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Scott Ostler

Nice Is Not Enough Against the Tigers

October 11, 1987|Scott Ostler

DETROIT — There was a nice moment at home plate just before Saturday's game between the Tigers and the Twins. Very touching.

As the teams trotted back to their dugouts after introductions, Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson huddled with Twin reliever Juan Berenguer. Standing at the plate, nose to nose, they talked briefly, and Sparky grabbed Juan's head in a fatherly gesture of affection.

There was another moment at home plate in the seventh inning. Twin pinch-runner Mark (Country) Davidson tried to score from third base on a ground ball to third baseman Tom Brookens, who threw out Davidson at the plate.

Those two moments helped take the Twins out of the game. The Twins niced themselves out of the ballgame, a game that would have killed the Tigers' World Series dreams.

In the battle of ballparks, Tiger Stadium held serve and trails the Hubert Horatio Humphrey Metrodome, 2-1.

On the verge of breaking the Tigers' backs and spirit, the Twins let up just enough, losing 7-6.

It was a nasty day; the Twins were nice, and you know what Leo Durocher said about nice guys.

Let's examine those two fatal moments.

Moment 1. When Berenguer, a former Tiger, mowed down the Tigers with a superclutch relief performance in Game 2, all the while strutting around the mound like Mick Jagger, Sparky turned Berenguer's enthusiasm into a national crusade. Sparky did everything but hold a telethon to stamp out hotdogging.

Result: Minnesota Manager Tom Kelly reportedly demanded that Berenguer apologize to Sparky. In the newspapers, Berenguer was apologetic, and then there was the meeting at home plate.

Saturday, Berenguer came into the game in the seventh and stomped out a potential rally. But he was much more subdued than in Game 2, and less overpowering. To open the eighth inning, Kelly brought in ace reliever Jeff Reardon, who gave up the game-winning two-run homer to Pat Sheridan.

Now, if you're a Twins' fan, which Berenguer do you want to see Saturday? The fired-up wild man who can't be hit, or the composed fellow who looked pretty good Saturday, but not dangerous?

If Berenguer pitches the seventh inning Saturday like he pitched the eighth and ninth on Thursday, does Kelly leave Juan in the game one more inning?

"He (Berenguer) had some tough at-bats," Kelly said, explaining why he went to Reardon in the eighth.

Final question: Did Sparky's anti-hotdogging campaign steal just enough of Berenguer's bravado?

"He (Berenguer) just wasn't the same," said Tiger second baseman Lou Whitaker, comparing the two games. "He threw strikes at Minnesota. Sometimes you need that (psychological) edge."

Was it all a devious ploy by Sparky to deflate the pumped-up Twins hurler?

"I don't think old men with white hair ever think that way," Sparky said.

Of course not. Forget I mentioned it, Sparky.

Now, moving on to moment No. 2, the play at home.

The Twins still got two runs in that inning to take a 6-5 lead, but do you think they could have used another run?

On the play, pinch-runner Davidson, a rookie, was out by a couple feet, but he came home with a mild pop-up slide and was stopped cold by catcher Matt Nokes' tag.

Could Davidson turn this easy play into a very tough one for Nokes by coming home a little harder? Davidson is 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, and fast. Nokes is smaller, and stationary.

Shouldn't Davidson be coming home like a freight train, rather than like a streetcar named lack of desire?

How would Pete Rose have handled this situation? Ask former catcher Ray Fosse, who was never the same player after Rose hit him with a flying body slam on a similar play in an All-Star game.

Oh, and Rose scored.

"I told you, they're very polite here (in the American League)," said Tiger Bill Madlock.

It was Madlock, remember, who knocked Toronto shortstop Tony Fernandez out of the season two weeks ago with a tough but clean slide into second base, after which Madlock referred to the American as the "gentleman's league."

"They run out of the baseline on double plays," Madlock said Saturday. "In this league they hit so many home runs, they sit back and wait for the home run. He (Davidson) just came in there and stopped. I would never say you should hurt anyone, but you gotta come in hard. You can't come in half-steppin.' "

Hey, the Twins are nice kids. Tiger Stadium visitor's clubhouse attendant told a local newsman that the Twins are the nicest kids in baseball.

"If these guys throw tape at the wastebasket and miss, they pick it up," clubhouse attendant Rip Collins said Friday. "They pick up their towels. Most of the time you don't even have to vacuum when they leave."

What the Twins needed Saturday was a little nastiness, a chip on their shoulder. They needed to throw towels on the clubhouse floor, strut around the mound and not be kind to catchers.

Sparky Anderson predicted the Twins, after winning the first two games, would come to Detroit "real chesty."

They should've, but they didn't, and the Tigers are still alive.

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