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 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”

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”