Many of you who have graced me with your cyber presence might know one thing about me: I’m loathe to give sports talk radio much of a wide berth. I’m much more likely to break out the Haterade than toss bouquets in their direction. And no, it’s not because I think I should have MY own show (but I kinda do).
But I have to give them some props, because yesterday, in the afterglow of Justin Verlander’s no-hitter Tuesday night, WXYT asked listeners to contribute their candidates for all-time great individual performances in Detroit sports history, while at the same time trying to determine where Verlander’s ranks.
Not a bad idea.
Only, I highly suspect that a vast majority of those moments phoned in were NOT actually witnessed by the callers in person. So I’d like to take it one step further and list, in no particular order, the greatest individual feats that I’ve seen — live, at the venue. None of this “heard of it,” “read about it,” or “saw it on TV” nonsense.
1. Kirk Gibson cooks Gossage’s goose. Officially, the Tigers became world champs in 1984 when Tony Gwynn’s lazy flyball to left field settled into the glove of Larry Herndon for the final out of Game 5. But to me and and the rest of the packed Tiger Stadium crowd on October 14, 1984, the moment the Tigers became the best baseball team in the world was when Gibson rocketed Goose Gossage’s pitch deep into the upper deck in right field, turning a precarious 5-4 lead into a soul-sucking 8-4 margin in the bottom of the eighth inning. My first Detroit championship (too young to remember 1968).
2. Oh, Isiah! I’ll never forget how steamy hot and muggy Joe Louis Arena was on that April night in 1984. I also remember my 1978 Camaro pooping out in a drive-thru lane that afternoon, and me scrambling to get it fixed in time so I could get to the game. It was the deciding Game 5 of the first round of the NBA playoffs: Pistons vs. Knicks. It was played at JLA because the Silverdome was otherwise engaged. It was a great game BEFORE Isiah Thomas’s antics. And all he did was score 16 points in 90 seconds at the end of regulation, forcing overtime. Three-pointers. Steals and layups. Turnaround jumpers. Slithering drives thru the lane. Isiah did it all, and then some. We screamed ourselves hoarse. The Pistons lost in overtime, but Thomas’s performance was absolutely amazing. I’m maybe most proud of having been at this one.
3. Morris’s near no-no. OK, it wasn’t like he carried a no-hitter into the late innings, but in July, 1990, Jack Morris — in an otherwise dismal year for him, and the Tigers — pitched the best game I’ve ever seen. It came against Kansas City. He gave up a one-out single in the first inning. That runner was promptly erased by a double play. Then Morris set down the next 24 men in order — as close to a perfect game as you’re gonna see. I still have the scorecard. I kept track of pitch count, too — and found when I checked it that Morris threw 117 pitches — 67 for strikes. The Royals didn’t hit too many balls hard that evening, if I recall. Nor were there any defensive gems that stand out. It was just a bitch of a pitcher at his best.
4. Stevie Y. steals a game by himself. Funny how some of these occurred in regular-season, seemingly meaningless games. It was early in the 1991-92 season. Blackhawks in town, and they hold a one-goal lead late in regulation. There are less than ten seconds left, and a faceoff in Chicago’s zone. Yzerman wins the faceoff, but he wins it to himself. Eschewing his teammates’ help, Yzerman shoved the puck toward the Chicago goal, disregarding the multiple defenders, and kept jamming at it until it fluttered over Ed Belfour’s shoulder. Tie game with seconds left. Then he wins it in overtime with a goal. As exciting as an NHL game can get in October.
5. Kevin Jones runs wild. Obviously another meaningless game, since this is the Lions we’re talking about this time. But Jones was special on this December Sunday against the Cardinals in 2004, his rookie season. He ran over, through, and around the Cardinals to the tune of nearly 200 yards in a Lions win. But this wasn’t one of those Barry Sanders-like 200-yard days, when 160 of them came on two carries, as was Barry’s wont. Jones carried about 30 times, and he combined brute power with speed and elusiveness that day like no Lions running back I’ve seen — before or since. And that includes Sanders and Billy Sims.
6. Gibson again. But this came the year before his ’84 display. Boston Red Sox in town, and the crowd is still buzzing about Gibby’s homerun over the right field roof when he steps to the plate in the late innings. He gets on base with a single. Then someone — can’t remember who — drives a ball into the gap. Gibson is intent on scoring. VERY intent. He rounds third like a freight train, and the ball and he arrive at home plate at the same time. Poor Rich Gedman, the Red Sox catcher. For Gibby plows into Gedman, knocking him senseless and the ball loose. Gedman somehow recovers and tags Gibson, who has already skipped across home plate. But Boston manager Ralph Houk loses his mind, saying that Gibson missed the plate and that the umpire, who Gibson also knocked off balance, was out of position to make the call. Houk gets tossed, the run stands, and the Tigers win. A typical game for Gibson, who played every one with fury.
I’d love to hear yours. Drop me a line! email@example.com.