The ill fortune that befell both the Blue Jays and the Tigers between Alexander's Sept. 27 start and his next appearance, against Toronto last Friday, will not make either team's highlight film. The Jays lost three straight to visiting Milwaukee and, in the process, suffered their second crucial injury in five days. At virtually the same spot near second base where shortstop Fernandez had broken his elbow while taking a hit from Detroit's Bill Madlock, catcher Whitt, an indispensable player, cracked two ribs trying to take out the Brewers' Paul Molitor. That left the Blue Jays with 21-year-old Greg Myers as their catcher, 22-year-old Lee as their shortstop and 23-year-old Nelson Liriano as their second baseman. As late as Aug. 24, those same three players had constituted the up-the-middle defense for Syracuse, which finished sixth in the International League.
Even worse, the injuries stripped away the protection that had surrounded cleanup man Bell down the stretch. Fernandez had been batting .352 in the No. 3 spot in the lineup, and Whitt had had 20 RBIs in his last 21 games at No. 5. And for a moment it looked like the Blue Jays wouldn't even make it to Detroit; their scheduled 38-minute flight from Toronto to Windsor. Ont., was aborted Thursday night when an engine burst into flames after it sucked in a large bird. The bird was not an albatross, but it might as well have been. When the Jays finally arrived in Motown, their lead was down to one game.
The Tigers had beaten Baltimore behind Walt Terrell earlier Thursday night to salvage a split in their four-game series. "After last weekend's intensity, there was no way either team could avoid some letdown," said Tanana, who had held up well enough to pitch the other victory over Baltimore.
There was no way that intensity would not be renewed when the teams were reunited on Friday in a gusty drizzle cold enough to chill bones. Alexander arrived at the park in the same "lucky yellow" sweater he had worn the day he pitched the "85 American League East clincher over the Yankees in Toronto. The cold was such, though, that when the game started he had trouble gripping the ball. "I struggled more than in any start for the Tigers," he said. In the second inning Myers singled in his first big league at bat, and Lee hit a three-run homer off the facing of the upper deck in right center. Nonetheless, for the 16th time in 20 career decisions, the Tigers found a way to beat Jim Clancy.
The game boiled down to three essentials: 1) the Blue Jays' defense gave the Tigers four outs in every inning from the second through the sixth; 2) the Tiger defense turned five double plays; 3) Bell and Juan Beniquez, Nos. 4 and 5 in the batting order, accounted for 10 outs with seven runners on base.
Detroit's rookie outfielder, Scott Lusader, homered in the second after an error by Rance Mulliniks, and Alan Trammell homered leading off the third. When Clancy walked Darrell Evans. Toronto manager Jimy Williams brought in Wells. Matt Nokes singled to right and Evans tested the arm of Jesse Barfield. The throw to third arrived in time, but Evans kicked the ball out of Mulliniks's glove for another crucial error. With none out, Williams decided to concede the go-ahead run and keep his infield back for the double play. He got what he wanted, sort of, exchanging a run for two outs, but ultimately the decision turned out to be a killer. Detroit took a 4-3 lead and didn't score again in the final six innings.
Problem was, neither did the Blue Jays. Alexander can thank Trammell and his double-play partner, Lou Whitaker, for that. In the fifth, with Lee at third and Lloyd Moseby at first and one out, Mulliniks hit a 3-2 pitch sharply up the middle. Trammell cut behind second base, made a stabbing grab and, without stopping, backhanded a three-foot flip to Whitaker coming across the bag. Moseby would have been safe had he been running; as it was, his slide and the direction of Trammell's throw made Whitaker's pivot extremely difficult. "Making it with your back [to home plate] is the toughest play a second baseman makes," said Whitaker. He stopped, whirled 270 degrees and uncorked a strong throw to get Mulliniks.
Reliever Mike Henneman was the beneficiary—and also the initiator—of the last, and biggest, double play. He fielded a ninth-inning tapper by Myers but threw wildly to Trammell, who did some steps worthy of Fred Astaire to snare the throw, touch the bag and still make the relay to first. And so the teams were in a flat-footed tie.
"Now, it's a best two out of three," said Anderson, alluding to the provision for a Monday playoff game, if necessary. "We sure owe Alexander a lot for getting us here." With the victory, Alexander's record went to 9-0, his ERA to 1.53 since his trade for John Smoltz.
Little did anyone know that the pitching—for both teams—would only get better. In Saturday's scrap, 32-year-old Morris faced the 35-year-old Flanagan. "When we flip on the VCR in January, this will be the first game we watch," said Evans, perhaps prematurely, because he had not yet seen Sunday's game. "The sheer wills of those two pitchers was something I'll never forget. As long as Jack was pitching, we couldn't lose, and as long as Flanagan pitched, they couldn't lose."