The Oakland Athletics won three consecutive World Series titles from 1972-1974. Their streak almost never occurred. In 1972, a group of over-the-hill former champions challenged Oakland in the American League Championship Series. The A’s won the best-of-five series, but the Detroit Tigers took them to the limit. The 1972 Oakland Athletics did not win the pennant as much as the Tigers lost it.
The Detroit Tigers won the American League East by ½ game over Boston. A players’ strike shortened the season and cancelled games. The Tigers finished 86-70 while the Red Sox ended at 85-70. Boston played one fewer game and did not receive the opportunity to tie Detroit. Meanwhile, the A’s won the AL West by 5 ½ games with a 93-70 record. The scheduling quirk did not affect the western division race.
The two division champions squared off in the best-of-five ALCS. The series began in Oakland with a 3-2 A’s victory. Mickey Lolich pitched into the eleventh inning for the Tigers. Catfish Hunter went eight solid innings for Oakland. Rollie Fingers finished with three relief innings. Fingers almost lost the contest in the eleventh. Al Kaline homered off the relief ace to give Detroit a 2-1 lead. Lolich could not hold the lead in the bottom of the 11th. He surrendered two singles and Billy Martin brought Chuck Seelbach in to save the game. With one out, Gonzalo Marquez punched a single to right scoring two for a walk off A’s win. Detroit’s manager should have changed pitchers for the 11th.
Oakland quickly took a two-games-to-none lead on Detroit. Woodie Fryman could not survive the fifth inning for the Tigers. Oakland scored four to take a commanding 5-0 lead in the game. The game featured a bench-clearing brawl. Detroit’s Lerrin LaGrow drilled Bert Campaneris in the ankle after the Athletic slapped three hits, stole two bases, and scored two runs. Campaneris threw his bat at LaGrow and the benches cleared. The league suspended both players for the remainder of the ALCS.
The Tigers faced elimination in Game 3. Joe Coleman answered the call and defeated the A’s 3-0. Coleman came to Detroit in the Denny McLain trade. Coleman became a dominant starter while the former 30-game winner flamed out in Washington. Detroit’s right-hander came through in the biggest start of his career to keep the series alive.
Oakland entered Game 4 needing a win to clinch their first pennant since 1931. The Tigers needed a victory for the series to continue. Game 4 of the 1972 ALCS remains one of baseball’s greatest playoff games. Lolich and Hunter hooked up for another duel. The two teams battled to a 1-1 tie and the game entered extra innings. Martin did not repeat his Game 1 mistake. He removed Lolich after nine innings, but chose the wrong reliever. Seelbach blew up and allowed two runs. John Hiller cleaned up the mess, but it appeared too late.
The veteran Tigers faced elimination in the 10th inning. Luckily, the A’s already used Fingers and turned to Bob Locker to close out Detroit. Dick McAuliffe singled to right leading off the inning. Kaline followed with a single to left advancing McAuliffe to second. Joe Horlen replaced Locker on the mound and Gates Brown came off the bench to hit for Mickey Stanley. Horlen immediately uncorked a wild pitch advancing the runners and Brown walked. Bill Freehan hit a grounder scoring McAuliffe. An error allowed Freehan to reach loading the bases. Dave Hamilton then replaced Horlen. Hamilton could not find the strike zone and walked Norm Cash scoring Kaline. Jim Northrup, who had the game winning hit in the 1968 World Series, singled in the winning run and Tiger Stadium roared at the possibility of a pennant in Game 5.
Blue Moon Odom started Game 5 for Oakland against Fryman. In a bizarre move, Billy Martin benched Willie Horton in favor of Duke Sims, who went 0-for-3. The Tigers scored first on a grounder by Freehan. Reggie Jackson stole home in the second to tie the score. Jackson tore his hamstring and was out for the remainder of the A’s season. In the fourth, Gene Tenace singled in the go-ahead run for his only RBI of the series. Vida Blue pitched the final four innings for a save. Willie Horton entered the game as a pinch hitter and singled. In another controversial move, Martin pinch hit for Northrup in the ninth. At the time, Northrup was 2-for-2 with a walk. The pinch hitter, Mickey Stanley, grounded out. When Blue got Tony Taylor to fly out, the A’s were AL Champions.
Oakland won the 1972 World Series. They were a better team than Detroit, but probably should have lost the ALCS. Mickey Lolich should not have been pitching into the 11th inning in Game 1. The Tigers bailed their skipper out in Game 4. In Game 5, Tiger manager Billy Martin should have started Horton and left Northrup in to hit in the ninth. This proved the last hurrah for a veteran ball club. For Martin, it was just another managerial stop in his career.