October Surprise Part 3: Game 2 Skips Away

As the Tigers and Twins square off for the biggest series of the year with the division title hanging in the balance, we continue our look back on the last great race in Tigers history: 1987 and the seven games against the Toronto Blue Jays. Today: Game 2.

Part 1October Surprise: Tigers and Jays Battle for ’87 Division Title
Part 2Showdown in Toronto, Game 1

American League East Standings

September 25, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Toronto 94-59 .614 –
Detroit 92-60 .605 1.5

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, Kirk Gibson bunted for a base hit and took second on Key’s wild throw to first. Larry 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.

Whitt led of the ninth by flying out to center. The next batter, Jesse Barfield, singled off of reliever Dickie Noles. Anderson promptly lifted Noles for aging left-hander Willie Hernandez to face former-Tiger Rick Leach.

Leach wasted no time ripping a double to put runners on second and third with one out. The next batter, Manny Lee, tripled off Hernandez tying the game at two. Still with one out, Anderson brought in Mike Henneman, Detroit’s rookie closer. Henneman intentionally walked Willie Upshaw and then Liriano to load the bases. With the infield in, Lloyd Moseby hit a sharp grounder to Lou Whitaker. Whitaker passed up a risky second-to-first double play chance and threw home. The ball bounced past Mike Heath and allowed Lee to score the winning run.

“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tram move to his left,” Whitaker told the Free Press’s John Lowe after the game. “The way we play together, I knew we had a chance to turn two, but we couldn’t take the chance.”

“Maybe I could have backed up and caught the ball with one foot on the back part of the plate,” Heath said to Lowe. “There possibly was time (to reposition himself at the plate), but at that point I just didn’t think about it. It just happened too quick. When I saw it down there, I tried to trap it. . . . and it just ate me up.”

Two games, two blown leads, two losses. Not what the Tigers had in mind. “I would not recommend this as a way to get ahead,” Anderson said to the Free Press’s Charlie Vincent.

Instead of tightening the pennant race, the Tigers were loosening their grip on postseason aspirations. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays had to feel more comfortable on their first-place perch.

Tomorrow: Another Heartbreaker

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