In 1968, the Tigers easily won the AL pennant by 12 games. The Cardinals won the NL pennant by nine games.
The Tigers had a lineup that included Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Eddie Mathews and Willie Horton. They had Gold Glovers, Hall of Famers and All-Stars. The team was so good, they had three of the top four vote-getters for the AL MVP.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals had Lou Brock, Roger Maris, Orlando Cepeda, Curt Flood and their own collection of Gold Glovers, Hall of Famers and All-Stars. They also boasted four of the top seven NL MVP candidates.
On October 2, 1968, Game 1 of the World Series started with Denny McLain and Bob Gibson as the pitchers.
Denny McLain won 31 games and had an ERA of 1.96. He started 41 games, completed 28 of those and pitched six shutouts. McLain had 280 strikeouts with only 63 walks. He was an All-Star, won the AL Cy Young Award and was voted the AL MVP.
Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson was just as impressive. He only started 35 games but completed 28 of them and pitched 13 shutouts—the most shutouts since 1916. He had 268 strikeouts to only 63 walks. He was also an All-Star, won the NL Cy Young Award, was voted the NL MVP and won a Gold Glove.
Oh, and by the way, he had an ERA of 1.12.
I think everyone knew this would be a pitcher's duel, but no one thought they would see history made that day.
Bob Gibson started the game with two strikeouts in the first inning and followed that up by striking out the side in the second.
By the time the ninth inning arrived, Gibson needed one strikeout to tie the record. The first batter, Mickey Stanley, singled. Due up were the number three, four and five hitters in the Tigers' lineup: Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Willie Horton.
Al Kaline was a future Hall of Famer. No problem. Strikeout.
Norm Cash hit 25 home runs in only 458 at-bats. He had an OPS of .862. Strikeout.
Willie Horton was an All-Star coming to bat with 36 home runs. Strikeout.
Bob Gibson said after the game that he heard the crowd cheering after each pitch but had no idea it was because of a record he was about to break. There was never, nor will there ever be, a more focused athlete.
In three games during the World Series, Bob Gibson stuck out 35 batters.
Because he was so dominant that year, MLB felt the need to lower the pitching mound. Even that couldn't stop him. In 1969, Gibson had the same number of complete games (28), one more strikeout (269 over 268) and the ridiculous 1.12 ERA rose all the way up to 2.18.