October 10, 1987
ALCS, Game Three
Twins Lead Series, 2-0
Twins: Dan Glannen (LF), Greg Gagne (SS), Kirby Puckett (CF), Kent Hrbek (1B), Gary Gaetti (3B), Randy Bush (DH), Tom Brunansky (RF), Steve Lombardozzi (2B), Sal Butera (C), Les Straker (P)
Tigers: Lou Whitaker (2B), Darrell Evans (1B), Kirk Gibson (LF), Alan Trammell (SS), Matt Nokes (C), Chet Lemon (CF), Dave Bergman (DH), Tom Brookens (3B), Pat Sheridan (RF), Walt Terrell (P)
To the surprise of all the baseball world outside of Minnesota, the Twins had won both of the contests in Minnesota against the heavy favorite Tigers. Of the 12 position players for the Twins who played more than 100 games, only one (Roy Smalley) was older than 29 - position players averaged 27 years of age. On the Detroit side, of their 12 players with the most time, Matt Nokes was 23, Pat Sheridan and Alan Trammell were 29, and everyone else averaged 34 years of age. There was a significant age and experience gap between Minnesota and Detroit, and the fact that the upstart Twins were up two games to zero was a big surprise.
Rookie Les Straker was 27 years old, and while he only had two seasons in the Majors, Mike Smithson and the 40-year old Joe Niekro were both so ineffective that Straker was the only choice the Twins really had for a third starter. He worked around a pair of leadoff walks in the first and had a 1-2-3 second, but he was behind constantly. Of the first eight batters he faced, when the payoff pitch came he was ahead in the count in zero cases.
Straker's ineffectiveness led to a big third for the Tigers. By the time Tom Kelly pulled him with two outs in the inning, he'd given up a double, two singles, two walks, a stolen base, and a balk. Dan Schatzeder took over, the guy who was potentially the worst relief pitcher in a very mediocre Twins bullpen (if we're being generous), and gave up a two-run double to Larry Herndon to give the home team a 5-0 advantage after three.
The Twins answered right away, with four of the first five batters of the fourth reaching safely. Greg Gagne led off with a homer, and four batters later Randy Bush drove in Kent Hrbek to cut the lead to three. Bush would take a two out walk in the sixth and then come home on Tom Brunansky's two-run homer, leaving the Twins within a run at 5-4.
Schatzeder, meanwhile, had the game of his career. After giving up Herndon's double in the third, he turned the Tigers away in the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, allowing just one single. His clutch performance gave his offense time to get back in the game, and in the top of the seventh the Twins mounted another charge.
Sal Butera and Dan Gladden led off with a pair of singles, with Mark Davidson pinch running for Butera and taking third on Gladden's hit. Davidson would be gunned down on a fielder's choice, when Gagne's grounder was relayed to home by Brookens, but when Mike Henneman intentionally walked Hrbek to load the bases with two away, Gary Gaetti came up legend with a gut-wrenching two-run single to five the Twins the lead.
Schatzeder came on again to start the eighth but hit the first guy chose to plunk Darrell Evans on a full count. Kelly went to Juan Berenger, who wasn't exactly efficient but he got the Twins out of the inning.
It all came down to the bottom of the ninth. Jeff Reardon, whose peripherals were so strong in some areas, wasn't exactly an artist in terms of command and, what's more, he had a penchant for giving up home runs. He saved 31 games for the Twins in 1987 and struck out more than a batter per inning, but he also blew ten save opportunities and only stranded a league average number of base runners. That 75% save rate isn't instilling confidence in anybody.
You know where I'm going with this. Herndon singled to left on the first pitch Reardon threw. After Brookens fouled out, Sheridan - also on the first pitch he saw from Reardon - gave the lead back to Detroit with a two-run home run. Jack Morris was pinch running for Herndon, by the way, which is still funny even now.
It was a great game and a dramatic game, but it was a disappointing loss after the Twins chipped away at and eventually overcame a 5-0 deficit. The 7-6 win put the Tigers back into the series, and they still had two more games at Tiger Stadium before having to go back to Minneapolis.
Also in the 1987 ALCS: