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SCOTT OSTLER

This Dance Turns Evans Into a Dunce

October 12, 1987|SCOTT OSTLER

DETROIT — A million times in his 19-year major league career, Darrell Evans has danced off third base. As a third baseman much of his career, he saw a million other guys dance off the bag.

He knows the corner.

But Sunday night, dancing off third in the sixth inning, with the hopes of a city in his back pocket, Evans goofed.

He danced too far. He danced himself and the Tigers out of the game, and possibly out of the playoffs.

Barring a minor miracle, a bounce-back from a 3-1 series deficit, this was a play that will live in Tigers fans' memories all winter. Not the home run by Pat Sheridan the day before. Not any of the great plays and clutch performances that put the Tigers in the series.

All winter the fans will see Darrell Evans, dancing off third.

It was the sixth inning at frosty Tiger Stadium, Tigers trailing the Minnesota Twins, 4-3. Evans was on third, Dave Bergman on second, one out. Leadoff man Lou Whitaker was at the plate.

Playing third for the Twins was the Rat, Gary Gaetti, the Twins' key guy in this series. Looks like Ratso Rizzo of the movie "Midnight Cowboy." Plays third like Brooks Robinson, although not quite as pretty. Won the Gold Glove in '86.

Catcher Tim Laudner gave the sign to pitcher Juan Berenguer--fastball--then glanced out of the corner of his eye toward Gaetti, who gave a signal.

"I've seen him do it before," Gaetti said, referring to Evans.

Do what before?

"Just be Darrell Evans. You get to know certain things. I've seen him get way off base. Other guys do it, but he's one guy that sticks out in my mind."

Gaetti sucked on a cigarette and ran his hand through his thinning hair.

"We like to do it (the throw to third)," he said. "I like to have the guys just dive in sometimes. To scare 'em. Just for the hell of it.

"I hated to put it on Darrell, though, because I like the guy a lot. I was having a nice little chat with him just before that. I respect him, he's the greatest. But I had to take a chance."

Someone pointed out to Gaetti that he had no chance to study Evans' leadoff this time because Evans had just arrived at third base.

"That's the great time to do it," Gaetti said. "Don't you understand?"

Berenguer went into his stretch, Evans danced off third, maybe 20 feet down the line. The Tigers had the Twins where they wanted 'em. Win this one and tie the series, put a little nervous into the mostly inexperienced kids from Minnesota. Turn the series around.

Berenguer's pitch was low and outside to the lefty hitting Whitaker. Laudner, not known for his shotgun arm, came up firing.

Gaetti, instead of waiting at the base for the throw, moved two feet down the line, saving maybe a 100th of a second, gloved the throw and slapped the tag on Evans' body.

Then, as umpire Joe Brinkman made the easy call, Gaetti moved quickly away from the scene of the crime. He didn't want to have to face Evans, who was kneeling on the bag, protesting, more out of anguish than injustice.

"Gaetti and I had a play on," Laudner said. "Gary thinks he's got a shot, he puts the sign on. He put it on. I just threw it."

Simple enough. When was the last time that play worked?

Laudner couldn't remember.

"The last time?" Gaetti said. "Here, against (Detroit center fielder Chet) Lemon, two years ago, I think."

Instead of runners on second and third and one out, the Tigers had a runner on second with two out. Whitaker walked and Jim Morrison flied out.

The Tigers never got a man past first base the last three innings.

Evans this season became the first man in big-league history to hit 30 homers at the age of 40 (he hit 34). He was hitting .444 (4-for-9) in this series, going into the game, and had singled to get aboard in this game.

How many of those 34 homers or 128 hits or 99 RBIs, how many of those five playoff hits, will the fans remember when the snow is falling and the Lions are striking and the Twins are playing in the World Series?

"It was something I didn't expect," Evans said. "The ball (pitch) was in the dirt. I went a half step too far. It was a big mistake."

It was colossal.

Maybe the Tigers can bounce back, win at home today and send the series back to Minnesota and the dreaded Metrodome.

But Evans can never take back the one play.

The Tigers have a video for sale at their stadium. It's called, originally enough, "The Tiger Movie."

It's a historical film. Lots of highlights from lots of decades. It will not contain the one play that may have cost the Tigers a championship.

But that one play will be shown over and over and over, all winter long, in the hearts and minds of Tiger fans everywhere.

And looking back over his two decades in baseball, Evans will never be able to shake this one from his memory.

Darrell Evans, dancing off third.

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