October Surprise Part 4: Bullpen Collapses in Game 3

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 in the season’s final 10 days. Today: Game 3.


American League East Standings: September 26, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Toronto 95-59 .617 –
Detroit 92-61 .601 2.5

BallTherapy.jpgIf the Tigers suffered any ill effects from the previous two games, they certainly didn’t show it in the third game of the series.

Detroit pummeled Toronto’s ace Dave Steib, tagging the right-hander for six runs on four hits in just 2.1 innings. Matt Nokes drove in six runs in his first two at bats: a first-inning two-run homer and a grand slam in the third.

The Blue Jays were having nearly as much fun with Detroit starter Walt Terrell. In his 2.1 innings, the Blue Jays came up with four runs on seven hits. The Tigers attacked five additional Toronto hurlers for a 9-4 lead in the fifth inning. Toronto wouldn’t go away quietly, tacking on three more runs. Heading into the bottom half of the ninth Detroit clung to a 9-7 lead.

Jesse Barfield led off the bottom of the ninth with a bloop single off of Mike Henneman. The next batter, Willie Upshaw, nubbed a grounder to third for an infield hit. Henneman then hit Leach with a pitch to load the bases. The Tigers brought in Dickie Noles to face Juan Beniquez. The 16-year veteran worked the count full before lining the payoff pitch into left-centerfield scoring three runs and giving the Blue Jays their third come-from-behind win in as many games.

The Tigers were stunned. Again.

“This loss makes it all the more difficult for us, and it’s important that we win (Sunday),” third baseman Tom Brookens said to the Free Press‘s John Lowe. “But we’ve always been the type of players who can put games behind us. It doesn’t bother us any more to lose a game late like this than another loss would.”

At the outset of the series, Toronto’s relief corps was universally considered a key advantage over Detroit. By Saturday evening, it was clear that the Tigers relievers were perhaps the club’s weakest link. And so far, it was the difference in the series.

Tomorrow: Setting the Bear Trap

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