1968. The day dawned with the Redbirds preparing to face off against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series. The Cards were hoping to successfully defend the World Championship they had earned in 1967 by defeating the Boston Red Sox. St. Louis had cruised through the regular season without much of a hitch - a 13 -5 April record allowed an 11-16 May to not cause problems. June and July saw records of 22-9 and 24-6 and the Cards coasted the rest of the way - winning the division by nine games. The Redbirds were skippered by Red Schoendienst who handed the ball to Bob Gibson once every five games. Gibby responded with a 22-9 record with 309 innings over 34 starts (28 complete games and an average of 8.96 innings per start) and miniscule marks for both ERA (1.12) and WHIP (.853). Hoot was unanimously voted as the Cy Young Award winner and also outpolled Pete Rose for the MVP. Additional Cardinal MVP vote getters included Curt Flood (4th), Lou Brock (6th), and Mike Shannon (7th); Nelson Briles and Dal Maxvill tied for 20th. Future Hall of Famers included Gibby, Brock, and Schoendienst as well as Steve Carlton and Orlando Cepeda.
As good as the Cardinals were, the Tigers had been even better. They finished 103-59 and compiled a 12 game bulge over their nearest competitor in the AL. Their potent lineup included Willie Horton, Jim Northrup, Norm Cash, Bill Freehan, and Dick McAuliffe. Future HOFer Al Kaline had missed much of the season due to injury, but was healthy for the Fall Classic. Future HOFer Eddie Mathews was in his career's twilight, but provided important bench support. The big story in the Motor City that season, however, was Denny McLain. Having already recorded 59 wins through his age 23 season, the Chicago native exploded in 1968 with a 31-6 mark and paired a 1.96 ERA with a stingy .905 WHIP. Working in a four man rotation under Tiger manager Mayo Smith, McLain started 41 games and hurled 336 innings - 8.2 innings per start. No one since has won 30 games in a single MLB season and the instance prior to McLain was a pitcher named Dizzy Dean in 1934. McLain won both the American League Cy Young Award and the AL MVP unanimously.
54,692 Cardinal faithful poured into Busch Memorial Stadium to see the Game 1 matchup between Gibson and McLain. After Gibby struck out the leadoff batter, Mickey Stanley singled. The Tigers tested Redbird backstop Tim McCarver who was up to the task as he fired a strike to Julian Javier covering and Stanley was caught stealing. A K of Kaline concluded the Tigers' initial frame. After McLain dispatched Brock, Flood and Maris 1--2-3 in the bottom of the first, Hoot retook the hill and recorded three straight whiffs. McLain pitched around McCarver's one out triple in the second and a scoreless third ensued as well with Gibby running his K count to seven with a fan of Freehan and a third strike foul bunt by McLain. Gibby took the Tigers out with another 1-2-3 inning in the fourth and added another strikeout of Kaline. The pivotal bottom of the 4th commenced with a walk to Maris. After a foul out by Cepeda, McCarver also worked a walk. Mike Shannon plated the game's first run with a single to left and a misplay by Northrup allowed McCarver and Moonman to move up to third and second. A clutch single by Javier tallied two more. Gibson pitched around a two out walk to Freehan in the fifth, but in the sixth the Tigers had two aboard with the dangerous Cash standing in as the tying run. Hoot quelled the threat with his 11th strikeout. Growing stronger, Gibby set down the Tigers in order in the seventh and eighth with three of the six outs via strikeout. Brock homered in the bottom of the 7th to extend the margin to four. The Cardinal right-hander finished with a flourish, retiring each of the final three Detroiters in the ninth with a K; Kaline and Cash swinging and Horton looking.
It was a virtuoso performance by Bob Gibson. He allowed only four singles, a double and a solitary walk. 17 Tigers went down swinging or looking - a number accomplished neither before nor since. The Cardinals had drawn first blood in the October Classic.