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Walt Terrell twice flirts with immortality (1985-86)

Walt Terrell won 79 games with the Tigers and came close to throwing two  no-hitters.
Walt Terrell won 79 games with the Tigers and came close to throwing two no-hitters.

Milt Wilcox won 17 games for the 1984 Detroit Tigers. However, Wilcox's age worried Detroit, so they traded for New York Mets pitcher Walt Terrell. The new acquisition replaced Wilcox in the rotation for the next four seasons. Terrell was an average big league pitcher, but rattled off a 47-32 stretch from 1985-87. On two occasions, Terrell came close to throwing no-hitters. He lost both bids, but demonstrated that on any day, the most average pitcher can dominate.

The Tigers worried about Milt Wilcox. He turned 35 years old in 1985 after enjoying his best campaign in 1984. Detroit wanted to bring in a younger starter to replace Wilcox when the time came. As a result, they traded third baseman Howard Johnson to the New York Mets for Walt Terrell. Terrell was 19-23 in two plus seasons in New York with a respectable 3.53 ERA. He also turned 27 in 1985. Wilcox went 1-3 and then was shelved for 1985. He finished his career in Seattle. Meanwhile, Terrell remained a Tiger until 1988.

Terrell went 15-10 in his first Tiger season. Essentially, he replaced Wilcox's 1984 season. Perhaps his best performance of the season came on July 14. Detroit shellacked Frank Viola and the Minnesota Twins 8-0. Larry Herndon, Darrell Evans, and Alan Trammell all homered in the contest, but the real story was on the mound. Terrell held Minnesota hitless for 6.2 innings. Tom Brunansky broke up the no-hitter with a double. Terrell finished the inning, got the first out in the eighth, but then walked two consecutive hitters. Sparky Anderson pulled the starter and Willie Hernandez finished the game. The two men combined for a one-hit shutout.

After the July 14, 1985 game, Terrell claimed he could not pitch any better. However, a year later, he took a no-hitter even deeper into a game. On August 20, 1986, Terrell held the California Angels without a hit for 8.2 innings. Detroit led 2-0 after seven innings and Trammell homered in the eighth to make it 3-0. In the ninth, Gary Pettis and Jack Howell flew out. Then, Wally Joyner doubled to break up the bid. Reggie Jackson flew out to center to end the game. Terrell finished with a one-hit complete game shutout.

Terrell went 15-12 with 9 complete games and 2 shutouts in 1986. He went 17-10 in 1987 and then struggled with a 7-16 record in 1988. Interestingly, his ERA in 1988 was lower than any other Tiger campaign except 1985. The Tigers shipped Terrell to San Diego in the off season. He returned to Detroit in 1990 and remained until his retirement after 1992. The pitcher went 25-28 in his final three Tiger seasons.

Walt Terrell was 79-76 in his Tiger career with a 4.26 ERA, 44 complete games, and 9 shutouts. He tended to give up more hits (1,379) than innings (1,328), but won games for the Tigers. On two occasions, Terrell flirted with immortality. On July 14, 1985, he dominated the Twins and combined with Willie Hernandez for a one-hitter. On August 20, 1986, Wally Joyner spoiled his no-hit bid with two outs in the ninth. Terrell proved an average pitcher can occasionally have an above average day.

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