TORONTO — The fourth and final game of an extraordinary series spanned 13 innings and more than four hours Sunday, and when it was over, when the Detroit Tigers had prevented the Toronto Blue Jays from prematurely running the Maple Leaf up the American League East's flag pole, Sparky Anderson laid claim to the character and chemistry championship.
In fact, in a soliloquy that would have made Hamlet envious, Sparky said that the 3-2 victory in the wake of three straight defeats represented "my greatest moment in 18 years of managing" because it confirmed what he has felt all season, that this is his most gratifying team because it has the "best people I've ever been around."
"I never wavered and never moved in these four days," he said, "and my players never wavered and never moved. They take after the old man.
"There were two clubs on the field today but no club has more character than this one because they (his players) had to come back after having their (backside) nailed to the wall.
"The Blue Jays deserve to be 2 1/2 ahead but we know we could have won two of the three and to come back from that . . . well, I've never seen a club with any more character. I just feel so good about these people."
The issue of character and chemistry pervaded the series, a subject of debate between the two clubhouses, but the Blue Jays were willing to let Sparky talk Sunday because winning three of four increased their half game lead to 2 1/2 and took four more days off the calendar.
"We're satisfied with three of four," Toronto Manager Jimy Williams said. "It was a big series for us. I don't know about chemistry and character. We execute. That's our priority. We played well and pitched well in all four games and we came from behind to win two in the ninth inning.
"I mean, what do you call that if not character?"
The Blue Jays open a three-game series at home with the Milwaukee Brewers tonight, are off Thursday, then play three more with the Tigers in Detroit on the final weekend of the season.
The Tigers returned home Sunday night and open a four-game series with the Baltimore Orioles tonight.
A loss Sunday would have left them 4 1/2 behind, and that final series with the Blue Jays would have then been meaningless without help from the Brewers.
"Now we have to win 3 of 4 from the Orioles and sweep these guys," Sparky said, shaking the character and chemistry theme long enough to take a hard look at a more pragmatic matter. "What this meant today is that we're still breathing and we don't have to get help from Milwaukee. It wouldn't have been fair asking them to do our dirty work.
"I told our fans in spring training that they'd be smiling in October and I just said it again on TV."
A series decided by scores of 4-3, 3-2, 10-9 and 3-2 will linger in the camera of the mind. The finale, played before a sellout crowd of 46,346 on an afternoon of gray clouds and intermittent rain, saw the last-gasp Blue Jays rally again in a final at-bat to erase a Tiger lead, this time in the 11th, after the Tigers rallied to gain a 1-1 tie in the ninth.
Eleven pitchers were used Saturday and eleven more Sunday when Doyle Alexander turned in another brilliant performance for the Tigers, allowing one earned run in 10 innings before Sparky made four calls to his vulnerable bullpen.
The Tigers failed to win it for Alexander, but they are undefeated in his 10 starts. They won it for Mike Henneman (10-3), the resilient rookie who worked in each of the four games. They won it with a bloop hit of the type the Blue Jays frequently employed in the first three games.
Jim Walewander, who went to third base when Tom Brookens was lifted for a pinch hitter in the fifth, opened the 13th by drawing a walk from Jose Nunez.
Lou Whitaker sacrificed and Darrell Evans was walked intentionally. Kirk Gibson hit a fly to shallow left. Lloyd Moseby raced in, realized he couldn't get to it and stopped, knowing at once he had come too far. The ball caromed off the synthetic surface and over his head. Third-base coach Alex Grammas, who had instructed Walewander to stop, now told him to go. Shortstop Manny Lee, who scrambled out to back up Moseby, caught the ball as it came down and made an impressive throw home, but Walewander beat it.
Henneman, Mark Thurmond and Dickie Noles all worked in the bottom of the 13th, but the Blue Jays' may have run out of magic after the 11th.
This was the scenario until then:
Alexander, 8-0 as a Tiger and coming off a 4-0 victory over Boston in which he retired the last 22 batters in order, yielded a first- inning run on a single by Nelson Liriano, a stolen base and a single by George Bell, driving in his 134th run.
Jim Clancy, 4-15 against the Tigers in his career but 15-10 in a season in which he has won his last five decisions, took that run and made it stand up through seven innings, scattering five hits before Tom Henke was brought in to pitch the eighth.