The 1998 Detroit Tigers were not a good baseball team. By the end of April, skipper Buddy Bell’s club was 6-18, and after an 8-22 August, Bell was out of a job. Larry Parrish took over the managerial duties and limped the team to the finish line.
The New York Yankees ran away with the American League East that year, posted 114 wins, 22 games ahead of second-place Boston, and 26 ahead of Toronto. So when the Tigers met the Blue Jays for the final three-game set of the year, there was very little intrigue. That is, of course, with exception of a 21-year old Jays starter named Roy “Doc” Halladay, who got the nod on the final day of the season — just his second Major League start. What ensued is this edition’s #RandomTigersThought.
The late Halladay was a rather heralded prospect for the Jays. He was their first-round pick (17th overall) in 1995 out of Arvada West High School in Colorado. Toronto moved him along quickly, and despite some lackluster numbers in the upper minors, Halladay was called up to make his Major League debut on September 20th in Tampa Bay. He went five innings in that contest, allowing three runs — only two of which were earned — and striking out five. The Jays ended up beating the Rays, 7-5, in twelve innings, so Halladay did not factor in the decisions. He had to be licking his chops for his first MLB win against the lowly Tigers lineup a week later in Ontario.
Halladay would face lefty Justin Thompson, who was the only consistent rotation piece for the Tigers that season, along with Brian Moehler. A fellow first-round pick like Halladay, Thompson was 11-15 on the year with a 4.05 ERA and ate 222 innings.
Detroit’s lineup was “powered” by Luis Gonzalez, Tony Clark, Damion Easley, and Bobby Higginson. Rookie Juan Encarnacion was a solid contributor, but he was only 22 years old and appeared in just 40 games that season. Aside from those players, no other Tigers regular posted an OPS+ at or above replacement level. Higginson, who had started 153 games already, was given the day off, with youngster Gabe Kapler getting the start in right field while Kimera Bartee manned center.
Through two and a half innings, only one player on either side reached base, and that was a Shannon Stewart walk to lead off the bottom of the first. But Thompson retired sluggers Shawn Green, Jose Canseco, and Carlos Delgado in order to end any potential threat. In the bottom of the third, Alex Gonzalez launched a line-drive home run down the left-field line to give Halladay a 1-0 lead. Halladay continued to cruise, and after the Tigers’ half of the sixth, Tony Clark had been the only Tiger to reach base — and that was on an error by second baseman Felipe Crespo.
In the bottom of the sixth, Green smashed a 1-0 pitch from Thompson over the left-field wall to make it 2-0 Jays. Heading to the ninth, Halladay had still not allowed a hit and faced just one over the minimum. He was super efficient, logging just 86 pitches through eight innings of work, without a single three-ball count. The Tigers desperately did not want to end an already horrific season by being no-hit by a rookie on the last day of the season. So with two outs in the ninth, Parrish sent Higginson into the ballgame to hit for Bartee. Halladay threw a first-pitch fastball on the outside corner and Higgy jumped all over it, sending it just over the wall in left to end the no-hitter and the shutout. You can see the homer at the 0:22 mark here:
Halladay induced a weak lineout from Frank Catalanotto to end the game and seal the 2-1 win for Toronto. It would be several more years before Halladay turned into the dominant ace that we all remember. He would go on to make eight All-Star teams and was named the 2003 American League Cy Young Award. In 2010, he famously threw a perfect game against the Marlins in May, won the National League Cy Young, and threw the first postseason no-hitter since 1956 — when he blanked the Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. Halladay would pass in a tragic plane crash in 2017. He was voted into the Hall of Fame posthumously in 2019, with 203 career wins over 16 seasons.
Curbing the no-hitter might have sent the Tigers into the off-season with some optimism for 1999, but they followed up with essentially a repeat performance, going 69-92. Parrish was fired after the ’99 campaign in favor of Phil Garner.
If you have a random Tigers thought, hit me up on Twitter @Tiger_Lifer and use the hashtag #RandomTigersThought.