1968 World Series

The 1968 World Series featured the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals against the Detroit Tigers, with the Tigers winning in seven games for their first championship since 1945, and the third in their history.

The Tigers came back from a 3–1 deficit to win three in a row, largely on the arm of MVP Mickey Lolich, who won three complete games in a single World Series, a feat that has not been duplicated since, as of 2008. In his third appearance in the Series, Lolich had to pitch after only two days' rest in the deciding Game 7, because regular-season 31-game winner Denny McLain was moved up to game 6 - also on two days rest. In Game 5, the Tigers' hopes for the title would have been very much in jeopardy had Bill Freehan not tagged out Lou Brock in a home plate collision when Brock mistakenly elected not to slide and went in standing up.
The narrow win for the Tigers was due, in small part, to a bold gamble by Manager Mayo Smith. The Tigers rotated four good hitting outfielders during the season (Willie Horton, Mickey Stanley, Al Kaline, and Jim Northrup); in an effort to get all four into the lineup in the World Series, Smith moved center fielder Mickey Stanley to shortstop (replacing Ray Oyler, who batted .135 during the season) even though he had never played there in his minor or major league career. The gamble paid off as Al Kaline batted .379 with eleven hits including two home runs and eight RBIs, Jim Northrup knocked in eight runs to go along with his two home runs, and Willie Horton hit .304 with a home run and six runs scored while Stanley made only two insignificant errors.
The 1968 season was tagged "The Year of the Pitcher", and the Series featured dominant performances from Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson, MVP of the 1964 World Series and 1967 World Series. Gibson came into the Series with a stunning regular-season Earned Run Average of just 1.12, and he would pitch complete games in Games 1, 4, and 7. He was the winning pitcher in Games 1 and 4. In Game 1, he threw a shutout, striking out seventeen batters, besting Sandy Koufax's 1963 record by two, and which still stands as the World Series record as of 2008. In Game 4, a solo home run by Jim Northrup was the only offense the Tigers were able to muster, as Gibson struck out ten batters. In Game 7, Gibson was defeated by series MVP Mickey Lolich, allowing three runs on four straight hits in the decisive seventh inning, although the key play was a triple that was seemingly misplayed by Flood in center field which could have been the third out with no runs scoring.
The Series saw the Cardinals lose a Game 7 for the first time in their history. The Tigers were the third team to come back from a three games to one deficit to win a best-of-seven World Series, the first two being the 1925 Pirates and the 1958 Yankees. Later, the 1979 Pirates, and 1985 Royals would accomplish this feat.
The two teams met again in the 2006 World Series. The Cardinals once again raced to a three games to one lead, but didn't relinquish it as they captured the championship in five games. That would give the Cardinals the "rubber match" of their other two encounters in 1934 and 1968.
This was the last World Series to be played before the introduction of divisional play in Major League Baseball, and subsequent expansion of the postseason to include the League Championship Series. In his book about the history of the World Series, historian Lee Allen made the point that it was the last "pure" World Series, in the sense that divisional play would raise the possibility that the team with the best record from one or both leagues might not get into the Series, which has proven to be an accurate prediction (both teams in 2006, for example).

The defending world champion St. Louis Cardinals once again dominated the National League on the way to their second consecutive Fall Classic as Bob Gibson remained at the top of the list of National League pitchers. Along with his American League equal, the Detroit Tigers' Denny McLain, both had combined for a whopping fifty-three wins and nineteen shutouts (Gibson: 22 wins, 13 shutouts & McLain: 31 wins, 6 shutouts). As was becoming the standard, pitching dominated the World Series contest and nothing would change in 1968. Both aces met in Game 1 as Gibson threatened to break Sandy Koufax's Series record by striking out thirteen Tiger batters through seven innings. McLain did not fare as well and surrendered for three, fourth-inning runs by the Cards, who got a run-scoring single from Mike Shannon and a two-run single from Julian Javier (thanks to an error by Willie Horton). In the seventh, reliever Pat Dobson, working his second inning, yielded a bases-empty home run to Lou Brock. Gibson remained in control with a 4-0 lead (while permitting four meaningless hits and no runs) and prepared to close the deal on Koufax's record. After sitting down pinch-hitter Eddie Mathews to open the eighth, the thirty-two year-old veteran made Al Kaline his record-equaling fifteenth strikeout victim, Norm Cash his record-breaking No. 16 and Horton his one-more-for-good-measure No. 17. Detroit bounced back in Game 2 thanks to seventeen game winner Mickey Lolich who held the "Redbirds" to six singles and added the only home run of his Major League career for the 8-1 win.

