Posted: Tuesday October 24, 2006 3:31PM; Updated: Tuesday October 24, 2006 6:28PM
Thirty-game winner Denny McLain would win only one of his three starts in the Series.
Walter Iooss Jr./SI
The Cardinals took Game 3 to take a 2-1 Series lead behind three-run home runs from McCarver and Cepeda. Even more distressing for Detroit was the fact that Gibson was the starting pitcher for Game 4. Through the damp conditions, Gibson was his usual stingy self, allowing one run, five hits and a walk over nine complete innings. He struck out 10 and contributed offensively by hitting a home run. McLain didn't make it out of the third inning as the Cards bombed the Tigers 10-1. With a commanding 3-1 lead, St. Louis felt as if it had the Series in the bag while Tigers fans sensed that their team, which had brought them so much joy, was on the verge of being humiliated.
Jose Feliciano, a blind folk musician whose most famous song, Light My Fire, was a cover version of the Doors' hit, sang the national anthem before Game 5. Feliciano sang a soulful and unconventional rendition, infuriating as many as he inspired. The one indisputable thing was that his version was long. Like most pitchers, Lolich was a man of routine, and his schedule was disrupted as Feliciano's song dragged on. It affected him so much that he wasn't sharp in the first inning, giving up three runs. But the lefty settled down and his teammates pushed two runs across the board in the bottom of the fourth to make it a one-run game.
The Cardinals then threatened again in the top of the fifth. With one out, Brock reached second on a double. Julian Javier then lined a single over the shortstop's head into left field. Brock had excellent instincts to go along with his tremendous speed, but Horton unleashed a perfect peg to home that reached the catcher just as Brock arrived. For some reason -- perhaps thinking that Horton's throw could never beat him -- Brock did not slide and was tagged out. In the bottom of the inning, Lolich looped a single to right, which proved to be the start of the winning rally. Three more singles and a walk resulted in three runs, and the Tigers held on to win 5-3.
Two days later, back in St. Louis, McLain pitched his best game of the series, scattering nine hits in a 13-1 victory. For the second consecutive year, St. Louis was headed to a seventh game with its ace Gibson.
After a night of rain, it was sunny in St. Louis for the last game of the season. Gibson was brilliant, retiring 20 of the first 21 batters he faced. In the top of seventh, Cash slapped a singled to right. Horton was next and he bounced a single through the left side. Two men on and two outs for Jim Northrup, an outfielder who had hit 20 one homers in the regular season. He went after Gibson's first pitch and pounded a long fly ball to center field.
Flood's first step was toward the infield. In an instant he realized that he had misjudged the ball and turned to go back and to his right, where the ball was tailing. But Flood slipped on the soggy turf. He didn't fall, but that fraction of a second was enough time for Northrup's ball to sail well beyond Flood's outstretched glove. The ball rolled all the way to the wall. By the time Flood retrieved it and got the ball back into the infield, both runners had scored and Northrup was at third with a triple. The catcher, Bill Freehan, followed with a double and suddenly, with six outs left in their season, the Cardinals appeared to be doomed.
Gibson stayed in the game and allowed another run in the eighth. Mike Shannon hit a solo home run with two outs in the ninth, but it was too little, too late, as the Tigers won Game 7 4-1. The Tigers were champions and the fractured city of Detroit was united, however briefly, by a delirious celebration.
Alex Belth is the founder and co-author of Bronx Banter. His biography of Curt Flood, "Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights," is available on Amazon.com.