Dizzy Dean won 30 games in 1934. Major League Baseball lacked a 30-game winner for the next three decades. In 1968, Denny McLain joined Dean in the 30-win club. Indeed, 1968 belonged to McLain as he led the Tigers to the pennant, won the Cy Young and MVP Awards, and topped the American League (AL) in wins, win percentage, game starts, complete games, and innings pitched. Despite the dominance, McLain needed some assistance to win his 30th contest. On September 14, he defeated the Oakland A’s 5-4 as the Tigers rallied for two in the ninth to clinch McLain’s 30th victory.
Denny McLain entered the September 14 game against Oakland with a 29-5 record. His team led the AL by 9.5 games with a 94-54 record. So, the Tigers had not yet clinched the pennant making the contest doubly important. Detroit wished to pad their lead and inch closer to the World Series and McLain needed a victory to become the first 30-game winner in 34 years. The up-and-coming Oakland A’s stood in the veteran Tigers way. In just a couple of seasons, Oakland developed into a dynasty.
The Oakland Dynasty had not yet developed when A’s manager Bob Kennedy penciled in Chuck Dobson to start against McLain. Dobson was a solid starter that might have performed better on a winning ball club. In 1968, he finished 12-14 with a 3.00 ERA and 1.229 WHIP in 225.1 innings. On this night, the Oakland starter vanished in the fourth inning.
Despite the early shower, Dobson matched McLain through three innings. He allowed no runs , one hit, and a walk going into the third. On the other side, McLain surrendered a single hit and fanned the side in the third. In the fourth, Reggie Jackson took the Tiger ace deep with a two-run shot to provide Dobson the lead. In the bottom half of the inning, Norm Cash answered with a three-run home run to take it away. Next, Bill Freehan singled, Tom Matchick lined out, and Don Wert reached on an error. That was all for Mr. Dobson as Jack Aker replaced him. Aker allowed a wild pitch and a walk, but no further runs.
McLain could not hold the lead and Oakland’s bullpen held the Tigers in check. In the top of the fifth, Dave Duncan walked, was bunted to second, and scored on Bert Campaneris’ single. In the sixth, Jackson homered for the second time to give Oakland reliever Diego Segui a 4-3 lead. Sequi allowed singles to Cash in the sixth, Mickey Stanley in the seventh, and Matchick in the eighth. Freehan also walked in the eighth. The four baserunners did not score.
Oakland led 4-3 in the ninth when McLain retired the side in order including Jackson and Dick Green on strikeouts. Sequi continued pitching despite allowing two runners in the eighth. In the bottom of the ninth, Al Kaline led off with a walk and moved to third on Stanley’s one out single. Jim Northrup hit into a fielder’s choice scoring Kaline. Stanley took third on an error. Willie Horton singled in the winning run and the Tigers won 5-4.
The victory pushed Detroit closer to its first pennant since 1945. They remained 9.5 up with 13 to play. Meanwhile, McLain pushed his record to 30-5 en route to 31-6. Later he beat the Yankees 6-2 and then lost 2-1 to the Orioles. McLain went 1-2 in the World Series against the Cardinals. However, on September 14, McLain was the greatest pitcher in baseball. He became the first man with 30 wins since Dizzy Dean and no one has reached that plateau since. In fact, with the way the game is currently constituted with pitch counts, innings limits, and relief pitchers, it is doubtful anyone will approach that figure in the near future.