Tim McCarver set the pace for the Cardinals in Game 3 and hammered a three run homer in the fifth to take a 4-2 lead. Orlando Cepeda followed suite with a two run shot in the seventh and Lou Brock stole three bases on the way to a Series-leading 7-3 triumph. Gibson returned for the fourth meeting and continued his unbeaten streak with a record seventh consecutive win in the Fall Classic. Embarrassing the Tigers 10-1, the right-hander aided his own cause with his second career homer in Series play (a record for a pitcher) while Brock dominated at the plate with a double, triple, home run and four runs batted in. The outfielder also recorded his seventh stolen base of this Series (tying a mark he had established in 1967). McLain was once again bested by his counterpart and was lifted after 2 2/3 innings to no avail.

Although Brock's base running had proven to be a definite advantage in the previous four outings, his carelessness cost the Cardinals dearly in Game 5. After doubling with one out in the fifth, Brock tried to score standing up on Javier's single to left, but Willie Horton threw him out with a laser to home plate. Detroit, trailing by a 3-2 score at the time, seemingly received a boost from the reprieve and broke loose for three runs in the seventh. Mickey Lolich, who was knocked for a two run homer by Cepeda (in a three run St. Louis first), pitched scoreless ball over the final eight innings as Detroit stayed alive with a crucial 5-3 triumph. McLain returned for his third appearance determined to get his first win over the Cardinals' Ray Washburn. Pitching his best game of the Series, the Tiger ace finished a 13-1 victor thanks to a rally sparked Jim Northrup, who slammed a bases-loaded homer in Detroit's ten run blitz in the third. The Tigers' spree matched the one inning Series scoring record set by the Philadelphia Athletics against the Chicago Cubs in Game 4 of the 1929 Classic.

Bob Gibson was the obvious choice for St. Louis in Game 7 and Lolich was given the monumental task of beating him. Both pitchers went head-to-head for six scoreless innings, but the Tiger ace was first to blink after allowing two Cardinal runners on base. (Brock with his record-tying thirteenth hit of the Series and Curt Flood adding a single) Despite the mental setback, Lolich remained focused and struck out the following batters to snuff the Cards' first scoring opportunity. Then, with two out in the Detroit seventh, Norm Cash and Horton both singled. Northrup then hit a long rope to center field that Flood accidentally misjudged. The result was a two run triple and Bill Freehan made it three after doubling home Northrup. Not to be outdone, the Cardinals responded with a run in the ninth thanks to Mike Shannon, but it was too little too late and had been matched by Detroit in their half of the inning. In the end, Lolich had beaten the odds (and the mighty Bob Gibson) with a five hit, 4-1 victory that gave the Tigers their first championship crown since 1945. Detroit also became only the third team in World Series history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win in Game 7.

The decision went to Gibson, unanimously.

McLain was nicked for three fourth-inning runs by the Cardinals, who got a run-scoring single from Mike Shannon and a two-run single from Julian Javier in an uprising helped along by left fielder Willie Horton's misplay on Shannon's base hit. In the seventh, reliever Pat Dobson, working his second inning, yielded a bases-empty home run to Lou Brock.

Gibson was making an inexorable march toward the Series record book. Through seven innings, the Cardinals' strong-armed righthander had struck out 13 batters, two shy of the fall-classic mark established by Los Angeles' Sandy Koufax in 1963. He had permitted four hits and no runs. With Gibson in total command and the Cards ahead, 4-O, all attention was riveted on the 32-year-old pitcher's quest to shatter Koufax's strikeout standard.

Gibson didn't disappoint. He struck out pinch-hitter Eddie Mathews to open the eighth. Then, after yielding a leadoff single to Mickey Stanley in the ninth, Gibson made Al Kaline his record-equaling 15th strikeout victim, Norm Cash record-breaking No. 16 and Horton one-more-for-good-measure No. 17.

The Tigers, obviously awed by what they saw (or perhaps didn't see) of Gibson's fastball, bounced back from the 4-0 defeat in impressive style. Seventeen-game winner Mickey Lolich not only held the Cardinals to six singles in Game 2, but also hit the only home run of his major-league career as Detroit won, 8-1. Horton and Cash also homered for the winners.

In Game 3, Tim McCarver shot the Cardinals into a 4-2 lead with a three-run homer in the fifth, Orlando Cepeda belted a two-on shot in the seventh and Brock stole three bases as St. Louis regained the Series lead with a 7-3 conquest. Kaline, playing in his first Series after 16 seasons with Detroit and installed as the starting right fielder by Manager Mayo Smith in a Series stratagey that sent center fielder Stanley to shortstop and regular right fielder Jim Northrup to center, walloped a two-run homer for the losers, who also got a bases-empty blast from Dick McAuliffe.

Gibson then posted a record seventh consecutive triumph in the fall classic, breezing to victory in a 10-1 laugher in which he aided his own cause with his second career homer in Series play (a record for a pitcher). Brock doubled, tripled, homered and knocked in four runs for St. Louis. The swift outfielder also recorded his seventh stolen base of this Series (tying a mark he had established in 1967). The free-spirited McLain, losing for the second straight time to Gibson, was lifted after 2 2/3 innings. The Tigers were on the ropes.