’84 Tigers were road warriers

Kirk Gibson bats against the Orioles at Tiger Stadium in a game during the 1984 season. Rick Dempsey is the catcher.

Kirk Gibson bats against the Orioles at Tiger Stadium in a game during the 1984 season. Rick Dempsey is the catcher.

Over the first seven weeks of the 1984 season, the Detroit Tigers were the best team baseball ever saw.

At least by the numbers.

In that magic spring, the Tigs roared from the gate to an astounding 35-5 record, putting a full eight games between them and the rest of the pack in the talented AL East division. The Baltimore Orioles – defending World Series champs – hardly knew what hit them as they were 13 1/2 games behind Detroit on May 24. Their season was over.

In rolling to that incredible start, Sparky Anderson’s club didn’t discriminate – they won against teams from the west and teams from the east; they beat contenders and pretenders; they won close games and they won blowouts; they won on grass and they won on carpet; and they won at Tiger Stadium and on the road.

Boy, did they win on the road.

As weary travelers go, the ’84 Tigers were not so weary. The club won their first 17 games away from home, in seven different cities and seven different states. Most people don’t handle the rigors of travel all that well, packing and unpacking, sleeping in hotels, eating at strange hours of the day, but in ’84, the Detroit Tigers truly believed the old saying that “Home is where you hang your hat.”

The streak began on opening day in Minnesota, when Tiger bats pounded the Twinkies for eight runs to back the pitching of Jack Morris. Two days later, Detroit defeated Minnesota again in lopsided fashion in a game in which Alan Trammell had four hits, including a line drive home run off Frank Viola. In a weekend series against the White Sox, a club that had won 99 games the previous season, the Tigers swept the three games. The big win came on Saturday when Morris tossed a no-hitter on national TV. It was one of four wins Morris would capture in the 17-game road winning streak.

Proving that spooky fates were also on their side, the team ticked off a single road win at Fenway Park on Friday the 13th, scoring eight runs in the first inning of a 13-9 victory. In that game, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell got one base twice before two outs were even recorded.

After a lengthy homestand, Sparky and The Gang traveled south to Arlington, Texas to play the Rangers in a two-game set. The bats were rumbling and the team stretched their road win streak to eight games. A week later they were in Cleveland playing in “The Mistake by the Lake,” where they had their closest call in the streak. On Sunday, the Tigs fell behind the Indians 5-0 through five innings, with Milt Wilcox getting knocked off the mound. But the bullpen held the Tribe at bay, and Detroit’s lineup scratched back to tie the game in the 8th frame. In the 12th inning, with the pen providing seven innings of shutout ball, the Tigs scored the go-ahead run on a line drive single off the bat of Sweet Lou. Aurelio Lopez (the aptly named Senor Smoke), allowed two baserunners in the bottom of the 12th, but two flyball outs gave the Tigers their 11th consecutive win away from Motown. Detroit pulled away in the middle innings to win the next night in Kansas City, Morris twirled a complete game gem to win the following evening, and in the finale of the series against the Royals, subs Rusty Kuntz and Marty Castillo factored with the bat to support Dan Petry, who allowed just a single run in 6 2/3 innings. Lopez was back out there again, firing 2 1/3 innings of no-hit relief to get the save. Those were the days of workhorse closers.

At that point the club had a 25-4 record and was the toast of not only baseball and sports, but of the country. Sparky and several of his players were guests on talk shows, the Tigers appeared on the cover of national magazines, and everyone in Michigan was crazy about the team.

“This is something you can’t dream up,” Wilcox said, “we’re not red-hot anymore, you have to think up a new term.”

The rest of the American League was on notice – the Tigers were a steamroller and they were coming to their town. Only in Baltimore was there any squawking.

“They still have to go through us,” Orioles’ catcher Rick Dempsey insisted when asked about the Tigers amazing won/loss record.

