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.

Continue reading October Surprise Part 8 – Tigers Pull Ahead

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.

Continue reading October Surprise Part 2: Showdown in Toronto

October Surprise: Tigers and Jays Battle for ’87 Division Title

ViewFromOutfieldXSmall.jpgOver the next week, we’ll watch the Tigers and Twins play head-to-head to decide the American League Central.

While this plays out, let’s look back at the final two weekends of the 1987 season when the Tigers and Blue Jays squared off for seven heart-pounding, one-run games that would ultimately decide the American League East title.

Today, Part 1.


“I’m telling you, everything is going to come down to our seven games with Toronto.” — Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson, Sept. 21, 1987

Entering the 1987 season, little was expected of the Detroit Tigers. Just three seasons removed from a wire-to-wire championship season, the Tigers were considered mere also-rans in a division filled with potent lineups, solid pitching and the defending League Champions, the Red Sox.

Adding to an already challenging divisional landscape, the Tigers faced life without their All Star catcher and cleanup hitter, Lance Parrish. The Big Wheel rejected the Tigers’ two-year, $2.4 million contract offer and instead signed a one-year $800,000 deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

That’s why in the first weeks of the 1987 season the story in baseball was not the Detroit Tigers. Hardly. The Milwaukee Brewers’ 13-0 start captivated the baseball world. After 13 games the Tigers had a less-imposing 6-7 record. Twenty games into the season Milwaukee had stormed to 18-2, four games ahead of New York, followed by Toronto (12-8), Baltimore (9-11), Detroit (8-12) and Cleveland (6-14).

Continue reading October Surprise: Tigers and Jays Battle for ’87 Division Title