The 1972 season was delayed at the beginning because of a players strike late in spring training. As a result, several games were lost in April. It was decided that the missed games would not be made up, meaning no team would play 162 games, and many wouldn't play the same number of games overall. This inconsistency would play a huge role in deciding the AL East flag.
Manager Billy Martin worried that the delayed start would hurt his team, which was laden with aging veterans. Critics also worried about the Tigers pitching, especially the bullpen.
But as the season went on, it was the Tigers pitching that was a strength, and the hitting that was a disappointment. Regardless, the Tigers stayed in the race all year, jostling with the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox for supremacy.
Al Kaline was the only Tiger to hit .300 (.313), and no one else was even close. And, Kaline only had 278 at-bats as he was used primarily for defensive purposes late in games by Martin. But the pitching, led by Mickey Lolich (22 wins) and Joe Coleman (19 wins) in the rotation and Chuck Seelbach and Fred Scherman (14 and 12 saves, respectively) in the bullpen, kept the Tigers in the race despite their offensive woes.
On September 28, the Tigers trailed the Red Sox by 1.5 games. But the Tigers then swept Milwaukee in Detroit, setting up an end-of-season series against the Red Sox at Tiger Stadium. Because of the inequity in games played (the Tigers would play 156, the Red Sox 155), whichever team won the three-game series would win the division by something other than a whole number of games.
The Tigers won on Monday night behind a complete-game, six-hitter by Lolich, 4-1. Then, on Tuesday, the Tigers rallied in the seventh inning to move in front, 3-1. Seelbach registered the save in relief of Woodie Fryman, the lefty acquired from Philadelphia in August.
The Tigers were divisional champs!
Fryman went 10-3 down the stretch. GM Jim Campbell also added veteran hitters Frank Howard from Texas (moved from Washington) and C Duke Sims from the Los Angeles Dodgers during the season as he gave Martin the horses necessary to win the division.
The Tigers would go on to play the AL West champion Oakland A's in the AL Championship Series.
The best-of-five ALCS opened in Oakland, with Lolich facing Jim Hunter. Game 1 went into the 11th inning---Lolich still on the mound---and that's when Al Kaline slammed a home run to put the Tigers ahead, 2-1. But in their half of the 11th, the A's put the first two runners on base, knocking Lolich out of the game in favor of Seelbach. With one out, Gonzalo Marquez singled, plating one runner and then the winning run scored when Kaline, of all people, bobbled the baseball and then made a poor throw.
In Game 2, controversy brewed as SS Bert Campaneris of Oakland hurled his bat at Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow after being hit by a pitch in the seventh inning. Both players were ejected, and Campaneris was suspended for the rest of the series. The A's won, 5-0, behind "Blue Moon" Odom.
In Detroit, facing elimination, the Tigers won Game 3, 3-0 as Coleman struck out 14 A's hitters. Game 4 looked lost as the A's scored two runs in the 10th inning to move ahead, 3-1. But the Tigers rallied for three runs in their half of the 10th to win, 4-3 and tie the series, 2-2.
Playing essentially a one-game playoff for the AL pennant, the Tigers hosted the A's for Game 5. The Tigers scored in the first inning to lead, 1-0, but the A's tied it in the second on a double steal, in which Reggie Jackson stole home and tore his hamstring at the same time.
The A's moved ahead in the fourth inning after a controversial call at first base put George Hendrick on base, and Hendrick would eventually come around to score. The score stayed 2-1 until he bottom of the ninth, when the Tigers put a man on first base with one out. But a force out and a fly out ended the rally, and the Tigers' season.
Just as they did in 1967, the Tigers came excruciatingly close to winning the pennant.By GregEno
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- 1972 ALCS, Al Kaline, Billy Martin, Blue Moon Odom, Chuck Seelbach, Detroit Tigers, Duke Sims, Frank Howard, Fred Scherman, Gonzalo Marquez, Jim Hunter, Joe Coleman, Mickey Lolich, Oakland Athletics, Reggie Jackson, Woodie Fryman