Happy Birthday, Frank Tanana – Part 1

Frank Tanana turned 55 on Thursday.

I was ecstatic when the Tigers picked up Tanana on June 20, 1985. For years — since the days of Mickey Lolich, in fact — Detroit lacked a long-term lefty in the rotation. Unfortunately, Bob Sykes didn’t pan out as we’d hoped.

But along came Tanana in a one-for-one swap with the Rangers that sent Duane James to Arlington. One could argue that Tanana’s two most-critical starts for the Tigers came two years later in the heat of an unforgettable pennant race: one a tough-luck loss, the other a thriller for the ages.

Here’s a recap of both from my article in Tigers Corner 2008:

September 25, 1987

Tigers left hander Frank Tanana had been in one divisional race in his 14-year career: in 1979 when he helped the California Angels win their first American League West title. In 1987, Tanana approached the twilight of his career but Toronto starter Jimmy Key’s best days were just dawning. Key had won 14 games in each of his first two years as a starter and in 1987 he would finish second in A.L. Cy Young voting, posting a 17-8 record and 2.76 ERA.

For the second straight night, the Tigers produced a two-run lead. In the Tigers’ second, Chet Lemon doubled and Darrell Evans singled him home. Later, in the sixth, Gibson bunted for a base hit and took second on Key’s wild throw to first. Herndon followed with a single to left scoring Gibson and giving Tanana a two-run cushion.

Tanana pitched one of his best games of the season throwing seven scoreless innings, yielding just five hits and a walk. Key was equally masterful in his 8.1 innings pitched. He scattered nine hits, allowing only one earned run and walking a single hitter. Going into the ninth inning the Tigers maintained a 2-0 lead.

The Jays scored three off of Dickie Noles, Willie Hernandez and Mike Henneman and the Tigers were 2.5 games out of first with eight to play.

Ten days later, Tanana would take the hill for his most memorable start in a Tigers uniform. Stay tuned for Part 2.

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