In the cold of Tiger Stadium tonight, nobody felt a thing. Except sheer joy.
Because tonight, on a blustery October evening, this city that loves its baseball team so much celebrated an American League pennant for the first time in 16 years as the Detroit Tigers beat the Kansas City Royals, 1-0, to finish off a 3-0 sweep of the American League championship series.
The major hero was starting pitcher Milt Wilcox, who pitched eight innings of two-hit baseball. He outdueled Kansas City's Charlie Leibrandt, who was almost as brilliant, allowing three hits.
"I never thought we would win this game, 1-0, not in this ballpark," Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson said. "When a guy beats you, 1-0, here, he's pitched some ballgame. The story tonight was Wilcox, period."
Wilcox had some help. Third baseman Marty Castillo and first baseman Darrell Evans each made a wonderful fielding play late in the game. Willie Hernandez, the remarkably reliable reliever, got the final three outs in the ninth inning.
And Castillo, helped by the thick grass of the Detroit infield, legged out what could have been a double-play ball in the second inning to allow Chet Lemon to score the only run.
"In Kansas City, that's probably a double play on the carpet," said Detroit outfielder Kirk Gibson, voted the series' most valuable player after going five for 12 and making a key catch in the opening game. "But that's the way our team has been. Marty just hustled it out."
Castillo, who exultantly tossed the ball and his cap into the stands after catching Darryl Motley's foul pop to end the game, was pragmatic about the play.
"When I hit it, I thought I better go quick," he said. "I just ran as hard as I could."
Few among the 52,168 who jammed into this picturesque old ballpark tonight dreamed that Lemon's run -- set up by Barbaro Garbey's infield single, Lemon's force of Garbey and a long single by Evans -- would be the lone score of the game.
Few among them imagined that they had seen the Tigers' last hit of the night or that Wilcox, who took cortisone shots all season because of a sore right shoulder, would pitch the game of his life.
It was 14 years ago that Wilcox, then a 20-year-old rookie, pitched three innings of relief for the Cincinnati Reds and got credit for the victory in their pennant-clinching decision. He was just a kid with a live arm back then. Now, he is a retread, a man thought washed up several times, but also a competitor who knows the ins and outs of savvy pitching.
Tonight, although he struck out four in a row at one point to tie a record he and three others held, Wilcox was all finesse, working the corners, mixing up his pitches, keeping the hitters off balance. He struck out eight, walked two and was ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2 on 19 of the 28 batters he faced.
"Both pitchers were great tonight," said Kansas City Manager Dick Howser, now 0-9 in postseason play. "The difference in this series was simple. They got three well-pitched games, we got two. Our pitching the last two games was good enough to win."
But his team, which won 20 games fewer than the Tigers during the season, was not. Detroit had an answer for everything Kansas City did. The first night it was power. The second night it was depth and the bullpen; tonight it was Wilcox.
"I've been with a lot of good baseball teams (five pennant winners) but this one is as good as any at going into the pits," Anderson said. "They are really good people when it comes to competing."
The Tigers came here this evening expecting to end the series. They won two games at Kansas City and saw no reason not to continue their control here.
"We just all had a feeling this was it," Gibson said. "We wanted to end this thing right here, right now in front of our fans."
The Royals never led in this series. In fact, they trailed for 26 of 29 innings. They stayed even for an inning tonight, fell behind in the second and never caught up.
Wilcox had not pitched for 10 days, skipping his last start because of tenderness in his shoulder. "I felt a little rusty and a little nervous early," he said. "Once I got by the first two innings though, I was fine."
He retired the first five batters, walked Steve Balboni with two outs in the second, then retired five more before George Brett got the Royals' first hit, a line-drive single down the left field line, in the fourth.
Wilcox promptly struck out the next four batters and retired six in a row before walking Pat Sheridan in the sixth. "When he struck out those four in a row, I suspected we were having problems with him," Howser said. "He just pitched as well as you can ask a guy to pitch."
Leibrandt was no slouch. After the second he yielded three walks and that was it. "I did everything I had hoped to do," he said. "I didn't expect to pitch that good a game. Milt was just a little better."
As the innings and the hour grew late, the Tigers, unable to help Wilcox offensively, helped him defensively. In the seventh, with one out, Motley drove a hard ground ball down the third base line. Castillo ranged three steps into foul territory, made a backhand stop, whirled and threw Motley out by two steps.
In the eighth, Evans topped him. With two down and Don Slaught on first base with the Royals' second hit -- a bloop to short center -- Willie Wilson hit a one-hop shot that looked like a sure hit. But Evans dived to his right, threw his body horizontal to the ground, stretched as far as he could and caught the ball.
With the fleet Wilson racing to the bag, Evans scrambled to his feet, spun around and did a hook slide into the bag, beating Wilson by a heartbeat. Evans leaped up and shook his fist in the air joyfully as Wilson lay in the dirt, not moving, perhaps knowing his team was finished.
"It was instinct," Evans said. "I just saw it hit and dove." He stopped and grinned, a man at the apex of a 16-year career. "You just can't begin to know how this feels."
Anderson, who knows the feeling, took no chances in the ninth. As strong as Wilcox had been, Anderson decided 108 pitches was enough for a 34-year-old pitcher with a sore shoulder who had not completed a game all year. Especially with Hernandez (32 saves in 33 tries) in the bullpen.
"When a man has done what he's supposed to do, his night's done," Anderson said in his own inimitable fashion. "Willie was ready."
Ready enough to get Sheridan and Brett before Hal McRae, pinch-hitting for Orta, delayed matters a moment with an infield hit deep in the hole at shortstop. But Hernandez got Motley to pop to Castillo and madness swept a city.
"I was standing there thinking, 'Hit me a line drive, hit me a pop,' and darn if he didn't," Castillo said. "As a little boy, how many times do you see the guy catch that last ball? I've thought about it a thousand times. I probably should have kept the ball, though. But it was just a spontaneous reaction."
There was little spontaneity in the postgame celebration. Police ringed the field at the start of the eighth inning and fans who tried to get on the field were treated roughly.
There was little that could mute the Tigers' happiness. They started 35-5 and people waited for them to fade. They won the division by 15 games and still some doubted.
"I've said all year that victors never think of chance," Gibson said. "Tonight, when we went out there I never thought there was a chance we would lose. Never."