October Surprise Part 2: Showdown in Toronto

This is Part 2 in our series on the Tigers and Blue Jays’ pennant fight in 1987. Part 1 appeared yesterday.


American League East Standings

September 24, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Toronto 93 – 59 .612 –
Detroit 92-59 .609 .5

At the outset of the first series the Tigers sat only a half-game out of first place. The game-one pitching match up featured two of baseball’s best in the 1980s: the Tigers’ Jack Morris and Jays lefty Mike Flanagan.

ViewFromOutfieldXSmall.jpgIt didn’t take long for the complexion of the game, the series and perhaps the season to change dramatically. In the top of the third, with Bill Madlock on first, Kirk Gibson hit a routine double-play ball to second baseman Nelson Liriano. Liriano pivoted and threw to shortstop Tony Fernandez for the force at second; Madlock’s slide toppled Fernandez who fell to the artificial surface, breaking his elbow. (Shortly after Fernandez left the game the Blue Jays announced that he would need surgery and would be out for the remainder of the season.) Gibson reached first on the fielder’s choice.

After a Trammell fly out, Larry Herndon singled, moving Gibson to second. The next hitter, centerfielder Chet Lemon, drove in Gibson and advanced Herndon to third. A Flanagan wild pitch scored Herndon and gave Morris a 2-0 lead.

In the bottom half of the third, Toronto scored all the runs they’d need. Catcher Ernie Whitt smacked a two-run single tying the score at two. Jays’ third baseman Rance Mulliniks followed with a double off the top of the left field wall moving Whitt to third. Whitt scored – narrowly – on a wild pitch. The ball ricocheted off the backstop to catcher Mike Heath who tossed it to Morris covering home. Morris arrived ahead of Whitt but over-ran the plate and couldn’t recover in time to apply the tag. Toronto led 4-2.

Flanagan blanked the Tigers until the seventh when three straight singles by Lou Whitaker, Trammell and Gibson narrowed the deficit to 4-3. In the ninth, Toronto closer Tom Henke shut the Tigers down to notch his league-leading 34th save and give the Blue Jays an early lead in the series.

“I just didn’t do my job,” Morris told the Free Press’s John Lowe after the game. “My team gave me a two-run lead and I gave it right back. That’s not the way you’re supposed to pitch.”

Sparky Anderson refused to make too much of the loss. “Crucial?”, he said to Tom Gage of the Detroit News. “How the heck do I know if it’s crucial? I’ll let you know in another 10 days.”

With the injury to Fernandez, Toronto lost arguably its most important offensive player. For one night, though, the Jays were able to overcome it.

A game and a half ahead of the Tigers, Toronto had to like how the weekend had started. The Tigers would need to bounce back quickly.

Tomorrow: Game Two

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