In 1987, the Detroit Tigers were the best team in baseball. The team won 98 games, but had to battle to the end of the season for the right to make the postseason. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Twins finished 13 games behind Detroit, but that was good for first in the AL West. They edged Kansas City on the basis of their .691 home winning percentage. The Metrodome proved an unbelievable home field advantage. The Twins home field advantage combined with an exhausted Tiger squad to hand Minnesota their first pennant since 1965.
The Tigers and Blue Jays battled down the stretch for the AL East crown. Detroit made up a 3 ½ game deficit in the final week to win the division. The Tigers 6-2 surge pushed them over the top. On the last day of the regular season, Frank Tanana shutout the Jays 1-0 for the postseason berth. Despite having baseball’s best record, the Minnesota Twins earned home field because MLB rotated the advantage between divisions from year-to-year.
Doyle Alexander finished 1987 with a 9-0 run. The Tigers started him in Game 1 in the Metrodome against Minnesota’s Frank Viola. Neither starter pitched well. The Tigers held a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning. Mike Heath and Kirk Gibson homered for Detroit. The Twins’ Gary Gaetti hit two home runs off Alexander. For his career, Doyle Alexander racked up an 8.38 ERA and 0-5 record. After Jeff Reardon blew the save allowing the Tigers to take a 5-4 lead, Alexander blew up. The Twins scored four off of Alexander and Mike Henneman. Willie Hernandez came in and could not get an out. Eric King finished the inning. The Tigers rallied in the ninth, but failed to score.
The Metrodome ambushed Jack Morris in Game 2. Unlike Alexander, Morris was one of the game’s greatest clutch pitchers. Even Morris could not stem the Twins tide. Although he pitched a complete game, he surrendered six runs. On the other side, Bert Blyleven went 7 1/3 for the win. Former Tiger Juan Berenguer finished for the save. Berenguer wanted a measure of revenge against Sparky Anderson. In 1984, Anderson bypassed Berenguer in the postseason starting rotation. Berenguer considered this a slight.
The ALCS moved to Detroit for Game 3 with the Twins looking to put a stranglehold on the series. The Twins beat up Walt Terrell while the Tigers did the same to Les Straker. Despite the performance, Terrell was in line for the win as Detroit led 5-4 in the seventh. The Twins rallied and Anderson called on Henneman to finish the game. Henneman blew the save and the Twins took a 6-5 lead. With the Tigers facing a 3-0 series deficit, Pat Sheridan hit a 2-run homer off relief ace Jeff Reardon to give the Tigers a 7-6 victory.
The Tigers looked to even the series in Game 4. Viola returned to the mound for Minnesota while Tanana started for Detroit. Minnesota held a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning with Detroit rallying. Twins manager Tom Kelly brought Berenguer in to face Jim Morrison with Darrell Evans on third and Dave Bergman on second. A game winning Tiger rally felt inevitable when Twins catcher Tim Laudner picked Evans off third. The base running error stole the momentum. Morrison flew out to end the inning and Minnesota scored a run in the eighth for a 5-3 victory and commanding 3-games-to-1 ALCS lead.
The momentum shift carried over to Game 5. The Twins chased Alexander in the second inning. The Tigers rallied again to make it a game at 4-3. However, it never felt like they could catch the Twins. The Tigers looked like a tired team. Minnesota scored five in the final three innings for a 9-5 win and the pennant. The Twins went on to defeat the Cardinals in an exciting World Series. The Tigers contended in 1988 before a September collapse. They did not contend again until 2006.
The Detroit Tigers battle for the division crown exhausted the squad. They had a puncher’s chance in the ALCS against Minnesota. They were the better regular season team, but the Twins proved unbeatable at the Metrodome, Doyle Alexander’s postseason problems continued, and the team seemed tired by the end of the series. The series turned on Tim Launder’s pickoff of Darrell Evans shutting down a Tiger rally. In the end, the ALCS loss ended up Detroit’s last moment of glory until 2006.