On the evening that the Detroit Tigers honored the 30th anniversary of their 1984 World Series championship team, Kirk Gibson was not present.
But playing the role of Kirk Gibson was Rajai Davis, who lined a pitch over the left field fence and into the bullpen for a walkoff grand slam home run. In pure ’84 Gibby Game Five fashion, Rajai flipped his helmet off, nearly broke the arms of the third base coach with a monster high five, and smiled and waved to the crowd as he rounded the bases.
Tigers 5, Athletics 4. Fans go crazy.
Alan Trammell was in the ballpark, and he was the guy who was MVP of that World Series in ’84, hitting two home runs in Game Four. In this game, Miguel Cabrera hit a home run in a similar location (though not in the same park of course). Tram and Miggy — two fan favorites linked together in Tigers’ history as two of the best players to ever wear the Old English D.
But that’s just the beginning, because this game showed just how strange the game of baseball can be, and how players and events across years and generations can be connected in bizarre ways. It really feels as if there’s something about the ’84 team and their influence on dramatic grand slams for the Tigers.
Amazingly, 10 years ago, in 2004, on the day the Tigers marked the 20th anniversary of the ’84 team, Carlos Pena won the game in walkoff style — with a grand slam. Yes, really. It was June 27, 2004, almost exactly a decade ago at Comerica Park. The Tigers were facing the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team Trammell now coaches for. Pena came up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and the game tied 5-5. Several members of the 1984 team were on hand to see Pena launch a pitch into the right field stands for the win. Pena’s manager that day? Alan Trammell of course. Standing next to Trammell that Sunday afternoon was Kirk Gibson, his bench coach. The roles are reversed now, Gibby manager and Tram the coach for who else? The Diamondbacks.
But it gets weirder. Before the game on Monday night, Trammell and his old double play partner Sweet Lou Whitaker were on the field to throw out the first pitch. Instead of doing that, they trotted to the middle of the infield and turned a double play. The fans at Comerica Park went crazy. Twenty years ago, on June 21, 1994, the Tigers won a game at Tiger Stadium against the Indians on a walkoff grand slam off the bat of…Lou Whitaker. The rally started with a walk by Gibson, and was extended by a single from Trammell. The Tigers won that game 7-5 after Sweet Lou sent a pitch into the upper deck in right field. That’s three walkoff grand slams (the last three in franchise history), each 10 years apart on an anniversary of the ’84 team (two on a day when that team was being celebrated), and all coming in June. Sparky Anderson wasn’t there to see Davis’s blast on Monday, but he was back in Detroit in ’04 and he was in the dugout at Tiger Stadium when Whitaker won with his slam in ’94. Sparky was also on hand for an incredible grand slam before that one.
It might seem impossible, but there’s more to this odd connection. In 1988, in a game between the Yankees and Tigers at The Corner, the home team trailed 6-1 entering the bottom of the ninth inning. Dave Bergman, who caught the baseball thrown by Trammell on Monday to complete their throwback ’84 “double play” before the game, led off the inning with a single. Darrell Evans, who was in the ballpark last night in Detroit, followed with a walk. Of course Sparky was watching from the dugout, and he watched as his team got down to their last out. Then Whitaker walked to drive in a run, and another bases loaded walk made it a 6-3 game. Up stepped, you guessed it…Alan Trammell. Trammell sent a 3-2 pitch into the left field stands for a dramatic walkoff grand slam and a 7-6 Tigers’ victory. According to research, there have only been five such “ultimate walkoffs” in baseball history — that’s a walkoff grand slam with two outs and the home team trailing by exactly three runs. And it came off the bat of ’84 World Series hero Alan Trammell on… June 21 (of course), in 1988.
Trammell, Whitaker, Gibson, Bergman, Davis. Each playing roles in at least one of the last four walkoff grand slams in team history, and all on hand in Detroit on Monday. Somewhere above the fountains spraying water in center field at Comerica Park after Davis’s game-winning bases-clearing homer, the ghost of Sparky Anderson was smiling.
Somehow it seems that there’s something magical about that ’84 team, and the more we remember it, the more that magic spills on our team this season.