DETROIT — Epics. Instant classics. Games for the ages.
In October baseball, these are usually the one-run games. Sometimes, the games end with a minimalist score of 1-0. And we love it.
America tuned in for Red Sox-Tigers Wednesday night, expecting another nine-inning nail-biter, but instead got a 7-3 Detroit win. The Sox and Tigers had conditioned us to anticipate a 1-0 finish, or perhaps something more like 6-5. You can’t leave early. And you’d better be prepared to stay up late. The game is probably going to be on the line with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
The Tigers beat the Sox, 1-0, last Saturday night. The Sox won a 6-5 walkoff after David Ortiz’s grand slam Sunday. Fast-forward to Motown, where John Lackey bested Justin Verlander in a 1-0 victory Tuesday.
Three one-run games, back to back to back? That’s rare. It’s even more unusual to have 1-0 bookends in the first three games of a series.
“For a baseball purist, this is the ideal first three games that you might see,’’ said Red Sox manager John Farrell.
Baseball in recent decades has ceded territory to the mighty National Football League. Television is our true national pastime, and the NFL — with its speed, violence, and attractiveness to gamblers — is king of the Nielsens. Baseball is the stationary game, too slow and thoughtful for a society of fiercely interactive consumers with shrinking attention spans. The notion of a 1-0 baseball game is easily mocked as a museum piece, a sporting still life.
Tell that to folks who watched Lackey vs. Verlander Tuesday. It was pitching artistry. The only run came when lumberjack Mike Napoli homered on a high fastball in the seventh. The game’s crucial at-bat unfolded when little-known Junichi Tazawa faced the best hitter in baseball with runners on first and third and one out in the bottom of the eighth. Tazawa fanned Miguel Cabrera on four pitches, then turned the ball over to Koji Uehara, who whiffed widebody Prince Fielder on three pitches.
The Sox have considerable history in one-run games in October.
The 1912 World Series, featuring the Red Sox and the New York Giants, is considered one of the best Fall Classics of all time. It had four one-run games, including the finale, a 3-2 Red Sox win in 10 innings at Boston’s brand new Fenway Park. (Those were the days when the Globe owned the Red Sox, not the other way around.) Smoky Joe Wood beat Christy Mathewson in the clincher.
One-run games were a Sox specialty when the Boston Americans won three World Series in four years from 1915-18. When the Sox beat the Phillies in 1915, four of the five games were one-run games. A year later, there were three one-run games in Boston’s five-game Series victory over Brooklyn.
The first 1-0 game in Sox postseason history was a six-hit shutout hurled by lefty Babe Ruth in Chicago in 1918. Three more games in that Series were decided by one run, including the 2-1 Game 6 clincher at Fenway on Sept. 11, 1918. The Red Sox would not win another World Series for 86 years, but they would play in a lot of memorable one-run postseason games.
The single-digit decision started to work against the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series. The Sox lost the finale, 4-3, when Enos Slaughter came around from first to score on a double in the bottom of the eighth. That’s the game in which the late Johnny Pesky allegedly hesitated with a relay throw.
The Sox didn’t make it back to Octoberball for 21 years, and they lost Game 1 of the 1967 World Series, 2-1, when Bob Gibson stuffed them on six hits. The Sox’ only run was a homer by pitcher Jose Santiago.
The 1975 World Series is generally regarded as the best of the modern era, owed largely to the fact that five of the seven games were decided by one run. The Ed Armbrister game in Cincinnati (Carlton Fisk collided with Armbrister while trying to throw out a base runner) was a one-run game. The Carlton Fisk home run game (which was also the Bernie Carbo home run game) was the most famous walkoff in Sox history, and also a one-run game. Cincinnati’s Game 7 win was a 4-3 game, with Carl Yastrzemski making the final out.
The Bucky Dent playoff game in 1978? One run. 5-4. Yaz makes the final out again.
Bruce Hurst beat the Mets, 1-0, in the first game of the 1986 World Series. The Sox lost Game 6 — the Bill Buckner game — 6-5 in 10 innings. A couple of weeks before the Buckner game, the Sox beat the Angels, 7-6, in 11 innings in Game 5 of the ALCS. It was an elimination game for Boston. The Dave Henderson home run game. One run.
The Sox and Tigers took the field Wednesday night on the 10th anniversary of the Grady Little-Aaron Boone game. Boone’s home run gave the Yankees a 6-5 win in 11 innings. It was the third one-run game of the 2003 ALCS.
That loss begat 2004. There was only one one-run game in the amazing Sox-Yankees seven-game joust in ’04. Ortiz ended a 14-inning, 5-hour-and-49-minute Game 5 with a walkoff single.
The record for one-run games in an ALCS is four (Indians-Orioles, 1997). The 1972 World Series between the A’s and Reds featured six one-run games.
“These games, they’re like a movie,’’ said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “If it’s a good movie, you don’t mind staying a little longer. If it’s a bad movie, you don’t mind leaving early.’’
Good movies thus far. Two thumbs up.