The Most Painful of Losses

Filed under World Series
October 5, 1968
Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver leaves the playing field in disbelief after the Tigers’ 5-4 ninth inning victory in Game 3 of the 1968 World Series.

Oct. 5 – As the sellout crowd filed out of Tiger Stadium, a common thought was shared among the faithful. Their beloved Tigers were surely on their way to a second consecutive championship. Detroit defeated St. Louis, 5-4, in one of the most thrilling and heart breaking of contest in the history of the Fall Classic. Mayo Smith’s Tigers are one game away from another four game sweep of the Cardinals in the Series after their seventh consecutive one-run victory.

For the first seven frames, it was apparent to all that the Tigers would march their way to victory. Starter Earl Wilson blanked the Cardinals, and Norm Cash and Mickey Stanley chipped in with RBI singles to provide a two run lead. In the sixth inning, Jim Northrup doubled the lead with a two-run home run into the upper deck in right field that sent the 53,634 Tiger faithful into a frenzy.

In the top of the eighth, the Cardinals’ collective backs were to the wall. Lou Brock led off with an infield single that Dick McAuliffe could not corral in time. The speed game missing from Brock in last year’s Series was back on track this year, but it was not helping the Cardinals push past Detroit. But, Curt Flood solved all that mystery by hammering a 2-0 Wilson fastball into the bleachers in left field to cut the Tiger lead by two. Detroit manager Mayo Smith summoned left-handed John Hiller to face Roger Maris. The chess move failed as Maris laced the ball to left that Willie Horton misplayed into a triple. Veteran Don McMahon relieved Hiller to strike out Orlando Cepeda for the first out of the inning. Tim McCarver, hitless for the Series, singled to right to score Maris for the familiar one-run lead for Detroit.

In the last six Series games between these two clubs, this is where the Cardinal rally would falter.¬†However, these Birdos were up to the task. St. Louis’ hottest hitter, Mike Shannon, stepped up to bat and tripled between Northrup and Kaline to score McCarver. An unusual chill crept through Tiger Stadium as the road to a second coronation was blocked by this stunning four-run Cardinal outburst. Julian Javier struck out to end the inning, but the Cardinals were a rejuvenated bunch. Whispers through the press box echoed the memories of Lou Johnson postponing the Orioles’ celebration two seasons ago with a grand slam that propelled the Dodgers to an unlikely Series victory.

Kaline greeted Dick Hughes with a single to lead off the bottom of the eighth. He was quickly erased with a double play off the bat of Norm Cash, and Horton grounded to second to end the frame. In the Cardinal ninth, it was Dal Maxvill, like Kaline, who led off with a single. Smith summoned Pat Dobson from the bull pen, and Dobson followed his marching orders. Pinch hitter Dave Ricketts hit a grounder to short for an easy double play. But, the outfielder Stanley cast at shortstop by his manager bobbled the ball, and nipped Maxvill at second. Naturally, the truest of Tiger fans mumbled to himself that had the Cardinals not rallied, sure-handed Ray Oyler would have completed the double play. But, Dobson erased any fears by striking out Brock and Flood to end the inning.

Redbird fireman Joe Hoerner took the hill in the ninth, and with one out, he hit Bill Freehan with an errant pitch. In the tightest of games, such a break can spiral to defeat. Light-hitting Don Wert stunned everyone, and perhaps himself, with a double over the head of Maris in right. Freehan chugged into third as Wert slid into second. The crowd stood on their feet and drowned out the announcement of Jim Price as pinch-hitter. With the infield in, Cardinal manager motioned for Hoerner to pitch to the backup catcher. Price hit a 1-1 fastball sharply to Javier. The second baseman quickly fielded it, and fired the ball home. Freehan slid, and home plate umpire Stan Landes raised his thumb in the air. The tag appeared high, but despite the protests, the Tigers had one out remaining in regulation play.

Life turns on a dime. It’s not the play at the plate that all would expect to decide the game. Sometimes it’s the next pitch. Shades of Mickey Owen, Hoerner’s next pitch sailed off the mitt of McCarver. Wert scored and the game was over. In a flash, the Cardinals were staring in the face of a seventh straight one run loss to these Tigers. Their most valiant of rallies and their best defensive work fell short.

10/5/1968, STL68-DET68, Tiger Stadium

                       1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     R  H  E   LOB DP
1968 St. Louis         0  0  0  0  0  0  0  4  0     4 10  0     7  2
1968 Detroit           1  0  1  0  0  2  0  0  1     5 12  1     5  0

St. Louis            AB  R  H BI   AVG    Detroit              AB  R  H BI   AVG
Brock             lf  5  1  3  0  .385    McAuliffe         2b  3  1  1  0  .182
Flood             cf  5  1  2  2  .333    Stanley           ss  4  0  2  1  .417
Maris             rf  4  1  1  0  .250    Kaline            rf  4  0  2  0  .250
Cepeda            1b  4  0  0  0  .083    Cash              1b  4  0  2  1  .300
McCarver          c   4  1  1  1  .083    Horton            lf  4  1  1  0  .333
Shannon           3b  3  0  1  1  .500    Northrup          cf  4  1  2  2  .417
Javier            2b  4  0  0  0  .000    Freehan           c   3  0  0  0  .091
Maxvill           ss  4  0  1  0  .222    Wert              3b  4  1  1  0  .091
Washburn          p   2  0  1  0  .500    Wilson            p   3  1  1  0  .333
 Willis           p   0  0  0  0  .000     Hiller           p   0  0  0  0  .000
 Tolan            ph  1  0  0  0  .500     McMahon          p   0  0  0  0  .000
 Hughes           p   0  0  0  0  .000     Dobson           p   0  0  0  0  .000
 Ricketts         ph  1  0  0  0  .000     Price            ph  1  0  0  0  .000
 Schofield        pr  0  0  0  0  .000                         34  5 12  4
 Hoerner          p   0  0  0  0  .000
                     37  4 10  4

St. Louis                        INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Washburn                         5.1 10  4  4  0  3  75  56  6.75
Willis                           1.2  0  0  0  0  1  19  12  0.00
Hughes                           1.0  1  0  0  0  0  14   9  0.00
Hoerner          L 0-1           0.2  1  1  0  0  1  14  10  0.00
                                 8.2 12  5  4  0  5 122  87

Detroit                          INN  H  R ER BB  K PCH STR   ERA
Wilson                           7.1  6  2  2  1  7  91  62  2.45
Hiller                           0.0  1  1  1  0  0   6   3 99.00
McMahon          BS 1            0.2  3  1  1  0  2  22  12 13.50
Dobson           W 1-0           1.0  0  0  0  0  2  12   9  0.00
                                 9.0 10  4  4  1 11 131  86

STL: Tolan batted for Willis in the 8th
     Ricketts batted for Hughes in the 9th
     Schofield ran for Ricketts in the 9th
DET: Price batted for Dobson in the 9th

E-Wilson. 2B-Wert(1). 3B-Maris(1), Shannon(1). HR-Flood(1), Northrup(1).
RBI-Flood 2(3), McCarver(1), Shannon(3), Stanley(1), Cash(1), Northrup 2(3).
SB-Brock(2). K-Brock, Flood 2, Maris 2, Cepeda, Shannon, Javier, Maxvill 2,
Washburn, Stanley, Horton, Northrup, Freehan, Wilson. BB-Shannon.
SH-McAuliffe. HBP-Freehan. PB-McCarver. HB-Hoerner.
Temperature: 70, Sky: clear, Wind: out to left at 5 MPH.

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