Editor’s note: With the loss of Major League Baseball we’ll be reliving the last Detroit Tigers’ World Championship season, 1984, with occasional stories.
By May 21, 1984, Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics were less than a week from starting the NBA Finals between the two superstars. Los Angeles was only a few months away from hosting the Summer Olympics as well.
But guess what the sports talk was about? It was about the Detroit Tigers. That was the case in California as well. Why? The 32-5 Detroit Tigers were headed to Anaheim looking to create some incredible Major League Baseball records, and Angels’ fans wanted to experience history.
The Angels averaged 25,373 fans a game during their first five May home baseball games. During the Tigers’ three-game weeknight series at Anaheim, Detroit drew at least 41,205 to each of the games and a total of 126,038 to the three contests, or about 500 fans fewer than the previous five home games. This was a common occurance. After their three games against California, the Tigers traveled to Seattle for three road contests. The Mariners had averaged 11,945 fans at their first 19 games, but this three-game series attracted 59,819, nearly 8,000 more than their previous average.
Angels’ fans were given the opportunity to witness baseball history in person. The Tigers won the first game 3-1 in front of 41,253 fans, earning their 15th straight road victory. Juan Berenguer tossed a three-hitter over six innings while striking out nine on the mound. Aurelio Lopez picked up his six save, tossing three shutout innings.
A night later, the Tigers tied an American League record with their 16th straight road victory to start the season by posting a 4-2 victory. Lance Parrish hit a two-run home run in the seventh inning breaking a 2-2 tie.
On the mound, Dan Petry improved to 7-1 by allowing just five hits and two runs over seven innings. Willie Hernandez pitched the final two innings, earning his seventh save of the season.
During the final night of the three-game series, the Tiger posted MLB’s greatest 40 game start (35-5) and tied the 1916 New York Giants by winning their 17th straight road contest. Jack Morris pitched a complete-game four-hitter, leading the Tigers to a 5-1 victory. Morris struck out 10 batters, improving his record to 9-1. Offensively, Detroit trailed 1-0 early but scored four runs in the top of the fourth to take the lead for good. The big blow during that stanza was Alan Trammell’s two-run home run. Lance Parrish hit his seventh home run in the top of the seventh innng as well.
A week later, the Tigers owned the covers of two major publications. Trammell was on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “Detroit is in the Driver’s Seat.” The Sporting News included a photos of Trammell, Chet Lemon, Lou Whitaker and Lance Parrish with the headline “How About Those tigers?”
The Tigers (35-5) held the greatest 40-game start in MLB history and were the media darlings of the print and television media. The Toronto Blue Jays were playing impressive .659 ball (27-14) and yet trailed the Tigers by 8 1/2 games. Seemingly the American League East pennant race seemed over already. But about 24 hours later, the lowly Mariners temporarily quited some of that talk as they would prove Detroit was still human.