Saturday April 25, 1970
Detroit Tigers (10-3) @ Minnesota Twins (8-4)
1969 marked the first year of division play in major league baseball. Two of the better teams in that era were the Twins and the Tigers. Minnesota had won the first AL West title in 1969, only four years after they had unseated the powerful Yankees for the ’65 pennant. Detroit had winning seasons every year since 1964, and of course the 1968 World Series victory was still fresh in the minds of Tiger fans. Though Detroit finished 19 games out of first place in 1969, they still had a respectable 90-72 record.
The two teams met in a three-game series at Metropolitan Stadium early in the 1970 season. Both had gotten off to good starts, and both had a goal to win their respective divisions. The Tigers took Friday’s series opener 8-6 on the strength of Bill Freehan’s second homer of the year; a two run shot that broke the tie in the seventh inning.
The lineups looked like this (Baseball-Reference):
Detroit Tigers Minnesota Twins 1. M Stanley 1B 1. C Tovar CF 2. D McAuliffe 2B 2. L Cardenas SS 3. A Kaline RF 3. T Oliva RF 4. W Horton LF 4. H Killebrew 3B 5. B Freehan C 5. R Reese 1B 6. J Northrup CF 6. B Alyea LF 7. E Maddox 3B 7. P Ratliff C 8. C Gutierrez SS 8. F Quilici 2B 9. E Wilson P 9. J Kaat P
This was Jim Kaat’s fourth start of the season. His first was his best, a 1-0 shut out over Oakland. His record stood at 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA. The opposing pitcher was power-arm Earl Wilson, who was making his fifth start with mixed results in his first four (2-2, 4.73).
The two pitchers exchanged scoreless innings for the first three, but did it in different ways. Wilson was able to keep the Twins’ bats largely silent, while Kaat wiggled his way out of problems early with the help of three double plays, all of which got him out of an inning. The fourth was Kaat’s first 1-2-3 inning, and it was the bottom of that frame that produced the game’s first runs.
With one out, Tony Oliva launched his third home run of the season. After a Harmon Killiebrew ground out, Rich Reese hit his first of the season to give the Twins a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers finally got to Kaat in the sixth, when first baseman Mickey Stanley hit his first home run of the year to lead off the inning. A walk and an error later in the inning were not enough to tie the game, but the lead had been cut in half to 2-1.
The lead held up through the seventh, and the Twins added an insurance run in the eighth on Jim Kaat’s sacrifice fly.
Kaat came into the ninth inning with a 3-1 lead. Willie Horton led off the inning with a single, and two batter later came home on a Jim Northrup triple. The triple chased Kaat from the game in favor of Stan Williams, who came on to pitch with the tying run at third and one out.
Norm Cash, pinch-hitting for Maddox, tied the game with a sacrifice fly off of Williams. Cesar Gutierrez grounded out to end the inning, but the damage had been done; the game was tied heading into the bottom of the ninth.
Tom Timmerman managed to get Leo Cardenas to ground out for the first out of the inning. He did not have as much success against Oliva, however, who singled to right and was able to stretch to second base when Kaline had trouble fielding the ball. The error proved costly, as the next batter, Harmon Killebrew, singled to right; enough to bring in the winning run from second base.
Stars of the Game
1. Tony Oliva MIN 2-4, 2 R, HR
2. Jim Kaat MIN 8 IP 3 ER 2 BB 5 K
3. Rich Reese MIN 1-4, HR
The Twins won the series with a Sunday afternoon Luis Tiant 6-0 shutout. Eventually, the Twins would go on to win their second straight AL West title in 1970. Detroit was headed in the other direction. After a 12-6 record in April, they tanked in May going 9-17. The team hovered around the .500 mark for the rest of the season, finishing with Detroit’s first losing record since 1963.