But few people believed Dempsey’s bravado – 1984 was the Tigers year and no team was going to get in their way. Not even another feathered opponent – the Toronto Blue Jays – who had the unfortunate timing to win 34 of their first 49 games, a fantastic start in their own right. But the Jays never got closer than 3 1/2 games of the Tigers after April 21!

On May 22, the Tigers started their first west coast swing of the season with a three-game set against the Angels in Anaheim. Detroit beat the Halos 3-1 in that contest behind starter Juan Berenguar, and the next night it was Petry’s turn to win a low-scoring game. Lance Parrish cracked a two-run homer in the 7th inning to give Petry and the Tigers a 4-2 win. In the final game of the series against the Angels, with bleary-eyed Detroiters watching the game that went on past midnight Detroit time, Morris improved his record to 9-1 with a 4-hitter that was supported by homers off the bats of Parrish and Trammell. It was a record-setting 17th straight victory on the road. The team record stood at 35-5.

“Don’t pinch me,” Sparky recorded in his diary, “I sure don’t want to wake up. This ballclub – it’s no dream – it’s for real.”

After the victory on May 24 in Anaheim, the Tigers boarded a charter flight to Seattle in the early morning hours. The following night they took the field against the M’s, but the game was decided fairly quickly. The home club scored three runs in the first two innings off Wilcox and coasted to a 7-3 win to snap the road winning streak. In that game, Rod Allen (as in Rod Allen, the current Detroit TV broadcaster) struck out as a pinch-hitter in his next-to-last appearance for Detroit.

With the streak over, the Tigs were actually swept in the three-game series by the Mariners, but the magic wasn’t dulled that much. The Tigers went on to win two of three from Oakland to wind up their west coast trip, and then flew back to the Motor City for their first meeting with the Orioles and cocky Dempsey.

In the first game of that series, on June 1, the Tigers sent nine men to the plate in the second inning, scoring six runs, punctuated by a home run off the bat of Trammell. The next inning, Detroit reloaded as Chet Lemon slugged a three-run homer into the lower deck in left. It was 9-0 before most fans had even settled in. In the next inning, the 47,252 fans in Tiger Stadium had reason to start “The Wave” when Parrish capped a three-run outburst with a towering home run to left field. The Tigs thumped the Orioles, 14-2.

That’s called making a statement.

7 replies on “’84 Tigers were road warriers

  • Matt Miller

    As a HS senior I was at one of those two Baltimore games sitting in the bleachers. The Tigers went up big early and everybody up there pulled out and started shaking their car keys.

  • Cliff Parker

    This is one of the greatest articles that I read yet Dan, because you brought back great memories from 1984. Man the Tigers were smoking hot that year; my sophomore year in high school. Of all of the world series Detroit Tigers teams that won world championships, this one, the 1984 team, was the best. No other team in baseball, not even the Yankees can say that they started the season at 35-5; it was not even heard of any MLB team. GO TIGERS!!!! “THE ROAR OF 1984!!!!!!!!!!!” That will never be forgotten at the corner!! Dan is the Man once again; another great article; keep up the great work!!!!! GO TIGERS!!!!!!! GET THAT WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2013 AND 2014; GO BACK TO BACK!!!!!!!!!


    Great story

    Will be part of my collection on 1984 season of THE TIGERS
    Thanks again
    Ed Verhamme – aka DUTCH TIGERS FAN

  • John B

    1984. My second favorite baseball season (after 1968). I was in Anaheim for that Petry win, and will never forget watching the World Series on TV from my SoCal couch with my two little boys. A magical season for the Tiger Nation.

  • Gary Steinke

    Cliff hit the nail on the head on this article…GREAT MEMORIES. When I first started reading this article the first thought that came to my mind was Seattle sweeping the Tigers and the fans in Seattle acting like they’d won the World Series. I was at that Friday night game against Baltimore. It was the first time I saw the ‘wave’. Another good one Dan!

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