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Mark Fidrych and Jim Leyland

It was a great day to go to the game yesterday, just not a great game to watch if you’re a Tigers fan.  Shelton’s homerun was impressive though.  He was down 0-2 in the count, then ripped a line shot that looked like it never rose more then 15 feet above the ground.  It was definitely a bullet and I see now how he’s getting his triples.  Just about everything he’s hitting is hard.

Unfortunately, outside of a Carlos Guillen homerun, that was the only real Tigers’ highlight.  I saw more weak popups in this game then I’ve ever seen and it looks like Jim Leyland didn’t like it one bit.  He was pretty short at his press conference and laid down the law.  It’ll be really interesting to see how the Tigers respond, through their actions, tonight against the A’s.

Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of Mark Fidrych’s debut.  I had planned on doing a game by game diary of each of his starts when I found out Tiger Tales was doing their own tribute of Fidrych’s phenomonal 1976 season.  Below is what would have been my first entry in the tribute.  Now it’s my last as I’ll enjoy Lee’s take on how Mark “the Bird” Fidrych took the world by storm in 1976.

Thirty years ago today, on April 20, 1976, the Tigers took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning against the Oakland A’s (in Oakland).  Willie Horton, in what was essentially his final season in a Tigers’ uniform (he played in one game for the Tigers in 1977 before being traded to the Texas Rangers) had homered and drove in three runs.  Tom Veryzer had a two run single in the second inning, and Ron LeFlore had scored twice.

Starter Joe Coleman had thrown eight solid innings but he gave up a single to lead off hitter Bert Campaneris and then walked Phil Garner.  Tiger’s manager Ralph Houk went to the pen and brought in Jim Crawford.  Campaneris and Garner executed a double steal, but then he got Bill North to line out to left field for the first out.  Claudell Washington drew a walk to load the bases up and then Joe Rudi singled and drove in two runs to tie the game.  Ralph Houk had seen enough, so for the second time in the inning, he went to the pen.

The move seemed innocent enough.  In came a curly haired 21 year old that would eventually take the baseball world by storm.  The Tigers were coming off of 102 losses in 1975, the second most in franchise history.  And that was only three years after winning the division in 1972.  Tiger’s fans didn’t have a lot to cheer about. 

That reliever was Mark Fidrych, who would go on to have a rookie season for the ages.  Unfortunately, his debut doesn’t have a happy ending.  Don Baylor was the first batter he faced, and Baylor singled to drive home the winning run.  Fidrych’s box score line was pretty much a big nothing.  He wasn’t credited with any innings because he didn’t get anybody out, and the run he gave was up was inherited from Crawford.  All that showed up was the hit.

Little did fans know what was in store with this youngster.

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