October Surprise Part 5: Setting the Bear Trap

As the Tigers and Twins wrap up 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 4, the final game in Toronto.


American League East Standings: September 27, 1987

Team Record Pct. GB
Toronto 96-59 .619 –
Detroit 92-62 .597 3.5

As the Tigers arrived at Exhibition Stadium for the series finale, they knew what was at stake. The chances of coming back from four-and-a-half game deficit in less than a week bordered on the absurd. If ever there were a must-win game, this was it.

GoodMorning.jpgThe Tigers turned to Doyle Alexander to stop the bleeding. Toronto looked to right-hander Jim Clancy to bury the Tigers’ fading division title hopes.

Nelson Liriano led off the home half of the first with a single to right and promptly stole second. Eventual league MVP George Bell drove in Liriano for Toronto’s first run. Though he baffled the Jays for the next eight innings, Alexander and the Tigers trailed 1-0 heading into the top of the ninth.

Continue reading “October Surprise Part 5: Setting the Bear Trap”

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.
BallBatGrass.jpg

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.

Continue reading “October Surprise Part 3: Game 2 Skips Away”

On This Date in 1986…

…the Tigers acquired catcher Dave Engle to the Twins for the one-time Lou-Whitaker-displacing Chris Pittaro and Alejandro Sanchez.

If I remember correctly, the Tigers viewed Engle as insurance for Lance Parrish but he played only three games at catcher, 23 at first and a smattering of games in the outfield. In 86 at bats he hit .256 and was released on Aug. 10, 1986.

While we’re at it:

Happy Birthday to former Tigers catcher/third baseman/World Series overachiever Marty Castillo, who turns 52.

Talking with Johnny Grubb, Part II

JohnnyGrubb2.jpgThis is the second and final installment of my conversation with former Tigers outfielder and pinch-hitter extraordinaire, Johnny Grubb. You can find the first installment here.


Mike McClary: Heading into the 1984 season, was it a long off-season? It would seem like you would be chomping at the bit to get back on the field shortly after a little break. Was everyone coming into spring training raring to go?

Johnny Grubb: Yeah, I think so. I remember us getting Dave Bergman and Willie [Hernandez]. So they came over, and they fit right in with the team, too. I mean, we just had a good group of guys that got along, and Dave Bergman is a heck of a guy and so was Willie. So it worked out great.

MMc: Let’s talk about the ’84 season in general. Obviously, you got off to a great start, 9-0, and in the middle of that, Jack Morris throws a no-hitter. As you were getting older and becoming the seasoned veteran, were you really just enjoying about every moment of that season?

JG: Oh, gosh, yeah. It was fun to watch those guys play and every once in a while to jump in and do something myself. But it was a lot of fun watching Gibby and Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker and Darrell [Evans] — and Lance did a great job. And Howard Johnson had the great season for us. I thought he did a great job. And Larry Herndon and all those guys really did well in the pitching.

So really what I remember most about it is that I never really felt like we were out of any ballgame. Any lead a team could get, we felt like we could have a big inning and jump right back in the game. And we had real good pitching, so if we had the lead, we had Willie and [Aurelio] Lopez coming in to shut the door on them. The pitchers did their job, and the hitters did their job. And we just felt like we could win any game.

That 35-5 start really helped a lot, too. But I think that pretty much was an indicator of how strong we were because that’s pretty phenomenal when you think about a 35-5 start in the major leagues. That’s pretty good.

Continue reading “Talking with Johnny Grubb, Part II”

Happy Birthday, Sweetness

Whitaker.jpg
How in the world did Lou Whitaker turn 50 — forget about 51, which he is today? Lest we’ve forgotten, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane on his 19-year career with the Tigers:

  • 2,390 games
  • .276 average
  • 2,369 hits
  • 244 home runs

If you’re keeping score at home, Whitaker averaged a hit a game over his career. (Actually he averaged .991 hits a game, but when it’s your birthday, you benefit from rounding up.)

And how is he not in the Hall of Fame? Jeez!

Notable Hardware

  • 1978 Rookie of the Year
  • Five-time All Star
  • Four-time Silver Slugger
  • World Series Champion

Here’s hoping that Sweet Lou enjoyed his birthday at home in Lakeland, Fla., or a local theme park.