The best-pitched game at Tiger Stadium featured two pitchers you’ll never guess

In five seasons with the Detroit Tigers in the 1970s, Lerrin LaGrow was 16-40.

In five seasons with the Detroit Tigers in the 1970s, Lerrin LaGrow was 16-40.

For Lerrin LaGrow, it was the best-pitched game of his career. The only trouble was, the opposing pitcher was even better.

Tiger Stadium had a reputation as a hitters’ park, but for one night, May 7, 1974, it was witness to one of the tightest pitchers’ duels in baseball history.

The Chicago White Sox had come into town riding a five-game winning streak, to close to within two games of first-place Texas. The Detroit Tigers were in second place, only a game and a half behind the New York Yankees. It was to be a two-game series, on the 6th and the 7th. Detroit took the first game, 5-4.

LaGrow was the starter for the second game of the series. The 25-year-old right-hander out of Arizona State University had been a sixth-round pick by the Tigers in the 1969 amateur draft. In his first three big-league seasons, he was an undistinguished 1-7. But he had been solid for the first month of the 1974 season, including a start at home in which he’d pitched all 10 innings but lost 1-0. A complete-game win on May 1, when he allowed no earned runs, evened his record at 2-2.

On the mound for Chicago was Wilbur Wood, the knuckleballer who’d won a total of 70 games over the last three campaigns, but had managed only three victories in eight decisions in 1974. Wood hadn’t had much success against the Tigers in his career, winning 7 and losing 10 so far. Just over a week ago, he’d failed to last three innings in a start at Comiskey Park against the Tigers, giving up eight hits and four runs.

Both pitchers were masterful on this 52-degree evening at Michigan and Trumbull. Both threw 11-inning complete games. Wood allowed only two hits and four walks. He struck out ten (centerfielder Dick Sharon fanned three times). As for LaGrow, he surrendered five hits, walked only two, and struck out 5. Incredibly, through the first nine innings the score remained 0-0, and only one batter for either team had reached second base (Chicago’s Carlos May, on a fourth-inning double).

Mickey Stanley singled in the fourth for Detroit’s first safety, but was quickly erased trying to steal (1-3-4 in your scorecard) for the third out of the inning. That was the Tigers’ only hit until the tenth, when victory seemed within their grasp. Stanley struck out to lead off the inning, but Wood walked the next batter, Al Kaline (John Knox then came in to pinch run). Willie Horton singled to left, with Knox taking second. Jerry Moses wasn’t given anything good to hit, and reached on a base on balls.

So here it was. The Tigers had the bases loaded with only one man out, a terrific chance to win a hard-fought game. And Wood seemed to be tiring. Good teams don’t let chances like this slip away.

Jim Northrup popped up to second, Aurelio Rodriguez lined out to short, and that was it for the Tigers in the tenth. No runs, one hit, two walks, three men left on base.

Tiger manager Ralph Houk sent LaGrow back out to start the eleventh. After all, he’d retired 17 of the last 19 batters he’d faced. Leading off was catcher Ed Herrmann, who had homered the day before against Joe Coleman. Herrmann promptly homered again, giving the Sox a 1-0 lead. LaGrow retired the next three Sox hitters.

Ed Brinkman, Sharon, and Gary Sutherland went down in order in the bottom of the eleventh for the Tigers, and the game was over.
Was it the best-pitched game ever at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull? To try and answer that question, let’s use a statistic called Game Score (abbreviated GSc). Without getting bogged down in the details, GSc is a sabrmetric formula which gauges a pitcher’s effectiveness in a game. The higher the GSc, the better. The highest possible GSc in a nine-inning game is 114, which means the pitcher struck out all 27 hitters. Generally speaking, a Quality Start is comparable to a GSc of 50 or above. A GSc above 80 in a nine-inning game is very, very good. Anything over 90 is exceptional. Anything over 100 is off-the-charts dominant.

So what about Wood and LaGrow on that August night in 1974? What were their GSc’s?

Wood’s was 99. LaGrow’s was 86. Added up, that’s 185, which is believed to be the highest combined GSc ever between two pitchers in a game at Michigan and Trumbull.

Best pitching duel ever at The Corner? The numbers don’t lie.