It is a familiar, and often clichéd, refrain. In many championship seasons, there is usually a game that fans, the media, and players like to point to and say, “That was the game (or the inning, or the at-bat, or the hit) that turned our season around.” Such a game occurred at Detroit’s Navin Field, on July 14, 1934. It ranks as one of the greatest battles ever at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
It was the third game of a four-game series between the Detroit Tigers and the first-place New York Yankees. The Tigers were the surprise team of the American League. They had struggled in recent years, and hadn’t won a pennant since 1909, when Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford roamed the outfield. But newly-acquired player-manager Mickey Cochrane had created a winning culture. The feisty Tigers, riding a five-game winning streak, entered the series trailing manager Joe McCarthy’s Bronx Bombers by a mere half-game.
Detroit took the opening game on Thursday, the 12th, with Schoolboy Rowe picking up his tenth victory of the season (Incidentally, this was number six in Rowe’s American League-record 16 consecutive wins that summer.). It gave Detroit a half-game lead on New York, but it was to be short-lived.
The Friday game was noteworthy. Babe Ruth, now 39 and in his final season as a Yankee, slugged his 700th home run. Lou Gehrig, playing in his 1,426th consecutive game, was forced to leave in the second inning when, according to The Sporting News, “A cold in his back interfered with his breathing.” Detroit’s Tommy Bridges pitched solidly enough, giving up only four runs in a complete game, but Red Ruffing surrendered only two Tiger tallies. New York was back on top in the standings.
Saturday, July 14, featured the Yankees’ Lefty Gomez, who was 14-2 at that point in the season. Against ineffective Tiger starter Vic Sorrell and reliever Elden Auker, New York scored four in the first, two more in the third, and three in the fourth, to take a commanding 9-1 lead. The Yanks were putting on a clinic, and seemed primed to take a 1½ game cushion in the American League over the upstarts from the Motor City.
But Gomez could not hold the lead, and the Tigers began to chip away. Three runs in the fourth. One run in the fifth. Three more in the sixth, and suddenly it was 9-8. But in the top of the seventh, New York added two more on a Frank Crosetti home run, to make it 11-8.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the ninth, when Detroit staged an incredible comeback, scoring four runs. Goose Goslin drove in the tying run with a double, and later scored the winning run when Billy Rogell singled with two down, as the Navin Field crowd went delirious. Instead of a loss that would have put them in a deeper hole in the standings, Detroit was now a half-game in front of New York.
The Tigers hit 10 doubles in the game, while New York totaled three. Ruth hit another home run, his 15th of the year, while the three batters at the top of the Tigers’ order (Pete Fox, Gee Walker, and Goslin) each had three hits. Firpo Marberry, who gave up only a walk in his three innings of relief, picked up the win, his 11th.
Detroit won again on Sunday, to take the series, three games to one.
If ever there was a defining game in a season, the Tigers’ 12-11 come-from-behind win over the Yankees on July 14th was it. Before that game, Detroit’s record was 49-30 (.620), against New York’s 48-28 (.632). After their July 14th victory, the 1934 Detroit Tigers won 51 games against only 23 defeats (.689), while the Yankees at 46-31 (.597) could not keep pace.
After their great weekend against New York, Detroit never relinquished first place the rest of the summer, finishing seven games in front. It took the St. Louis Cardinals seven games to defeat the Tigers in the 1934 World Series, but even better things were to come in 1935.