DETROIT — Powered by golf cart, Pat Sheridan took a victory lap along the the Tiger Stadium warning track Saturday afternoon, minutes after his eighth-inning home run had powered the Detroit Tigers to a 7-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Game 3 of the American League playoffs.
Sheridan's destination was the postgame interview room, where he would recount the high fastball he received from Minnesota reliever Jeff Reardon and the swing that suddenly erased a 6-5 Detroit deficit. But to get there, Sheridan had to travel through a gantlet of frenzied Tiger fans, who whooped and hollered their praise of Sheridan, the new Dr. Detroit.
Sheridan hated every inch of the way.
"That was awful," Sheridan later reported. "I've never been in the limelight and I probably wouldn't be good in it. I don't consider myself a hero. . . . That was embarrassing."
Yeah, but what's one little spin in front of the home folks, compared to the road to postseason oblivion?
The Tigers were right there, rolling up the on-ramp, before Sheridan delivered his stunning two-run home run with one out in the eighth. Before Sheridan, the Tigers were five outs away from falling behind the upstart Twins, 3-0, in this best-of-seven series. Instead, the Tigers trail, 2-1.
"I've been in some bad predicaments before but still had good feelings about it," Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson said. "I didn't have a good feeling about this one."
Alan Trammell, the Tiger shortstop, said falling behind, 3-0, would have meant over-and-out.
"If we'd have lost, I'd have to think it would have been pretty much over, to be realistic," Trammell said.
No team in baseball history has lost the first three games of a playoff series or World Series and come back to win the championship. That's a lot of years and a lot of teams, some of them better equipped than the 1987 Tigers.
So, Detroit was staring into the barrel of its off-season when the Tigers readied for their at-bats in the bottom of the eighth. Already, they had blown a 5-0 lead, with Gary Gaetti's two-run single in the top of the seventh pulling the Twins in front, 6-5.
Depression was settling in throughout the Detroit dugout. "We may have been a little flat after that hit," said Tiger relief pitcher Mike Henneman, who surrendered the hit.
Minnesota summoned its ace, Reardon, the sturdy reliever, to close out the final two innings, just as he had in the Twins' 8-5 victory in Game 1. Detroit could only counter with the bottom third of its batting order--Larry Herndon, Tom Brookens and No. 9 hitter Sheridan, a part-time right fielder who batted .259 during the regular season.
Reardon gave up a quick single to Herndon, who was replaced as a runner by pitcher Jack Morris. Then, Reardon got Brookens to pop up a bunt to first base.
With one out, Anderson, who benched Sheridan throughout the Tigers' late-September drive, decided to play this one differently. He stayed with Sheridan.
On Reardon's next pitch, Sheridan booked a ride in the golf cart.
A left-handed hitter with 30 career home runs, Sheridan pulled a Reardon fastball into the second deck in right field. It was Sheridan's first home run since Aug. 20, also against Minnesota.
"I don't know when I hit my last home run," Sheridan said. "I don't hit very many, so I should know it. It was a long time ago. In fact, my last hit was a long time ago."
With a second-half slump, Sheridan lost his position in the starting lineup to minor-league recall Scott Lusader. Anderson placed his trust in a Toledo Mud Hen instead of a six-year veteran who appeared in two AL playoffs as a member of the Kansas City Royals. Anderson's reasoning: Sheridan's .106 batting average (5 for 47) after Aug. 31.
"I think I must have gone 6-for-60," Sheridan said. "Sparky thought it would be best to rest me. I thought it would be two or three days. It didn't think it would end up three weeks.
"But Sparky's not there to please Pat Sheridan. It worked. I didn't play for so long, I think I forgot all my bad habits."
Sheridan's home run also helped the Tigers forget their transgressions of Saturday's early innings, when they scored five runs in the bottom of the third and then threw all of them away by the top of the eighth.
In the third, Minnesota crammed a season's worth of on-the-road foibles into a framework of mere minutes. Take the Twins out of the Metrodome, the scouting report goes, and they crumble. And they began to fall apart here--with Tom Brunansky running Minnesota out of at least one run and Les Straker balking in one Detroit run en route to a 5-0 deficit.
Brunansky led off the third with a walk and was streaking toward second on a stolen-base attempt when Steve Lombardozzi lofted a soft fly down the right-field line. Head down, Brunansky reached second base before Minnesota third base coach Rick Renick shouted to him, "Ball's in the air!"