October Surprise Part 8 – Tigers Pull Ahead

On the next-to-last day of the 2009 season, with the Tigers’ fate still undecided, we continue our series on the Tigers’ and Blue Jays’ battle for the A.L. East crown on the next-to-last day of the 1987 season.

American League East Standings: October 3, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Detroit 96-64 .600 –
Toronto 96-64 .600 –

In game two of the final series, Jack Morris and Mike Flanagan faced off on a bright and blustery Saturday afternoon.

HotDogPopTicketXSmall.jpgAs they had in Toronto nine days earlier, the two veteran pitchers sparkled. The Jays grabbed an early 1-0 lead. The Tigers countered with a Mike Heath single and Bill Madlock double to knot the game. Both teams scored in the fifth.

But over the next seven innings neither team scored. Morris pitched nine strong innings to Flanagan’s 11.

“I’ve been in this league eight years facing Flanagan, and I’ve never seen him better,” Tom Brookens said to the Free Press‘s John Lowe.

Mike Henneman relieved Morris in the tenth and shut down the Jays. Jeff Musselman took over for Flanagan but couldn’t pick up where the starter had left off.

Lou Whitaker led off the twelfth with a single that stirred up the Toronto bullpen. Madlock singled too, then Kirk Gibson walked to load the bases. Blue Jays manager Jimy Williams quickly switched to the right-handed Mark Eichhorn to face Alan Trammell.

On Eichhorn’s third pitch, Trammell rifled a groundball through shortstop Manny Lee’s legs into left field. Jim Walewander, pinch running for Whitaker, scored the winning run and for the first time in more than two weeks the Tigers had sole possession of first place in the American League East.

Following the game, Morris, who appeared to be throwing his hardest in the ninth inning, was asked how he got stronger as the game progressed.

“Adrenaline,” Morris told Lowe. “You know it’s the end of the season. There’s no reason to save anything. You reach back and you find a little extra. I didn’t have great stuff early, but I had great concentration from the third inning on. I just wouldn’t give in.”

The Tigers had seized momentum. With a win on Sunday they could cap baseball’s most unlikely comeback in years and seal perhaps the worst collapse in recent memory.

Tomorrow: Tigers Clinch in a Nail-biter

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