On the entrance ramps to Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis last Wednesday afternoon Dixieland bands were playing Tiger Rag and Meet Me in St. Louis, Louis. Nearly half of the sellout crowd of 54,692 seemed to be wearing straw hats with either cotton tigers or cardinals stapled to them, and 20 minutes before game time a small boy seated deep in the right-field stands between two Cardinal fans raised a proud flag that spelled out " Detroit Is Tiger Country" on one side and " St. Louis Is for the Birds" on the other. The eagerly awaited confrontation between Denny McLain of the Tigers and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals in the opening game of the 1968 Series was at hand.
Even as they made their way to the warmup mounds behind the foul lines in left and right field, people applauded the pitchers. Gibson walked slowly, looking straight ahead. As McLain moved he kept adjusting the cap on his head. In his warmup McLain was wild and having trouble keeping the ball down. Gibson looked smooth, but when he worked in the top of the first inning he threw 17 pitches. One wondered. Then the strikeouts came piling one on another. Ultimately, Gibson set a Series record by striking out 17 Tigers on his way to a 4-0 shutout. He not only had McLain's number; the entire Detroit team was frustrated and embarrassed.
The Cardinals had gone into the game feeling that they might win a slight advantage by staying away from McLain's high pitches, which American League umpires had given him during the season. National League umpires like to see the ball a little lower, and the umpire this day was Tom Gorman, a National Leaguer for 17 years. Even so, in the early innings St. Louis seemed anxious to swing at McLain's high strikes. Then, in the fourth, Roger Maris walked on four pitches. Orlando Cepeda fouled out, but Tim McCarver also walked on four pitches and suddenly McLain was in trouble. Mike Shannon followed McCarver's walk with a line-drive single that Leftfielder Willie Horton tried to scoop up on the run and bobbled. The throw then went to third rather than second, allowing McCarver to advance to third and Shannon to second as Maris scored easily. Julian Javier came to bat, and in early October Julian Javier is alive. He singled to right, scoring two runs, then promptly stole second to get himself into position for another, although it never came.
Javier's steal was only one of three against the Tigers. On the first by Lou Brock, Catcher Bill Freehan's throw was so bad that it bounced on the grass part of the infield. Although none of the three stolen bases ended up making any difference in the final score, Game One proved that Freehan's arm was poorer than the Tigers had let on and that the Tiger pitchers had trouble holding runners close to the bases. St. Louis' final run came when Brock hit a hard line drive into the seats in right field for only his third homer since June 28.
Gibson's performance was magnificent, considering the muggy day in St. Louis and the fact that he had to use 144 pitches. Remarkably, he was strong at the end. He took care of Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Jim Northrup, Horton and Freehan 12 times, and when he got Horton to end the game the crowd stood and roared its approval, almost as much at the excellence he had somehow sustained through the season as at the new record. There must be something about Gibson's habits that differs from those of mere mortal pitchers.
Q. What did you eat for breakfast?
A. I didn't want to eat. I drove to the park and had coffee and doughnuts. During the game I ate a few candy bars.
Q. Did you get extra sleep?
A. No. I woke up seven or eight times during the night.