Lights Out: Denny McLain Becomes Baseball’s Last 30-Game Winner
When: September 14, 1968
Where: Tiger Stadium, Detroit, Michigan
Game Time: 3:00
Only one man on earth knows what it feels like to be a 30-game winner. That man is Denny McLain, and that feeling came to him in a game he nearly gave away.
McLain was a bulldozer all season long, the league’s best pitcher pitching for the league’s best team. His first two starts resulted in no decisions, but he won his next five starts, was 8-1 at the end of May and 14-2 at the end of June. McLain went 7-1 in July to become a 20-game winner before August 1, and was 5-2 in August to enter the season’s final month with a 26-5 record.
He won his first three starts in September, and the Oakland Athletics came to Detroit on September 14 to face McLain with his 29-5 record and a 1.95 ERA. A’s starter Chuck Dobson and McLain traded zeroes over the first three innings. The A’s scored two runs in the top of the fourth with Reggie Jackson’s twenty-seventh home run of the year. Then the Tigers chased Dobson in the bottom of the fourth with a three-run home run by Norm Cash.
The A’s came back in the top of the fifth, as Bert Campaneris singled in Dave Duncan to tie the score at 3-3. Jackson put the A’s back on top in the sixth inning with his twenty-eighth home run, and the game remained 4-3 through the eighth inning.
McLain retired Sal Bando, Jackson and Dick Green in order in the top of the ninth, throwing a third strike past Green for his tenth strikeout of the game. In the bottom of the ninth, Al Kaline led off with a walk. Dick McAuliffe hit a pop foul to Bando, and then Mickey Stanley singled off A’s pitcher Diego Segui, sending Kaline to third.
The next batter, Jim Northrup, smashed a hard grounder to Danny Cater at first. Cater fielded the ball and threw to third to keep Kaline from scoring, but the ball got by Bando, allowing Kaline to score the tying run and advancing Stanley to third. Willie Horton singled to drive in Stanley with the winning run, the run that made Denny McLain the first 30-game winner in the American League in 37 years, and the last man to do it in the Twentieth Century.