The San Diego Padres, who do things the hard way, and the Detroit Tigers, who've been making it look easy since April, meet in the 1984 World Series opening tonight in San Diego.
The Tigers, relaxed, rested, and with their awesome 1-2-3 pitching punch of Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Milt Wilcox ready to go, look like a hard team to beat as they enter their first fall classic since 1968.
But the scrappy Padres, whose never-say-die spirit lifted them to an improbable first-ever National League pennant, showed in their come-from-behind playoff victory over Chicago that they're a team which takes quite a bit of beating itself.
Over the season, of course, the Tigers were without question baseball's dominant team. Their 104 victories were far more than anyone else achieved (San Diego had only 92). They led the majors in most of the key offensive categories, including runs scored, home runs, and RBIs, and also had the best pitching statistics in the American League.
With Morris (19-11), Petry (18-8), and Wilcox (17-8) likely to handle all the starting assignments, and with an outstanding bullpen led by Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez, they have a pitching staff which seems ideally set up for a best-of-seven series.
In shortstop Alan Trammell (.314), they have an outstanding all-around player who is the AL's leading MVP candidate. In playoff MVP Kirk Gibson (27 homers, 91 RBIs in the regular season) and All-Star catcher Lance Parrish (33 and 98), and outfielder Chet Lemon (20 and 76), they have a trio of solid power hitters. And the rest of the lineup is sprinkled with .280-type batters who keep getting on base, hit with occasional power, and generally provide the sort of balance up and down the batting order that leads to championships.
Defensively the Tigers are strong too, especially up the middle where it is considered so important, and where they boast a fine catcher in Parrish, a top double play combination in Trammell and second baseman Lou Whitaker, and a standout center fielder in Lemon to go along with that superb pitching staff.
No wonder this team ran away with the AL East title and then swept Kansas City 3-0 in the playoffs. But the Tigers are the first to realize that the test ahead of them now is by far the toughest one of all.
The Padres may not have the season-long numbers to match those of Detroit, but the way they won the NL playoffs over the weekend showed the character of this team - and must have given it a lot of confidence as well.
Just about counted out after losing the first two games in Chicago (no team in NL history had ever come back from an 0-2 deficit to win one of these best-of-five championship series), the Padres refused to give up. They stayed alive via a 7-1 victory in Game 3, then battled from behind to win the fourth game thanks to a big offensive display by Steve Garvey, who was a unanimous choice as the NL playoff MVP.
That still left them facing the Cubs' overpowering ace Rick Sutcliffe (16-1) in Game 5, and again things looked dark when they fell behind 3-0. Again, though , they refused to give up, scrapping back to win 6-3. And with this effort coming on the heels of the Game 4 victory over Chicago relief ace Lee Smith, the Padres have a right to believe that they can score some runs against any mound corps.
Indeed, with a lineup that includes speedy leadoff threat Alan Wiggins, NL batting champion Tony Gwynn, Garvey and his onetime rival in all those old Yankee-Dodger series, Graig Nettles, the Padres are a handful for any pitcher.
On the mound, San Diego doesn't appear to match up too well with Detroit - and the fact that the Padres had to play all the way to Sunday leaves what pitching they have pretty well scrambled going into the Series. Manager Dick Williams has named Mark Thurmond (14-9), who lasted less than four innings against the Cubs in his only playoff start, to pitch the opener against Morris, and will probably follow with Ed Whitson, Eric Show, and Tim Lollar in some order.
That array hardly seems comparable to the Tigers' big three, but the Padres do have one ace in the hole in Goose Gossage - another relic of those old Yankee-Dodger classics - who showed he is still the great fireballer of old in closing out the Cubs in Game 5 of the playoffs Sunday.
Put it all together, and it should be quite a series - especially with two such outstanding World Series managers as Anderson and Williams pulling the strings. Sparky managed Cincinnati in four Series, with a 2-2 record, while Williams has led teams into three fall classics for a 2-1 mark. They even managed against each other once - in 1972 - with Williams's Oakland A's prevailing over Anderson's Reds in seven games. And just to show how high in the all-time ranks these two men stand, whoever wins this one will join a select list of six baseball greats - Casey Stengel, Joe McCarthy, Connie Mack, Walt Alston, Miller Huggins, and John McGraw - who have won more than two World Series.