When Mickey Lolich threw 170 pitches on Father’s Day and got a walk-off win at Tiger Stadium

On Father's Day at Tiger Stadium in 1974, Mickey Lolich pitched 11 innings for a victory.

On Father’s Day at Tiger Stadium in 1974, Mickey Lolich pitched 11 innings for a victory.

Happy Father’s Day! Can you pitch 11 innings?

Well, that’s not what manager Ralph Houk said to his ace, Mickey Lolich, on June 16, 1974, 40 years ago, but had he, I get the sense that Mick would have grinned and said, “Sure.”

That’s just the way Lolich approached the game, he was a team player who often shouldered the load — quite literally — for his teammates.

I’m not sure what will happen this afternoon at Comerica Park on Father’s Day when Rick Porcello takes the mound for the Detroit Tigers. But I’m confident that Ricky won’t be pitching 11 innings. So far in his career, Porcello has exactly one complete game. As he took the ball on Father’s Day in ’74, Lolich had 155 complete games under his belt, or almost as many as Porcello has starts in his entire career (Rick is making start #162 on Sunday). But maybe since Rick isn’t a father, it wouldn’t matter anyway, maybe Mickey had the “Dad Mojo” going for him.

Coming into the Father’s Day tilt at Tiger Stadium on that June day in 1974, Lolich was rolling. He’d tossed complete games in each of his previous eight games (yes, really!). Mickey’s most recent outing, on June 12th against the Texas Rangers, had been a shutout in which he allowed just six hits to the visiting team. The Rangers’ manager was no stranger to Lolich —  it was former Detroit skipper Billy Martin.

“I’ve seen [him] do it many times,” Billy told reporters from the unfamiliar setting of the visiting manager’s dugout. “He can throw all day long.”

Mickey was blessed with an incredible arm, one of the most resilient in history. The previous year he’d thrown 17 complete games, and that was a modest total compared to his 1971-72 total of 52. Lolich was doing all of this in a four-man rotation (remember them, sports fans?), pitching on only three days rest. As a result, Mick and his rotation mates started 40-42 games each season. Still, Mick never had a sore arm. He truly had a rubber arm.

The Father’s Day game started well for the Tigers, with the home team scratching across two runs in the bottom of the first thanks to the wild offerings of Kansas City Royals’ starter Bruce Del Canton, a barrel-chested righty from Pennsylvania. Del Canton walked the bases loaded and then walked Bill Freehan to score Mickey Stanley. The next batter, the mutton-chopped Aurelio Rodriguez, hit a routine grounder to his counterpart at third, a fuzzy faced rookie named George Brett. Brett threw the ball wildly and Al Kaline trotted home with the second run. Just like that, before the 15,000-plus in attendance could wiggle their butts comfortably into the seats at Tiger Stadium, it was 2-0 good guys.

Lolich didn’t have his overpowering stuff early in the game, and the Royals were getting plenty of baserunners early. But Mick wiggled out of trouble. He couldn’t avoid the trouble Hal McRae had in store for him in the third inning however, as McRae cracked a home run into the lower deck in left field to tie the game at two apiece, scoring Cookie Rojas, who had walked. Perhaps peeved at his mistake, Lolich struck out the next batter to end the inning, giving him six K’s in the first three frames.

The game stayed that way for a long time and it cruised right along, as was the style in those days. Baseball had a more crisp pace back then, as batters got into the box and usually stayed there, and pitchers, especially a pro like Mickey, worked quickly. Still, Mickey had to scatter hits from the Royals and pitch his way out of a few jams. Lolich had just one 1-2-3 inning, and that was in the 5th. Meanwhile, Del Canton found his funky 1970s groove and kept the Tigers off the scoreboard. The best chance the Tigers had in was in the 7th when Rodriguez led off with a single through the left side hole. Houk turned to the end of his bench and summoned his master pinch-hitter, Gates Brown. The Gater sliced a single to left and Detroit was in business with two on and no one out. But Del Canton got the light-hitting Eddie Brinkman to popout (I think “Lighthitting” might have actually been printed on Brinkman’s drivers’ license), and followed by fanning Stanley and coaxing Gary Sutherland into a groundout.

At the end of nine innings, with the game only one-and-a-half hours old, neither manager reached for his sharpie to write a new name onto his scorecard. Lolich and Del Canton would continue to square off (and toss pitches) into extry innings (as George Kell probably said).

Neither team could muster a scoring chance in the 10th. Lolich’s pitch count continued to soar, but no one knew it because no one counted those things back then. In the top of the 11th, Lolich had a bit of a scare when Al Cowens hit a deep fly ball to right field, and for a minute it looked like the famed overhang would gobble it up, but Jim Northrup reached his long arm up and made the catch on the warning track. One out later, Northrup drifted back to almost the same spot and caught a long drive off the bat of Fran Healy. Phew! Three outs.

In the bottom of the 11th, facing Del Canton again, the Tigers finally put some real pressure on Del Canton for the first time since the first inning. Dick Sharon drew a one-out walk. Northrup followed with a rope to right-center field that split the outfielders for a double. Sharon was on his horse and third base coach Joe Schultz waved him home. But center fielder Amos Otis pegged a great throw to the cutoff man, second baseman Rojas, who twisted and fired home in time to cut down Sharon. The crowd gasped in despair. Del Canton walked Freehan to put runners on first and second with two outs. That brought up Rodriguez, the happy Mexican, a crowd favorite. Aurelio waited for a fastball and when he got one he lined it to left field where Jim Wohlford couldn’t get a good throw home before Northrup slid across the plate with the game-winner.

It was a Father’s Day walkoff win for the Tigers.

Lolich had thrown an incredible 170 pitches, pitching an 11-inning complete game in which he surrendered 11 hits and walked two batters. The hard-working Papa struck out 11 batters and got a well-deserved victory. The lefty won his next two games by going the distance as well, giving the Detroit ace 11 straight complete games! That certainly had to tire out even the bionic arm of Mickey.

Let’s hope one of his daughters gave Papa Lolich a big hug after his 11-inning marathon on Father’s Day.

3 replies on “When Mickey Lolich threw 170 pitches on Father’s Day and got a walk-off win at Tiger Stadium

  • Matt Thompson

    He absolutely deserves to be in the Hall. He had an amazing arm. Would be in years ago if he was a Yankee.

    • Zelmo O'Troy

      Ron Guidry: 170-91, 3.29 ERA, 47.8 WAR, three 20-win seasons, one Cy Young award, a runner-up and four other top 10s. Not in the Hall of Fame. (See also Don Mattingly, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Petitte …)

      Mickey Lolich was a great Tiger and he’s a great guy, but he’s not a Hall of Famer. It’s no dishonor to top out at Hall of Awfully Darned Good.

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