1984 World Series: Dominating Detroit Survives Gritty San Diego

The Detroit Tigers came into the 1984 World Series as a steamroller, having won 104 games in the regular season, led a tough AL East wire-to-wire and then sweeping the Kansas City Royals out of the ALCS. The San Diego Padres were more a nice, overachieving story. They had the best year in franchise history, winning 92 games and then delivering a memorable NLCS victory over the Chicago Cubs.

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You can read more about the road each team took to get to the Fall Classic at the links below which cover the division title runs and LCS victories for both. This article will focus exclusively on the games of the 1984 World Series.



It was expected that Detroit would win decisively and the fact they did so in five games shows the Tigers met expectations. But if you were a Tiger fan living through it in the moment, there were some nervous moments, as the Padres played competitive baseball throughout this Fall Classic and continually fought back whenever Detroit threatened to blow games open.

It was a Tuesday night in San Diego when the World Series opened. The Tigers sent workhorse ace Jack Morris to the mound to face consistent Padre lefty Mark Thurmond. San Diego starters had problems in the NLCS. Thurmond was no exception, and his early troubles persisted to start the World Series.

Detroit second baseman Lou Whitaker opened the Series with a double and was promptly driven in by an RBI single from Alan Trammell. The inning ended 1-0, but only because Trammell was thrown out stealing, negating subsequent singles from Lance Parrish and Larry Herndon.

San Diego got back quickly. With two outs, Steve Garvey, the hero of the NLCS, singled and Graig Nettles followed suit. Terry Kennedy then drilled a two-round double into the rightfielder corner and it was a 2-1 game.

The Padres missed a scoring chance in the third, when Morris induced Garvey to hit into a big double play and the Tigers reclaimed the lead in the fifth. Kirk Gibson had been caught stealing with one out, and it looked like Detroit might have run themselves out of more runs. But Parrish and Herndon again came through—the former doubled, and the latter homered.

Morris made the 3-2 lead stand up. He gave up consecutive singles to Nettles and Kennedy in the sixth, but struck out three straight to kill the threat. In the bottom of the seventh, San Diego’s Kurt Bevacqua, playing only because the DH rule was in effect for 1984 (at this time, use of the DH alternated each year and the rules were in place for the entire Series, not based on which team was at home), hit a double. Bevacqua tried for third and was gunned down by a Gibson-Whitaker relay. Morris went six-up, six-down in the eighth and ninth.

The following evening for Game 2, Detroit again struck right away. Whitaker, Trammell and Gibson hit consecutive singles to open the game. One run was in, and then Gibson stole second. Parrish hit a sac fly and Darrell Evans blooped in a single to make it 3-0. After another single put runners on the corners, San Diego manager Dick Williams went for broke, pulled starter Ed Whitson and entrusted 25 outs to his bullpen.

The San Diego bullpen, this team’s great asset in the regular season and huge in the NLCS, came through with their Series chances realistically on the line. Andy Hawkins threw 5.1 innings of one-hit ball. Craig Lefferts threw three innings and only gave up one hit. Neither walked a man. Detroit didn’t score again and San Diego began coming back.

The Padres picked up a run in the bottom of the first when leadoff man Alan Wiggins bunted, Tony Gwynn walked, Steve Garvey bunted both over and Graig Nettles delivered a sac fly. San Diego consistently threatened each of the next three innings, and finally pushed over another run in the fourth.

With one out in the fifth, Nettles drew a walk and Kennedy singled. Bevacqua, making the most of his chance to play, unloaded a three-run jack. San Diego took Game 2 5-3 and while Detroit had done what they needed to, and split on the road, there was still hope the underdog could make this Series competitive.

The great city of Detroit was watching its first World Series since the championship year of 1968 and were ready on a Friday night for Game 3, as the middle three games came to Motown. It didn’t take long for the offense to give the fans something to cheer about.

There were two outs and no one in the bottom of the second, but San Diego starter Tim Lollar couldn’t get off the mound. Chet Lemon singled and Marty Castillo hit a home run. Whitaker drew a walk and Trammell doubled him in. Gibson walked, and Parrish singled. The bases were loaded and Lollar was yanked. Herndon drew a walk to make it 4-0 before the third out finally came.

San Diego, as was the case in the first two games, responded immediately to a Detroit attack. Wiggins and Gwynn each singled, and Garvey came up with an RBI groundout. But in the bottom of the third, three consecutive walks and hit batsman gave the Tigers a gift run and it was 5-1.

