DETROIT — Al Kaline sat in a suite near the broadcast booth where his former Tigers teammate, Jim Price, analyzed Friday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves with his radio partner, Dan Dickerson.
Forty-four years ago, Price sat in the dugout and bullpen at Tiger Stadium while Kaline played in the two games in which Mickey Lolich set the club record of 16 strikeouts in 1969. And they had a bird’s-eye view at Comerica Park of Anibal Sanchez breaking that mark with 17 against the Braves over eight innings on Friday.
Price said during the broadcast, “Sorry, Mick, it had to happen sometime.”
Kaline said he left before the game was over, a 10-0 victory in hand, and listened to the rest of it on his car radio.
“I was on my way home when I heard Jim say Anibal was making history,” Kaline said. “He was really something, wasn’t he?”
Oddly, neither Kaline nor Price could recall much about Lolich’s two 16-strikeout games, but they remembered in detail how the portly left-hander mowed through lineups.
“Mickey had a great fastball and slider,” Kaline said. “He would throw that slider down and in to right-handers. That was his out pitch.
“And he threw the curveball to left-handed hitters. Left-handers hated facing Mickey.”
Kaline walked away but stopped, turned around and added, “And he was mean.”
Lolich was the 1968 World Series MVP after winning three games and out-dueling Hall of Famer Bob Gibson to win Game 7 in St. Louis. He fanned 21 in 27 innings with three complete games and also hit a Series homer.
Some believe Lolich belongs in Cooperstown, as well. Lolich’s 2,832 career strikeouts are the third-most among left-handers, trailing only Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton.
“Mickey threw hard and had that tough slider,” said Price, who backed up All-Star catcher Bill Freehan in that era. “Mick had just nasty stuff and that great leg drive got it all going.”
The team’s greatest strikeout pitcher and former doughnut shop owner, now 72, was driving north from Florida on Saturday, headed home to Washington, Mich.
Lolich fanned 16 California Angels on May 23, 1969 – getting Dick Stuart four times.
Two starts later, on June 9, 1969, he reached Sweet 16 against the expansion Seattle Pilots. Wayne Comer, his teammate in 1968, and Mike Hegan whiffed three times each in that game.
Lolich had 271 strikeouts that season. In 1971, he set the team single-season record and led the AL with 308 strikeouts. He’s Detroit’s career leader with 2,679 strikeouts, 459 starts and 39 shutouts.
Those records will be much harder to break, but Justin Verlander, with 1,487 strikeouts at age 30, has a shot at the strikeout total.
But it was Sanchez who claimed Lolich’s single-game team strikeout mark. He also set the record for strikeouts in an interleague game and tied the mark for the most in eight innings or less, shared by Johan Santana (2007) and Randy Johnson (1992 and 1999).
“It was all about deception for Anibal,” Price said. “I’ve never seen so many strikeouts on balls that bounced like that (six total). And give (catcher Brayan) Pena credit for those blocks and calling a great game, too.
“But the deception Sanchez had going for him – I don’t think you’ll ever see something like that again. I’ve never seen it before. It was amazing.”
Chip Caray, who now broadcasts Atlanta games, stopped into the Tigers’ radio booth after the game to exchange pleasantries with Price.
“That was every bit as dominant as the Kerry Wood game,” said Caray, who broadcast the Chicago Cubs in 1998, when Wood struck out 20 Houston Astros to tie the major-league record.
Dickerson called Friday’s game “one for the ages.” And who can argue?
In 113 seasons, nobody struck out more in one game than Sanchez, who bested the mark of the pitcher most synonymous with strikeouts in franchise history.