The 1968 Tigers will forever be known as Motown’s version of the Comeback Kids, rallying from a 3-games-to-1 deficit to beat the St. Louis Cardinals for a memorable World Series title. Of course, the team of Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich, Bill Freehan, Denny McLain, et al, had already demonstrated its penchant for last-licks victories during the regular season. Of the 30 games the never-say-die team won in its last at-bat, several role players unexpectedly rose to the occasion. The most dramatic of these occurred in the opener of a mid-summer weekend series with the Baltimore Orioles, the Tigers’ nearest rival in the standings.
It was July 19, 1968. More than 53,000 fans were shoehorned into Tiger Stadium on a muggy Friday night. Down 4-2 in the ninth, the Tigers clawed back to within a run. With two out and Freehan on first, the game boiled down to a confrontation between ace reliever Moe Drabowsky and seldom-used Tommy Matchick.
The slightly built reserve infielder battled Drabowsky to a full count. Then the right-handed reliever grooved one. Matchick, a career .215 hitter with little power, whipped his bat around from the left side of the plate. Miraculously, the ball sliced through the humid air and smashed into the overhang in right field, giving the Tigers a stunning 5-4 victory and sending the crowd into hysterics.
“I just wanted to make contact,” the Tigers’ newest hero explained. “It was the biggest hit of my career.”
And 1968 was the biggest year of Matchick’s otherwise undistinguished six major league seasons. Of the four home runs he hit in the bigs, three came in the Year of the Tiger. Each was stroked at Tiger Stadium.
Matchick spent 1969 with the Tigers, again serving as a valuable role player (he hit the ball even better in a part-time role, but didn;t go deep again). In December he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Dalton Jones, and spent the next couple of years bouncing around among several American League teams. Five more years in the minor leagues followed, but Tommy never again got to play a part in The Show. The ’68 campaign had been the pinnacle of his professional baseball career.