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Tigers Fold in Ninth as End is Approaching

September 27, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

TORONTO — Gene Mauch once described Juan Beniquez as an artist with the bat. Having since moved from the Angels to Baltimore to Kansas City to Toronto, the artist put the finishing touch Saturday on a game that should be hung in an Andy Warhol gallery of the bizarre.

Beniquez may have also put the finishing touch on the Detroit Tigers, who fell 3 1/2 games behind Toronto in the American League East when they again failed to hold a ninth-inning lead.

The Tigers, in fact, had leads of 3-0, 7-3 and 9-4, but in a battle of bullpens they are at a distinct disadvantage, and they ultimately blew a 9-7 lead in the ninth when pinch-hitter Beniquez hit a bases-loaded triple off Dickie Noles for a 10-9 Blue Jay victory.

Beniquez took the count full, then hit a low line drive that carried past lunging shortstop Alan Trammell and lunging left fielder Kirk Gibson, and bounced to the fence as the bases emptied to the wild approval of a crowd of 46,429.

"I knew it would score one run but I really thought it was only a single," Beniquez said. "When I saw the ball get by Gibson, I said, 'Oh, thank you.' "

Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson had a quite different response. His team would be a half-game ahead had it held the ninth-inning leads of the last two games, but now all that Doyle Alexander--Alexander the Great on the basis of an 8-0 record with the Tigers--can do if he beats Jim Clancy (15-10) today is get his team within 2 1/2 again.

Anderson searched for a measure of humor and said: "We have to get out of town with at least one win or they may not be flying the flag in Detroit. They may have me hung there."

He turned reflective and added: "We have nothing to cry about, we've beaten ourselves. They (the Blue Jays) deserve it, but you have to be honest."

Said Gibson: "I didn't think there was any way they'd come back and beat us again, but they should enjoy it while they can because it will be different next weekend (when the Blue Jays travel to Detroit for three games). Maybe it won't, but we can't dwell on this, we have to be positive. Maybe we're setting the biggest bear trap of all time."

Credit Gibson with wishful thinking in the wake of a 3-hour 35-minute game in which there were 43 baserunners, 11 pitchers and 28 hits, including 17 by the Blue Jays, who had at least one in every inning.

Jesse Barfield, who has been platooned during an inconsistent second half, had three doubles and a triple. George Bell, the AL's likely Most Valuable Player, doubled and singled twice. Rick Leach hit a solo homer as Toronto kept coming back.

The final rally offset six runs batted in by Detroit's rookie catcher, Matt Nokes, who slugged a two-run homer in the first and a grand slam in the third and has 31 for the season; a solo homer by Darrell Evans, who has 32 (three more than any 40 year old has ever hit) and a four-hit performance by Trammell, the Tigers' own MVP candidate, who doubled twice and singled twice.

Tiger starter Walt Terrell was given a 3-0 lead in the first but gave it back in the bottom half and left in the third. Toronto starter Dave Stieb, winless in his last eight appearances, couldn't hold the 3-3 tie and departed in the third when left-hander John Cerutti came in to face the left-handed hitting Nokes and yielded the grand slam.

That was the way it was in a game in which Anderson, knowing his bullpen would need as many runs as possible, made a series of personnel moves that ultimately forced Evans, the designated hitter, to move to first base and forced Mike Henneman, his fifth pitcher, into the DH slot in the batting order.

Henneman came up with two on and one out in the seventh and was allowed to bat. Anderson said later that a pinch-hitter would have been wasted because of the probability of an intentional walk.

What he refused to say was that he would then have been forced to make another pitching change and there was no one left he trusted.

Toronto Manager Jimy Williams, looking ahead to the next batter, Chet Lemon, contributed to this theater of the absurd by changing pitchers against Henneman, replacing David Wells with Jose Nunez, who struck out Henneman, hit Lemon and got Pat Sheridan to ground into a double play.

The Tigers stranded six runners and went scoreless over the final four innings, and Williams said what Anderson can't: "We have a lot of confidence in our bullpen and it goes beyond one or two guys."

A double by Barfield, an infield single by Willie Upshaw and a damaging fork ball that hit Leach to load the bases forced Anderson to make one more change in the ninth.

Noles replaced Henneman and yielded the slashing hit by Beniquez. Gibson might have cut it off in the gap but said later that he lost it in the shadows.

The Blue Jays had stopped jumping by the time they reached the clubhouse. The low key Williams sat behind his desk and said: "It's a storybook, a fairy tale, but it's happening."

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