Sparma's near no-no overshadows Kaline's big day

Filed under Detroit Tigers
May 2, 1968
Al Kaline connects for one of his three home runs which doubled his season's output.(photo: Corbis)

Al Kaline has been a fixture in the Tiger outfield nearly 15 years. Last season as the Tigers won a world’s championship, Kaline put up respectable numbers: .286, 23 HR, 75 RBI and batted .286 with 2 RBI in the Series victory over St. Louis. At 33, he was the clubhouse leader and a steady performer who did not always capture the headlines. Another 33 year old, Norm Cash, had been stealing the headlines in Detroit, but now it was Al’s turn. Or was it?

Kaline hit a solo home run in the first off Twins starter Dean Chance who has cooled from his 3-0 start. Tiger starter Joe Sparma did not allow a baserunner for five innings until Twins SS Jackie Hernandez beat out an infield single to open the sixth. It was a bang-bang play, and despite the protests of Eddie Mathews, first base umpire Bill Haller stood firm. The Tiger dugout was screened from the play by the pitch of the playing field. John Roseboro flew out harmless to Kaline in right. Chance sacrificed Hernandez into scoring position, but Cesar Tovar did not beat out his wormkiller in front of the plate. Sparma was out of the inning. In the bottom of the sixth, pinch-hitter Tom Matchick singled but was erased on Sparma’s failed sacrifice. McAuliffe and Wert singled and Sparma came around to score the Tigers’ second run. Then, Kaline cleared the bases with his second home run of the game, and the tight pitching duel was over. The Tigers led 5-0 after six innings. Chance got into trouble again with help of a throwing error by third baseman Tovar. Ron Perranoski end the threat but not without Mathews scoring Detroit’s sixth run on a Matchick single. In the eighth, Hernandez reached base again, the only Twins baserunner so far, with a two-out walk. But he was stranded again on a Roseboro groundout. Kaline belted his third home run, a two-run clout, of the game which doubled his season total, in the Tiger eighth. Typically a Thursday night crowd would be heading up the aisles in a top of the ninth of a 8-0 game, but this gathering, announced as 16,801 faithful, stayed in their seats or moved to the first base side in order to harass umpire Haller for his denial of no-hitter glory for Sparma. However with one out, Rod Carew settled the debate with a ringing double splitting the gap between Kaline and Mickey Stanley. The crowd headed for home as Sparma retired the side for a two-hit shutout.

In the clubhouse, the reporters crowded Sparma for his thoughts and reaction to Haller’s sixth inning call. Al Kaline relaxed in front of his locker. Even after a three home run performance, his play seemed taken for granted. But Al did not mind, his team won and that’s all that mattered to him.

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