Bob Gibson fans 17 Tigers in Game 1 of 1968 World Series

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

The date must have been a cosmic magnet for Ks. Or the baseball gods just preferred something about Oct. 2 – especially when it came to pitchers.

Whatever the case, three of the most dominating performances on the mound in World Series history came on Oct. 2 – including in 1968 Cardinals’ Bob Gibson struck out a record 17 Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series.

It marked the third time in 15 years that a new Fall Classic strikeout record was set on Oct. 2.

Game 1 of the 1968 Fall Classic was billed as a match-up between baseball’s two best pitchers. Gibson, who would go on to win the National League Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Awards, was 22-9 in 1968 with a microscopic 1.12 earned-run average.

“Gibson,” said legendary Dodgers broadcaster and Ford C. Frick Award winner Vin Scully, “pitches as though he’s double parked.”

On the mound for the Tigers was Denny McLain, who at 31-6 became the big league’s first 30-game winner since Dizzy Dean in 1934. McLain would win the AL’s Cy Young and MVP awards.

But from the start, the matchup was one-sided. Gibson fanned six of the first seven batters he faced and struck out at least two batters in six of his nine innings. McLain, meanwhile, allowed runners to reach third base in both the second and third innings before permitting RBI singles to Mike Shannon and Julian Javier in the fourth inning.

It would be all the support Gibson would need. By the time he froze Willie Horton looking at strike three to end the game, Gibson had already surpassed the previous World Series single-game record of 15 strikeouts – set on Oct. 2, 1963 by the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax against the Yankees.

Koufax broke a record set 10 years to the day prior to his performance. On Oct. 2, 1953, Carl Erskine of the Dodgers struck out 14 Yankees in Game 3 of the World Series to eclipse the legendary Howard Ehmke, the crafty Philadelphia A’s lefty who struck out 13 Cubs in Game 1 of the 1929 World Series. That game, however, occurred on Oct. 8.

The only other World Series game to date to feature 13 or more strikeouts was authored by Gibson, who fanned 13 Yankees in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series.

“Bob Gibson is the luckiest pitcher I ever saw,” said former Cardinals teammate Tim McCarver. “He always pitches when the other team doesn’t score any runs.”

Gibson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981.

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series