Although 1973 was a time when the Baltimore Orioles dominated the AL East, on this day, the New York Yankees moved into a tie for first place with a 6-5 win over Detroit at Tiger Stadium before a crowd of 12, 038.
The Yankees were only 20-20 (the same as Detroit), but this day marked the first time the Yankees had been in first place outside of the month of April since they had won their last pennant in 1964.
Yankees manager Ralph Houk in his second tour of duty as Yankees manager chose Fritz Peterson as his starter. Peterson and teammate Mike Kekich caused a stir during spring training when the two mean agreed to trade their spouses. Ahh, the 1970s, I miss them so. Detroit manager Billy Martin started Joe Coleman.
The Yankees order was not formidable. Horace Clarke led off. He would finish 1973 with an OPS+ of 80 and had just 23 extra base hits all season. In the picture accompanying the New York Times account of the game, it appears that Clarke also played the infield this game in a batting helmet. Roy White batted second and would play in all 162 games and would hit .246, but he did hit 18 home runs. Matty Alou batted third. He hit .296, but his 25 extra base hits brought his slugging percentage all the way up to .356. Bobby Murcer batted cleanup and was a solid hitter with 22 home runs. Ron Blomberg was starting at first, although he played DH (which was introduced in 1973) frequently and hit .329 in platoon duty. Third baseman Graig Nettles had arrived from Cleveland and would hit 22 home runs, but would bat .234. Jim Ray Hart was the DH this day and he had been purchased from the Giants in April. Thurman Munson, the best hitter on the team, was batting eighth this game and catching. Shortstop Gene Michael, who never hit well, batted ninth.
The Tigers had won the AL East in 1972, but they had to tweak their lineup a bit in 1973. Frank Howard had joined the team for the 1972 stretch run and was starting this game at DH. Catcher Bill Freehan was put at first base this game instead of regular starter Norm Cash. Tony Taylor was filling in for Dick McAuliffe at second base. Third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez who had an OPS+ of 63 was batting second. He would play in 160 games. Shortstop Eddie Brinkman played in 162 games and had an OPS+ of 67.
In this game, the Yankees got off to a fast start, scoring three times off of Coleman in the first. Murcer and Blomberg had RBI singles and Nettles had a sacrifice fly.
The Tigers tied it up though. In the second, left fielder Ike Brown singled home catcher Duke Sims. And in the third, Sims homered with Howard aboard to make the score 3-3.
In the fourth, the Yankees went back ahead. Blomberg led off with a single and Nettles reached on an error by Taylor. Munson singled home Blomberg and Nettles would come in to score when Michael hit into a force play. Mickey Stanley homered in the sixth to make it 5-4 New York.
Lindy McDaniel came in to relieve Peterson in the seventh and Brinkman greeted him with a double. Taylor grounded out, but Rodriguez doubled home Brinkman to tie the game. McDaniel had thrown just four pitches and Houk pulled him in favor of his relief ace, Sparky Lyle, who got out of the inning.
The game stayed tied in to the ninth. Michael led off with a single and Clarke sacrificed him over to second. White flied out to right and Alou doubled him home. (Matty's brother, Felipe Alou was also on the Yankees this year.) After 8 2/3 innings and 11 hits allowed, Martin finally pulled Coleman and brought in John Hiller, who finally got the Yankees out of the inning. The Tigers got two runners on against Lyle in the ninth, but Rodriguez popped out and Freehan struck out to end the game.
Martin would be let go by the Tigers on August 30 and Joe Schultz replaced him for the rest of the year. The Tigers finished in third place at 85-77. The Rangers would hire Martin on September 8 to replace Whitey Herzog. Houk's Yankees would finish 80-82, 17 games behind Baltimore in fourth place. Houk would step down as Yankees manager and take over the Tigers job in 1974.
1973 was also the last season, in a sense, for Yankee Stadium. The stadium would close for extensive renovations at the end of the year and the Yankees would share Shea Stadium for two seasons with the Mets. Yankee Stadium version 1.2, would have fewer seats and would no longer have monuments on the field that were in play. By the time Yankee Stadium reopened in 1976, Billy Martin would be calling the shots for the team.
Sources: Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference.com, New York Times