Milt Wilcox was pitching well for Detroit and the Padres didn’t score again until the seventh, when Gwynn beat out an infield hit and scored on a double by Garvey. Detroit turned to closer Willie Hernandez, who won both the Cy Young and MVP awards in 1984, and he got the final six outs.

The 1984 World Series marked the last year with a schedule that included day games on Saturday and Sunday. Though there was a daytime start in 1987 that was an out-of-the-box decision rather than part of a regular schedule. The ’87 game was also played indoors at the Metrodome in Minnesota. These weekend games in 1984 marked the last time the World Series was played outdoors in the afternoon.

Detroit scored in the first inning for the third time in this Series, as Whitaker reached on an error by Wiggins at second, and then Trammell launched a home run. The pattern of San Diego answering continued, as Kennedy homered off Morris, who took the ball on three days’ rest, making him available for a potential Game 7.

The Tigers again chased a Padre starter early, this time Eric Show, who had been terrible in two NLCS starts (though his teammates bailed him out in Game 5). Whitaker singled and Trammel hit his second home run of the day to make it 4-1.

San Diego’s bullpen came through—Dave Dravecky tossed 3.1 innings of shutout ball, including a strikeout of Gibson with runners on the corners and one out in the fifth. Detroit was done scoring. But San Diego couldn’t get crack Morris. They scraped across on a run in the ninth, but never so much as got the tying run to the plate. The final was 4-2 and Morris had another complete game win.

There was still hope for the Padres—just get one win in Detroit and then get your home park back for the latter part of the World Series. But somewhere along the line a Padre starter would have to do something heroic—like get out of the first three innings. It didn’t happen in Game 5.

Whitaker opened the home half of the first with a single and Gibson homered. Parrish, Herndon and Lemon hit consecutive singles and again had Williams putting almost an entire game into his bullpen’s hands.

The Padres, to their eternal credit, continued to keep coming back. Bobby Brown singled in the third, moved up on two ground ball outs and scored on a base hit from Garvey. Bevacqua led off the fourth with a walk, Templeton doubled, Brown hit a sac fly and Wiggins singled. It was 3-3, and Detroit manager Sparky Anderson joined Williams in turning to the bullpen early.

Anderson didn’t have the bullpen depth Williams did, but in addition to Hernandez, Detroit had Aurelio Lopez, who had an excellent year in 1984, and what’s more, the Tiger relievers weren’t taxed by having to pitch virtually entire games. Lopez got seven big outs, four of them by strikeout and slowed San Diego down.

Gibson beat out an infield hit in the fifth, and after two walks, he was at third and alertly tagged up on a short pop fly out to rightfield. Parrish gave the Tigers narrow breathing room with a home run in the seventh, but Bevacqua answered back by taking Hernandez deep for a solo shot in the eight. It was 5-4 and San Diego was still clinging to a thread of a chance with three outs to go.

But the Tigers still had to bat in the eight. Williams went to his closer, Goose Gossage. Castillo drew a leadoff walk. A bunt attempt by Whitaker worked out even better than Anderson imagined—both runners ended up safe. Trammell bunted both into scoring position.

Gibson came to the plate and put the finishing touches on a brilliant game. In one of the memorable moments in Detroit Tiger history he launched a three-run blast into rightfield, sending Detroit into a frenzy. The World Series title could be tasted and Hernandez closed the ninth without incident.

Trammell won the Series MVP and his numbers were excellent. The shortstop went 9-for-20 and homered twice. But I still dissent. How was the MVP of this series anyone other than Jack Morris? He pitched two complete games, gave up only two runs apiece in each game, both of which were close and required him to deliver a top performance? He set the tone in Game 1 and had the Padres won Game 4, and at least ensured themselves a trip back west, in changes the whole tenor of the Series.

Trammell, along with Whitaker, made a consistent impact through all five games, but Morris was the true MVP of the 1984 World Series.

No team made a more consistent impact though, than the 1984 Detroit Tigers. They were far and away the best in baseball. Their real competition is not the San Diego Padres—gritty though the ’84 Padres were—it’s teams like the 1976 Cincinnati Reds or the 1998 New York Yankees, other great teams, who are in the conversation for the best of the modern era. Detroit’s 1984 team is right there in that discussion.