When the Cleveland Indians came to Tiger Stadium for a four-game series with the first place 1968 Tigers, any hopes for the Indians to make one last plunge for first place had to happen in the next four contests.
The third-place Indians were 8 1/2 games behind after Aug. 5th action, while the Orioles trailed the Tigers by just 5 1/2. If nothing else, the Indians seemed like as good a candidate to give the Tigers’ pennant bus a flat tire, possibly helping the Orioles’ quest to contend.
The four-game series started with a twinbill on Aug. 6 in front of 48,413 mostly Detroit fans. The first game was the longest one of the season — a 2-1 17-inning victory for the Tigers.
John Hiller was getting a spot start against the Indians’ Luis Tiant, who was having an outstanding season as well. Cleveland broke the tie in the third on Jose Cardenal’s RBI-single, plating Tommy Harper, who also singled. The Tigers didn’t tie it until the bottom of the ninth against Tiant when Don Wert hit a one-out home run, his 11th of the season. The game remained tied at 1-all until Detroit’s 17th. Willie Horton began it with a lead-off single, and Bill Freehan was hit by a pitch. Don Wert hit into a fielder’s choice play, getting Horton out at third, but Dick Tracewski followed with an RBI-single, plating Freehan from second base. The game that took 4:28 to play was a Tigers’ victory.
“It came at the right time,” Tracewski said about his first hit in a week. “It was a high fastball. Just like the pitch he threw me before the hit, and I swung right through it.”
Hiller actually set a Major League Baseball record early in the contest when he struck out the first six men he faced in the opening two innings.
The second game was also a 5-2 Tigers’ win, but couldn’t be finished that night due to curfew rules. Detroit scored four runs in the sixth with Wert hitting an RBI-single and Al Kaline hitting a two-run double. A fourth run scored on a wild pitch. The ninth inning wasn’t played until a day later, and ended pretty uneventful.
The Tigers kept rolling, crushing the Indians 6-1 in Wednesday’s third game of the series. Dave Campbell, a minor league call-up who didn’t last long with the squad, hit a two-run home run eighth inning. Also hitting a four-bagger in the eighth was Horton, who now had 27 home runs on the season. Earl Wilson tossed six innings of one-run ball for the win while Daryl Patterson pitched three innings of shutout ball for the save.
The Tigers’ domination of the Indians was complete during Thursday’s final contest, as Denny McLain tossed a six-hitter and Bill Freehan hit a pair of two-run home runs in a 13-1 Tigers’ win.
After the game there was some other big news. It was announced that Detroit’s nine-month newspaper strike was finally over. That meant the Tigers were finally going to get some coverage from the Detroit publications.
“When we have player meetings we sit around and interview one another,” Detroit manager Mayo Smith said. “That’s so when the writers come back, we won’t be out of practice.”
With Detroit leading the AL by 6 1/2 games against second-place Baltimore, certainly the Detroit papers wanted to invest a little into Tigers’ pennant fever.
But the first day with coverage wasn’t a good one, as Detroit lost a 5-3 verdict to the Boston Red Sox. Joe Foy hit an eighth-inning grand slam. Baltimore earned a 3-0 victory against California and trailed by just 5 1/2 games.
Both contenders won on Aug. 10 as Detroit edged Boston 4-3 and Baltimore edged the Angels 1-0. Norm Cash broke a 3-3 tie with a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth, his 17th of the season. Mickey Lolich pitched in relief, tossing the final 1 2/3 innings to earn his ninth victory.
Detroit had another thriller against Boston on Sunday, earning a 4-3 14-inning victory. Freehan and Wayne Comer hit solo home runs in regulation, but it was pinch-hitter Gates Brown who hit the biggest solo shot. “I have never in my life had anything like this happen to me to compare to this,” Brown said.
In the second game of the nighcap, the Tigers won another contest via the walk-off variety. Boston jumped to a 5-2 lead with three runs in the top of the ninth, but the Tigers responded with four runs in the bottom of the ninth to earn the victory. Jim Price walked to start the inning. After Comer flew out, Freehan hit a pinch hit single. Then, in consecutive at bats, Dick McAuliffe, Mickey Stanley, Al Kaline and Brown hit RBI-singles earning the Tigers the win. For the season, Brown was 16-for-27 in pinch hitting situations.
“I have never in my life had anything like this happen to me to compare to this,” Brown said about his back-to-back walkoff hits.
“Brown has three things going for him,” Smith said. “Brown believes he can hit, Brown knows he can hit and Brown does hit.”
Detroit (72-42) now led the Orioles by seven games, and Baltimore (66-48) were the only team within single-digits in the standings. Up next was a six-game road trip to Cleveland and Boston.