There are times when a perceived mismatch leads to a magical upset or at least a riveting moment when a favorite has to turn back a determined challenger. The 1984 ALCS between the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals was not one of them. The Tigers came in a heavy favorite, and while the Royals were able to make a couple of the individual games very good, the outcome of the series was never in doubt.
1984 was the last year the LCS round was still a best-of-five affair. Homefield advantage was determined by a rotation system, so the series would open with two games in Kansas City on a Tuesday & Wednesday. After a day off for travel, the balance of the series would be played in Detroit. You can read more about the season-long paths each team took to its division title at the links below. This article will focus strictly on the games of the 1984 ALCS.
Each team had its ace ready, Detroit with Jack Morris and Kansas City sending Bud Black. The Tigers wasted little time getting after Black and sending a clear message about their status as the top-heavy favorite to win the World Series.
Lou Whitaker led off the ALCS with a single and Alan Trammell promptly tripled him home. A sac fly from Lance Parrish had Detroit up 2-0 before anyone was even settled in. Larry Herndon and Trammell each hit leadoff homers in the fourth and fifth inning to extend the lead to 4-zip. Another run came in the seventh when Whitaker took second on a misplayed liner to right and quickly scored on a base hit from Trammell.
Morris was rolling and the 5-0 lead was plenty, but the Tigers tacked on three more runs, including another leadoff homer, this one from Parrish. The Royals avoided a shutout with a run in the seventh but that was all they achieved. The final was 8-1.
Detroit went to 18-game winner Dan Petry in Game 2. Kansas City had a 20-year-old kid who had both started and relieved throughout 1984 and pitched pretty well. His name was Bret Saberhagen. The Tigers wasted no time jumping on the kid. After a one-out error, Detroit pounced with back-to-back doubles from Kirk Gibson and Parrish. The Royals again faced a 2-0 deficit before coming to bat.
Gibson padded the lead with a one-out solo blast in the third. It looked like the rout was on. But Saberhagen settled in and Detroit stopped scoring. Meanwhile, the K.C. offense started grinding its way back.
Pat Sheridan worked a one-out walk in the fourth and took third on a base hit by George Brett. A productive ground ball from Jorge Orta put the Royals on the board. In the seventh, Steven Balboni singled with one out. A forceout replaced him on the basepaths with Frank White and Dane Iorg’s pinch-hit single cut the lead to 3-2.
Detroit closer Willie Hernandez would won both the Cy Young and MVP awards in 1984, and he came on in the eighth inning. Kansas City, fighting for its life, found a way to tie the game. Lynn Jones singled to start the frame. Hal McRae, a veteran of K.C.’s four ALCS battles from 1976-80 had lost his power by this stage of his career, but he still came through here with a game-tying double. Kansas City had gotten to Hernandez and still had their own great closer, Dan Quisenberry in the pen.
Tiger manager Sparky Anderson cut his losses on Hernandez and went to Aurelio Rodriguez. The move came through, as Rodriguez tossed two shutout innings, matching zeroes with Quisenberry as the game went to the 11th.
Parrish led off the Detroit half of the eleventh with a single. A sac bunt by Darrell Evans was booted by catcher Don Slaught and now there were runners on first and second. Ruppert Jones bunted both over and John Grubb came up with the biggest hit of this ALCS, a two-run double off Quisenberry. Kansas City rallied in the bottom of the inning, putting two on with two outs. Jones came to the plate and lifted a long fly ball to right. But there was no walkoff magic…just a flyout to Gibson. Rodriguez finished the job in the 5-3 win.
Detroit took the field on Friday night knowing they had three cracks at home to clinch their first pennant since 1968. Milt Wilcox got the ball for the Tigers and pitched the game of his life.
Wilcox threw a three-hitter, with no Royal batter ever making it to second base. And it turns out he needed to be just that great, because K.C. lefty Charlie Liebrandt was almost as good.
Detroit mounted a soft rally on the second. An infield hit by Barbaro Garbey started it. After a forceout, an Evans single put runners on the corners and Marty Castillo’s productive groundball out brought in the run. The Tigers threatened again the next inning, with Gibson on third and one out. But Leibrandt struck out Parrish and was able to escape.
The rest of the game was the two pitchers putting on a show. The 1-0 lead held and Hernandez came on for the ninth. When he got Darryl Motley to pop up to third, the city of Detroit could celebrate. Gibson was named ALCS MVP, going 5-for-12 with a home run and two RBI.
As series MVP honors go, those numbers are pedestrian. But no pitcher had to go more than twice, no reliever dominated and Trammell was the only other everyday player to have an impact going 4-for-11. Trammell was the difference in Game 1, but Gibson was in the much more competitive Game 2 that all but clinched the series.
Detroit was able to keep right on celebrating through the World Series, as they rolled through the San Diego Padres in five games to win what is still their most recent title (though the franchise won AL flags in 2006 and 2012).
Kansas City would get its own chance to celebrate—one year later they would be back and win the World Series themselves. But 1984 belonged to Detroit.