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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : AMERICAN: Detroit vs. Minnesota : Tigers Are Most Dangerous When Cornered--Just Ask Toronto

October 09, 1987|ROSS NEWHAN | Times Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS — The team from the Motor City rolled into the Twin Cities with baseball's best record and two others that were unblemished--if not perfect.

Doyle Alexander was 9-0 as a member of the Detroit Tigers, while Jack Morris was 11-0 in his home state of Minnesota.

Now, suddenly trailing the Minnesota Twins, 2-0, in the best-of-seven playoffs for the American League pennant, the questions confronting the Detroit Tigers are these:

--Has invincibility been replaced by insecurity?

--Has confidence yielded to concern?

And:

--If the Twins can beat Alexander and Morris, are we to believe they can even win a game on the road?

--Do the Tigers believe it or do they return to Detroit believing that home cooking will be the answer?

"I'm tired of trying to figure out what we have to do," first baseman Darrell Evans said in the wake of a 6-3 defeat Thursday night.

"It seems like that's all I did for the last two weeks of the season. I mean, we have to win that first game at home, that's a must, and we have to win four of the next five games. That's a must, too.

"But it's not like we haven't been here before. We put ourselves in this position over and over. It wasn't easy. We know what we have to do."

The Tigers must sweep the three games at home. Even with that, however, they now know they would have to return to the madness of the Metrodome, where the Twins are 58-25.

"We're in a bad situation," Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson acknowledged, "and that's understating it. It's no fun when the rabbit's got the gun.

"I've always said that the thing that concerns me most in a playoff or World Series is the risk of a prolonged slump.

"Toronto couldn't hit the side of a barn during those last three games with us and lost the division because of it. That's the danger of a shootout."

Anderson brushed a hand through that thinning white hair and said he would not be surprised if the Tigers turned it around, if they won four straight, but he said they would have to jump on their chances as the Twins did Thursday night, scoring five runs with two out.

The crowd? The Dome? Anderson dismissed all of that. His team has struck out 19 times in two games after finishing third in the AL in team batting and first in home runs during the regular season.

And the Twins, he said, are "doing everything they're supposed to do. Keep it up, and they're going to be tough to beat. The surprising part is that they've never been through this but they're not acting like it. They're playing with great intensity."

Too much, maybe. Sparky saw his chance in the wake of Thursday's loss and jumped on it, looking for anything, perhaps, to restore that same jump to his offense.

He complained about the fist-pumping antics of Juan Berenguer, who struck out four of the five batters he faced in saving the decision for Bert Blyleven.

Berenguer has pitched for six major league teams, including the Tigers. He was released by the San Francisco Giants at the end of last season, signed with the Twins as a free agent and went 8-1 with 4 saves as a valuable set-up man for Jeff Reardon.

He blew his fastball past the Tigers and was obviously excited about it.

Anderson shook his head and said, "I've been in this business for 18 years and have never said a word to an opposing player during a game. But when you get a dog down, you should let him sleep. Sometimes that dog can jump up and bite you."

Said Kirk Gibson, when asked about Berenguer: "I don't think he was trying to show anyone up. I think that's Juan. I think he was pumped up. It's no fun to have someone do that to you, but I've seen enough to know that what goes around comes around. The shoe may be on the other foot. There's still time."

There's still time, but the team that had time and experience on its side, the team that wasn't supposed to press, now seems to be. Gibson and Alan Trammell are each 1 for 8. Tom Brookens is 1 for 6. Lou Whitaker and Mike Heath are each 2 for 7.

Gibson shook his head. He has struck out twice in both games. Blyleven, he said, was baiting him, taking advantage of a sudden tendency to overswing and pull off the pitch.

"Give him credit," Gibson said. "He was relaxed, he had the lead, he knows how to take advantage of the things he sees.

"I mean, he was even getting me out with fastballs down the middle, pitches I should hit if I wasn't overanxious. I feel terrible, but I'll be out early Saturday to try and get my act together. I'm convinced that I'll still help this team. I still believe there's time."

The Tigers, of course, trailed the Blue Jays by 3 1/2 games with 8 to play. They opened the season 11-19 and finished it 98-64. As Evans said, they've been in this corner before, and now they return to their own field and fans, knowing the Twins are 29-52 on the road.

"I'd be disappointed if the fans didn't get behind us the same way the fans here get behind the Twins," Evans said.

"The way these fans reacted was part of what the game is all about. They can lift a team when it's behind, but we've heard the noise here before, we've won here before (4 of 6 during the regular season).

"This time, we made too many mistakes. We pressed some, we dug a hole offensively. It's tough to temper aggressiveness when that's what got you here."

Over swinging and over aggressiveness didn't get the Tigers here. Only three teams in the American League struck out less than the potent Tigers. Nineteen strikeouts didn't get the Tigers here, unless it was Alexander and Morris doing the striking out.

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