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Baseball : To Surprise of Some, This Season's Tigers Have Racing Stripes

August 23, 1987|Ross Newhan

They were 11-19 on May 12, leaving the cynics feeling smug. Who could survive the loss of Lance Parrish, or the uncertainty concerning Dan Petry's elbow or the inconsistency that relief ace Willie Hernandez had displayed since the big summer of 1984?

"If you went to sleep in May and woke up today, you wouldn't believe the standings," Detroit Tigers coach Dick Tracewski said the other day.

By going 60-28 since May 12 and before dropping a doubleheader to Cleveland Friday night, the Tigers surged into first place in the American League's Eastern Division race and confounded the cynics.

That 60-28 record over an 88- game span was the same record the Tigers registered over the first 88 games in 1984, when they virtually wrapped up the division title by the end of May.

"To get where we are, we had to burn a torch," Manager Sparky Anderson said.

Anderson, the only manager ever to win a World Series in both leagues, added:

"If I get into the playoffs, this will be the most special season I've ever had because everyone said we were (manure). Now they know we're not (manure). Even the Yankees said they were worried about Toronto and not us. I think they know now that we're around."

In the wake of last week's three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins, in which the Tigers outscored the Western Division leaders, 26-3, Detroit was averaging 5.7 runs a game, was leading the majors in runs and was on a pace to break the club record for runs and home runs in a season.

"Basically, we have a whole team of regulars," first baseman-designated hitter Darrell Evans said. "We can put anyone in there, and we're not going to go from an overwhelming strength to a weakness."

Tiger General Manager Bill Lajoie has taken the play away from his New York and Toronto counterparts by strengthening his team with the acquisitions of infielders Bill Madlock and Jim Morrison and pitcher Doyle Alexander.

Alexander's personality doesn't win him many friends--"I don't think I've ever met a more miserable human being," Oriole General Manager Hank Peters once said--but he knows how to influence September games, boasting a 15-3 September record for the last three years.

"I love a pitcher like Alexander," Sparky Anderson said. "Like I told (Alan) Trammell, any time he wants to throw a strike, he can do it. I love a guy where I don't never have to worry about no ball fours."

Arbitrator Tom Roberts has scheduled a meeting with representatives of the owners' Player Relations Committee and the Major League Players Assn. for Aug. 31., presumably to announce his decision in the collusion case regarding Donnie Moore, Kirk Gibson and the free agents from the winter of 1985-86.

On Monday, arbitrator George Nicolau will resume his hearing on the union's second collusion grievance, regarding the free agents from last winter.

Six weeks remain in the 1987 season, but the Angels are already finished playing the Twins and Oakland A's, two of the three teams ahead of them in the American League West, and the A's are also through with the Twins.

"The way we play Minnesota and with what we have to do, I wish we played Minnesota the rest of the way," Angel General Manager Mike Port said, referring to the gap that separates the teams.

A's General Manager Sandy Alderson isn't sure he would want to play all 40 or so remaining games with the Twins, but he would like two more cracks at them--home and away.

"But we'd have to ignore the bottom line to do it," he said. "We're also happy having the Yankees here (in Oakland) this weekend. We're hopeful of drawing 110,000 people for the three games,"

There's the rub.

Although each of the 12 teams in the National League plays 90 games within its division and 72 out of it, each of the 14 teams in the American League plays more games, 84, out of its division than in, 78.

The Eastern Division has long wanted to change that, citing a thriving franchise in Toronto and the historic and geographical rivalries among the Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.

The seven Eastern teams would prefer to play three series at home and three away with each of their division rivals. The current format calls for each of the 14 teams to play two series at home and two away with the other teams.

The West, struggling for economic and artistic parity, has opposed change on the grounds that it would have to yield lucrative dates to the East.

Or as Port asked, do you give up profitable matchups for the sake of competitive matchups?

"Hopefully, the competitive match-ups will breed profit, too," he said. "But we've traditionally drawn better with the Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers."

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