One of the great things about baseball is that any game you attend or watch on TV can potentially contain something you’ve never seen before or a rare feat. A triple play, an inside-the-park home run, catcher’s interference, or maybe even a no-hitter. Baseball can amaze and astound.
In the 113 years that the Tigers have been members of the American League, there have been some strange feats, many of them largely forgotten. And though they may not all be significant, they help add to the appeal of the national pastime.
Four K’s in one inning – in the World Series
It was October 14, 1908, and the Tigers had their backs against the wall – trailing the Cubs 3 games to 1 in the World Series, the Tigers were in a must-win situation at Bennett Park in Detroit. But their heralded offense was stymied that afternoon by the same pitcher who just three days earlier had defeated them. Orval Overall was a rail-thin right-hander with a famous curveball that dropped like a walnut off a tree. In Game two of the Series, he beat the Tigers, 6-1. In Game Five, in the very first inning, he set a record that has never been equaled in the century that has passed since. That inning, Overall struck out Charley O’Leary, Ty Cobb, and then had cleanup hitter Claude Rossman facing a two-strike count when he spun one of his curves. Rossman flailed at it, but the pitch had so much movement on it that Chicago catcher Johnny Kling was unable to corral it. It bounced away from the plate and Rossman was able to run safely to first. He was on base, but in the official records he had struck out. The following batter was Germany Schaefer, who fared no better against Overall, striking out to end the inning. Overall’s four K’s in one inning are the only time that has happened in the Fall Classic. He beat the Tigers 3-0, by the way, holding them to just four hits.
The Immaculate Inning
Though he’s largely forgotten, Billy Hoeft was one of the hardest throwing pitchers the Tigers have ever had. In the 1950s, the lefty flummoxed opposing hitters with a blazing fastball. On September 7, 1953, at the tail end of what was otherwise a rather unremarkable season of baseball in Detroit, Hoeft did something exceedingly rare. In the second game of a doubleheader against the White Sox at Briggs Stadium, 21-year old Hoeft had his fastball going very well. He struck out Jim Rivera to lead off the 7th inning on three pitches. The next batter was Mike Fornieles, who had no chance against Hoeft, going down on three pitches as well. Next up was Chicago shortstop Chico Carrasquel, a little contact hitter. But Carrasquel was overmatched, fanning on three pitches, the last one a chest high heater. Hoeft had struck out the side on just nine pitches – what is known as an “Immaculate Inning.” At that point, he was only the fourth pitcher in AL history to accomplish the feat, and the first in 25 years. The only other Detroit hurler to have an immaculate inning is Jim Bunning, a teammate of Hoeft’s, who did it on August 2, 1959.
Only a dozen times in baseball history has a pitcher lost a perfect game in the ninth inning with two outs, and the Tigers are the only team to have three pitchers lose a perfecto in such heartbreaking fashion. Modern fans will recall that Armando Galarraga was robbed of his perfect game on June 2, 2010, when umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base. But twice more the Tigs have had hurlers get 26 straight outs to start a game only to surrender a hit. On August 5, 1932, little Tommy Bridges mowed down Washington batters at Navin Field for 8 2/3 innings, but in the 9th, Dave Ferris came off the bench and delivered a single for the Senators. 51 years later the same thing occurred in Chicago on April 15, 1983. Milt Wilcox was one out away from twirling a perfect game, but Tony LaRussa sent up pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston, who lined a single to center field to ruin the bid. Art Houtteman (1952) and Walt Terrell (1986) are the only other Tigers to lose a no-hitter (but not perfect games) with two outs in the 9th inning.
A Grand Walkoff
Nowadays it seems like there’s a walkoff victory almost every day, and a walkoff home run happens every week at least once. But almost as rare as a perfect game is the walkoff grand slam. The conditions have to be just right for this one to happen. Since 1876, it’s only happened 27 times, a rate of about twice per decade. Only one Tiger has ever accomplished it, on June 21, 1988, when Detroit put together an astounding rally against the Yankees at Tiger Stadium. Trailing 6-1 in the bottom of the 9th, the Tigers started the inning with a single by Dave Bergman. A walk by Darrell Evans followed, which prompted Yankee manager Billy Martin to summon reliever Dave Righetti. The left-hander immediately allowed a single to Matt Nokes to load the bases. Detroit still trailed by five runs, and after Righetti retired the next two batters, it looked very bleak. Fans were filing out of Tiger Stadium, but Righetti was shaky and he issued free passes to the next two Tiger hitters to make the score 6-3. Up stepped cleanup hitter Alan Trammell with the bases loaded and his team trailing by three runs. Martin marched to the mound and grabbed the ball from Righetti, motioning for Cecilio Guante to come in to face Trammell. But the strategy failed. Tram belted a Guante fastball into the lower deck in left field, clearing the bases and winning the game for Sparky’s Tigers, 7-6.
You’re Not in Right, Rusty!
Most fans are very familiar with the designated hitter, which debuted in the American League in 1973. The rule has been beneficial to many Tiger hitters, like Al Kaline and Willie Horton, who were able to extend their careers by hitting a few times per game without having to take the field. But did you know the finer points of the DH rule? For instance, if the DH enters the game to play a defensive position, that team loses the designated hitter for the remainder of the game. It rarely happens, but a few times there have been some odd circumstances surrounding the rule. On June 27, 1976, with the Tigers in Boston to face the Red Sox, Rusty Staub was written in Ralph Houk’s lineup as the DH. But in the bottom of the first inning, Staub trotted out to right field, a position he also played on occasion. Unfortunately, Alex Johnson was supposed to be in right field. Staub and Johnson were often interchanged between right field and DH, and on this day, they were obviously confused. As a result of the snafu, the Tigers had to play the game without the DH. Starting pitcher Frank MacCormack batted in Johnson’s spot, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Detroit still won the game, 4-2 in 11 innings at Fenway Park.