On this day in 1968, Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain wins his 30th game of the season, becoming the first 30-game winner in the major leagues since 1938. The Tigers scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to come from behind in a 5-4 decision over the Oakland A’s.
McLain, a hard-throwing right-hander with a personality that reflected the freewheeling late 1960s, was 24 years old in 1968. On September 14, fans eager to witness the possible pitching milestone packed Tigers Stadium, and NBC broadcast the game nationally with former St. Louis Cardinal Dizzy Dean, the last pitcher to win 30 games in the major leagues, providing color commentary.
Anticipation built as McLain held the young and powerful A’s scoreless until the fourth inning, when their budding superstar Reggie Jackson connected for a home run with one man on, giving Oakland a 2-0 lead. The Tigers’ Norm Cash answered in the bottom of the fourth with a three-run home run to put the Tigers up 3-2, but Oakland tied it up in the fifth when shortstop Bert Campaneris singled in a run, and took the lead 4-3 in the sixth when Jackson again sent one into the stands. McLain remained determined to go home with the win, however, and he hung in the game until the bottom of the ninth, when he was pulled for pinch-hitter Al Kaline with his team still trailing by one.
The move turned out to be a good one for McLain: Kaline was walked, and with one out, Mickey Stanley singled up the middle, sending Kaline to third. Next up was Jim Northrup, who hit a bouncing ball up the first base line to A’s first baseman Danny Carter, as Kaline raced toward home. Carter’s throw sailed high over home plate, and Kaline was safe, tying the game at 4-4. With the home crowd at Tigers Stadium cheering him on, Willie Horton came to the plate and, with the count at 2-2, sent the ball to deep left out of A’s left fielder Jim Gosger’s reach for the winning run to give McLain his historic 30th win.
McClain won the American League Cy Young Award in 1968 and again in 1969, before being suspended at the beginning of the 1970 season on suspicion of gambling. His career in the majors officially ended in 1972. McLain served prison time for federal racketeering in the mid-eighties, and again a decade later for money laundering.