Just as today’s Detroit Tigers face an uphill battle as Max Scherzer takes the mound in Game Six with Texas holding a 3-2 lead in the ALCS, in the 1968 World Series the Tigers were also down three games to two when they traveled to St. Louis to try and even the series.
Taking the hill for Game Six of the ’68 World Series was 31-game winner Denny McLain who would win the Cy Young and MVP awards but who ultimately sacrificed his pitching career because of an incredible workload.
In 1968 the 24-year old not only won 31 games, he pitched a league leading 28 complete games and threw 336 innings. By age 28, the same age Justin Verlander is today, the sore armed pitcher threw in his last major league game.
Justin Verlander will also win the Cy Young award this year but he threw just four complete games in 251 regular season innings.
McLain could be a poster child for why management is careful with pitch counts in baseball today.
By the time the ’68 Series started, McLain was a damaged thoroughbred and ended up losing games one and game four. However Denny sucked it up in game six and threw a complete game victory to tie the series thanks to medicine and a powerful Detroit offense as the Tigers pounded the Cardinals 13-1. With the heroics of Mickey Lolich, the World Series MVP, and Jim Northrup, McLain is often overlooked for the way he finally came through in the Series.
Recently I spoke with Denny regarding his game six performance and any advice he might have for Max Scherzer going into game six.
Bill Dow: How did your arm feel when you started the World Series?
Denny McLain: My arm was killing me and I couldn’t wipe my ass to be honest with you. The last couple of months of the season I took three to four cortisone shots a month and took cortisone shots for each of my starts in the World Series. Before game six the doctor said he could help me get through five or six innings.
BD: What was the pressure like for you going into Game Six?
DM: I never had problems playing under pressure but that game I did. For a couple of days I thought, ‘Jesus Christ don’t let me win 31 games and now lose the World Series. On top of that they were still blaming me for 1967 because I got hurt in September. I was willing to do anything I could to pitch the sixth game.
BD: What was the key to your success in Game Six?
DM: The good and the bad was that we got an early lead so I could pitch with a lead and I didn’t have to worry about getting sliders and breaking balls over. All I had to do was throw strikes and I had pretty good stuff that day. When you throw strikes good things happen. However because of those big rallies it ate up a lot of time I was supposed to be pitching with no pain and that shit doesn’t last forever. By the 4th and the 5th inning believe me I was out there alone.
BD: Do you have any advice for Max Scherzer as he takes the mound in the pressure situation of trying to win his Game Six?
DM: In a situation like that you have a tendency to over think and over react. He has a good fastball and if he can throw strikes early with his fastball he should be fine. It doesn’t mean he’ll win because the other team is coming to play but he should be very competitive. He has to establish his fastball and get his confidence up early. When you give up a couple of runs early your second guessing yourself in what to throw and you can lose your confidence immediately.
BD: If the Tigers make it to a Game Seven should Justin Verlander be ready in the bullpen?
DM: Absolutely. I understand the Tiger want to protect their investment but if he’s not hurt, you need to go for the gold because the fans deserve it. I just hope he’s available.
Let’s just hope Max Scherzer and the Tigers can come through and duplicate what our Boys of Summer did in the ’68 Series.