DETROIT — Pitching Frank Viola on three days' rest was less than a rousing success--he allowed 5 hits, 4 walks and 3 runs in 5-plus innings--but Minnesota Manager Tom Kelly will try it again today in Game 5 with Bert Blyleven.
Blyleven, who pitched 7 innings during a 6-3 Twins' victory in Game 2, will be working on three days' rest for the fourth time this season. Blyleven is 2-0 in such starts, including an 8-1 victory over Kansas City on Sept. 27 that clinched a tie for the American League West championship.
"Bert is better on three days' rest than Frank," Kelly said. "He's stronger, he's older. He has a little more experience pitching in that situation."
Blyleven began his big league career in 1970, when four-man starting rotations were the norm. Now, at 36, he says he'd rather work with four days' rest, but he did volunteer to pitch that Sept. 27 game against the Royals, because of the importance it held for the Twins.
"I'd prefer four, but it's that time of year," Blyleven said. "You can't worry about it now."
And now, Blyleven is in a position to clinch Minnesota's first American League pennant since 1965. His Detroit opponent will be Doyle Alexander, the losing pitcher in Game 1.
If Detroit forces a sixth game Wednesday, Kelly will be forced to decide between rookie Les Straker and 42-year-old Joe Niekro as his starting pitcher. As of Sunday, Kelly was still mulling over his options.
Straker started Game 3 but was finished after 2 innings. He walked four, balked once and was charged with five runs in the third inning.
"He might have been a little nervous," Kelly noted. "He walked four guys. He usually doesn't walk that many people."
Niekro, however, isn't much of an alternative. Overall, he finished the regular season with a 7-13 record and an earned-run average of 5.33. With the Twins, he was 4-9, 6.26--never really the same after injuring his right shoulder in a July 16 brawl with Milwaukee.
Niekro hasn't pitched since Oct. 4, the regular-season finale, when he couldn't get out the second inning of an eventual 10-1 loss to Kansas City. Niekro was charged with the Royals' first six runs.
"He got 'em out in the first inning, but he didn't get anyone out in the second inning," Kelly said.
So why would Kelly even consider trotting Niekro out for a possible start in Game 6?
"He has a lot of experience," Kelly said. "And, I think his knuckleball moves more, inside (the Metrodome)."
Discarded: A good idea got out of hand, so to speak, when the Detroit News printed and gave out orange-and-blue "Go Get 'Em Tigers" placards to fans attending Game 3. This was the News' answer to the Homer Hankies distributed by the Minneapolis Star Tribune before Games 1 and 2 in Minnesota, but Twins fans only twirled the hankies--they didn't throw them.
After Pat Sheridan hit his eighth-inning home run Saturday, Tiger fans littered the field with hundreds of the cards, so many that play had to be interrupted for five minutes while members of the grounds crew cleaned up the outfield.
Sunday, the Tigers asked the News to can the cards, citing "potential danger" to players, and the newspaper obliged.
The "Go Get 'Em Tigers" card is now a collector's item.
Detroit starter Frank Tanana set an playoff record by hitting three batters with pitches in the same game. He got Twins' leadoff batter Dan Gladden twice and Don Baylor once.
Actually, Gladden believed Tanana hit him twice. When Tanana brushed Gladden back with the game's first pitch, Gladden began jogging to first base. When home plate umpire Al Clark called him back, Gladden snapped his head around and pointed to his left shoulder--showing where the ball allegedly grazed him.
Clark didn't buy it and brought Gladden back to the plate. No matter. On the very next pitch, Tanana plunked him and Gladden was officially awarded first base.
With a second-inning single, Baylor extended his ALCS hitting streak to 12 games. Pete Rose holds the LCS record by hitting safely in 15 straight games.
It has been a good series for pinch-hitters. Including the hits by Larkin, Dave Bergman and John Grubb, pinch-hitters for both clubs have combined to go 6-for-9 with 6 RBIs in the first four games.
Before his pinch-double Sunday night, Minnesota's Gene Larkin was best known for his baseball career at Columbia University, where Larkin batted .450 as a senior and broke all of Lou Gehrig's school records.
What did Larkin think about stepping into the national spotlight in Game 4?
"Hopefully, that hit will take away some of the publicity away from Columbia's football team," he said.
Columbia, of course, set an NCAA Division 1-A record Saturday with its 35th consecutive football defeat.
Detroit center fielder Chet Lemon abruptly ended an interview with a group of writers by the batting cage Sunday night when a reporter noticed he was wearing a pair of Minnesota Twins stirrup socks with the distinctive red "M" on the side.
"Oh, man, don't tell nobody," Lemon moaned, running off. "That's all I need is a phone call from (Tigers President) Mr. (Jim) Campbell."
The Associated Press also contributed to this story.