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Dave Bergman, Victor Martinez, and the rhyme scheme of baseball

Victor Martinez put on a great show May 30, battling Hisashi Iwakuma for 10 pitches before launching a three-run home run. For some of us, this was deja vu.

Otto Greule Jr

Editor's note: Dave Bergman died Feb. 2 at the age of 61.

History doesn't repeat itself, so the saying goes, but sometimes it does rhyme. The year was 1984, and the red-hot Tigers were going through a nasty cold streak heading into June 4. An eight-game lead in the AL East had been whittled down to a 4½-game lead, due to the team losing six of their previous nine games -- including a three-game sweep by the Seattle Mariners.

To make matters worse, their closest competition was coming to Tiger Stadium in the form of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays, who had been on a hot streak and had won 10 of their previous 12 games.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

This year's Tiger team entered their May 30 game against Seattle having lost eight of their last 11 games -- including a three-game sweep by the Cleveland Indians -- and had watched their seven-game lead in the AL Central shrink to a 4½-game lead. Next on the schedule? Hosting the currently-hot Toronto Blue Jays, who have won 12 of their last 14 games.

Some phrases from Sparky Anderson's diary during this period could just as easily have been written in the last week: "We couldn't do a thing right," "We're just mentally beat," "Every good club goes through this," "We ran into another fine pitcher today," "Our bats went to sleep," "We kept popping balls up," "[Starting pitcher] wasn't on at all," and on it goes.

But the 1984 game on June 4 has other similarities with the 2014 game on May 30 -- both games featured a left-handed hitting DH/first baseman for the Tigers engaging in an epic, all-out battle at the plate, ending with a triumphant home run.

In 1984, it was Dave Bergman who came to the plate in the 10th-inning with the score tied at three, to face Roy Lee Jackson. With the winning run standing on second base and two outs in the inning, Bergman fouled off the first pitch. He ripped the second pitch down the first base line ... foul. Now quickly behind 0-2, Bergman proceeded to foul off the next three pitches before finally taking the next two pitches out of the zone.

Seven pitches in, even at 2-2, Bergman fouled off yet another pitch, then took a low pitch for ball three.

Nine pitches. Full count. Bergman was having the at-bat of his life, and he was later quoted as saying, "There comes a time in every season when a hitter puts all his mechanics together. That night was it for me." (Detroit Tigers 1984: What a Start! What a Finish!)

Next pitch: foul.

Next pitch: foul.

Twelfth pitch of the at-bat: yet another foul.

On the 13th pitch, Jackson threw a low slider, and Bergman ripped it into the "short porch" upper deck for a walk-off victory. Sparky later wrote of that game, "Tonight I saw the greatest at-bat in my life ... what a battle! Bergie was up there a full seven minutes. It seemed like a whole season. The house went wild."

The house didn't exactly go wild last Friday night, because the Tigers were in Seattle, and it didn't end in an extra-innings walk-off home run, but Victor Martinez provided no small amount of drama himself during the fifth inning.

Facing Hisashi Iwakuma, who in the previous two years combined had given up a grand total of two runs against the Tigers, Martinez came to the plate seeing a similar layout to what Dave Bergman saw: runners at first and second, two outs.

After taking two balls, followed by two called strikes, Martinez -- who is having a career that epitomizes "master of plate discipline" -- fouled off a splitter. Then he fouled off a slider. Iwakuma went back to the splitter, but Victor fouled that one away as well.

Coming up on the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Iwakuma ratcheted things up and went with a 91 MPH fastball.


Another splitter.

Another foul.

Perhaps Victor had been paying attention to the fact that Iwakuma had already used two splitter/slider sequences earlier in the at-bat, and so knew that another slider was coming. Or perhaps, like Bergman in 1984, Victor was just having one of those games "when a hitter puts all his mechanics together."

Either way, the 10th pitch of the at-bat was -- like Bergman's 13th pitch -- a slider that turned into a three-run home run, a solid exclamation point that emphasized what an incredible battle had just taken place, and what a great hitter was at the plate.

After Bergman's battle with Jackson in the opening game of the series, the 1984 Tigers lost the next two games to the Blue Jays, much like the 2014 Tigers lost their next two games to Seattle. But the 1984 team went on to win 13 of their next 18 games, and firmly re-established their divisional lead at 8½ games.

I'm not saying the 2014 team is going to go on a similar .722 hot streak, because history doesn't repeat itself.

But sometimes it does rhyme.

Watch the Bergman at-bat here: