Opening Day Issue
A team to remember
101 wins was great - just not great enough in 1961
Published: April 6, 2011
"He hit so well all the time," McAuliffe said. "He was the best right fielder I've ever seen."
Even with the hot hitting, the Tigers were a game and a half behind the Yankees as August turned to September. Maris and Mantle were still chasing Ruth when the Tigers traveled to the Bronx for a pivotal series on Sept. 1.
"When you play the Yankees, you want to beat 'em," said Mossi, who pitched the first game of the series. "You play a little harder. Everybody they sent up to the plate was a good hitter, so I was always on my toes."
Mossi had surrendered only five hits entering the ninth inning. But with two outs in the ninth, he allowed three straight singles. The last scored the game's only run. The Yankees, led by Whitey Ford, won 1-0, and would go on to sweep the three-game series.
"It was unbelievable," McAuliffe said. "It was the best series I've ever seen pitched from both teams."
Five decades later, Wood remembers the games vividly. "It's not like we were outclassed," he said. "They were three close games, and they just came out on top. Maybe it took something out of us mentally, but we just couldn't seem to get back on track."
Detroit tumbled into an eight-game losing streak, and never challenged again for first place. "We were nauseous about what happened in New York," McAuliffe said. "We were a better hitting team but they pitched well against us."
He said the losses hurt more because of the teams' fierce rivalry.
The Yankees went on to beat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. No one can know if the Tigers would have done the same had they won the pennant, but Wood said he wouldn't have bet against his club.
"In any situation, with the talent we had, we could have beaten anybody in any given series," he said. "Unfortunately, we didn't have the opportunity. But I feel we could have beaten [the Reds] if we had the chance."
Within a few seasons, most of the players on the 1961 team would depart to make room for the young players like Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich, who would form the nucleus of the 1968 world championship team — the next Detroit club to win 100 games.
McAuliffe said that, in retrospect, he doesn't remember the 1961 team for failing to win the pennant. Instead, it's the camaraderie and friendship that have stayed with him.
"When we were out to dinner all we'd do is talk about baseball," he said. "In the later part of my career, guys never did that. In 1961 we always talked about it, and that was great. They were all good guys and good players."
> Email Michael Martinez