ Matt Cain.
Game time for Sunday night will again be at 8:05 (ET), with big FOX providing the TV coverage. As usual, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver provide the description.
The pressure is on Scherzer to mimic the 1968 version of Mickey Lolich and keep the Tigers viable. And Scherzer has been moderately effective in recent outings, including similar postseason starts vs. the A’s and Yankees when, over two games, he allowed just five hits and one run over 11 IP, striking out a whopping and walking just three in the process. The Tigers are also 10-3 in Scherzer’s last 13 starts, and only once in his last 12 starts has he allowed more than two runs.
Scherzer, however, is not going deep into games, lasting only into the sixth inning in his two playoff starts, and not pitching beyond the seventh inning since June 17 against the Rockies in interleague action. Which is a potential problem for Leyland, who will likely have to rely on a recently-shaky bullpen once again with Scherzer starting. Keep in mind that the relief corps, struggling Jose Valverde in particular, cost Scherzer and the Tigers in Game 4 of the ALDS at Oakland, when the A’s rallied for three runs in the ninth inning for a 4-3 win. And relief woes have been a recurring theme for the Tigers throughout the season.
Meanwhile, the Giants go with their ace Matt Cain, whose most recent start was airtight in the deciding Game 7 of the NLCS vs. the Cardinals, allowing no runs on a harmless five well-spaced hits in 5 2/3 IP. Although Cain was not super-sharp in his previous postseason starts vs. the Reds and Cards, the Giants have still won 10 of his last 14 outings, and his regular-season numbers (16-5 and 2.79 ERA) confirm his prowess.
Moreover, Cain has support from a superior bullpen and defense (especially in the infield) to help out.
It might be time for the Tigers to call Jose Feliciano and Mickey Lolich to at least have them present if needed on Sunday at Comerica Park.