Detroit Wins, Ties for Lead : Rookie Lusader Star of 4-3 Victory Over Toronto; 2 Games Left
New math, the American League East way: A recycled ex-Toronto pitcher, plus a Detroit rookie down to the last drop of his cup of coffee, minus a Toronto shortstop, minus a Toronto catcher, plus a slumping American League MVP candidate . . . equals . . . two teams tied for first place with two games to play.
After 160 games of addition, subtraction and attrition, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Detroit Tigers reign as co-leaders of the AL East after Detroit’s 4-3 victory Friday night before a crowd of 45,167 at Tiger Stadium. Both teams have records of 96-64, which sets up one last equation.
If Toronto wins the next two games, the Blue Jays advance to the AL playoffs against the Minnesota Twins. If Detroit wins the next two games, the Tigers will face the Twins. And if there’s a split, Toronto and Detroit will reconvene here Monday for a one-game playoff that will provide the final solution to a Rubik’s Cube of a division race.
“It’s the best two-out-of-three now,” declared Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson. “Now, this is fair. At least now, we’ll know who the best team is. There’s no more Milwaukee, no more Baltimore involved. The best team will win two of the next three games.”
Or at least the healthiest.
The Blue Jays are playing without a good part of the heart of their lineup. Shortstop Tony Fernandez (broken elbow) and catcher Erie Whitt (cracked ribs) both went down within the past week, turning a pair of critical positions over to a pair of rookies named Manny Lee and Greg Myers. That’s one reason Toronto’s late skid extended to five straight losses Friday night.
Two others are Doyle Alexander and Scott Lusader.
Alexander, the 37-year-old former Blue Jay, remained unbeaten as a Tiger, improving his Detroit record to 9-0 by limiting his ex-teammates to three runs and eight hits in seven-plus innings.
Lusader (rhymes with crusader) is a 23-year-old rookie outfielder, promoted from the minor leagues only when rosters became expanded to 40 Sept. 1. If the Tigers make the playoffs, Lusader will not be among them, but he helped get them this far by delivering his first big league home run in the second inning and robbing Nelson Liriano of extra bases with a diving catch in the seventh inning.
Lee had given Toronto a 3-0 lead in the top of the second with a three-run home run off Alexander. By the bottom of the second, however, Lusader had sliced the deficit to 3-2 with a two-run home run, a just-enough poke that cleared the screen in left field by a matter of inches.
“You dream about hitting a home run in a big game,” Lusader said. “And you dream of going upper deck or over the roof with it. This one, I’ll take it.”
Five innings later, with Alexander protecting a 4-3 Tiger lead, Lusader took a potential double or triple away from Liriano with a sprawling catch in the right-field corner. Had Lusader’s belly-landing been a flop, Toronto would have had the tying run in scoring position for Lloyd Moseby, who has driven in 96 runs in 1987.
Instead, Lusader wound up with the ball, and Alexander was out of the inning.
“In games like this, it always seems the little guys make the difference,” said Alan Trammell, a Detroit big guy who delivered his 28th homer in the third inning.
“A kid like Lusader hits a two-run home run and make the play of the game in the outfield. Whatever gets you there.”
Then, there are the big guys who do little in big games. Witness Toronto’s George Bell, who has 47 home runs, 134 RBIs and, probably, a good hold on this year’s AL most valuable player award. But, with his team sinking under the brunt of injuries, Bell has one hit in his last 19 at-bats--going 0-for-4 Friday.
And for the Blue Jays, it was a particularly damaging 0-for-4. In the first inning, with runners on first and second base, Bell struck out. In the third inning, with the leadoff batter on base, Bell grounded into a double play. In the sixth inning, Bell led off with a strike out and in the eighth, he tapped out meekly to third base with runners on first and second with no outs.
“He’s done so many things all year long, maybe he isn’t doing them now,” Toronto Manager Jimy Williams said. “But I’ll tell you one thing--he isn’t done yet.”
Added Blue Jays batting instructor Cito Gaston: “He’s going at it real hard. Maybe he’s taking it on himself to pick up the so-called slack. He doesn’t have to do it all himself.”
But if Bell doesn’t, who is going to get it done? Take away an unexpected home run by Lee--his second as a major-leaguer--and Toronto winds up with no runs against Alexander and reliever Mike Henneman.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are getting help from all hands, including such unproven ones as Lusader. As a platoon outfielder who only plays against right-handed pitching, Lusader may have played his last game of 1987. The Blue Jays’ next two starters are lefthanders Mike Flanagan today and Jimmy Key Sunday.
“With a couple of left-handers going, that might be it for me,” Lusader said. “It looks like it. But if it’s my last game, I’ll settle for it. Shoot, some guys play their whole careers and never get this close.”
Thanks to Lusader, the Tigers and the Blue Jays are as close as they can possibly be.
Tiger-Blue Jay Notes Two Streaks: With Friday’s victory, Doyle Alexander improved his Tiger record to 9-0 after his Aug. 12 trade from Atlanta. Alexander also has two no-decisions, both Detroit wins, making the Tigers 11-0 in games Alexander has started. Meanwhile, Friday’s losing pitcher, Jim Clancy, dropped to 4-16 lifetime against the Tigers. Clancy has gone 0-3 against Detroit in each of the past two seasons and is 1-11 at Tiger Stadium. His last victory against Detroit came on Sept. 14, 1984. . . . Add Alexander: With Toronto in 1985, Alexander pitched the Blue Jays to their first AL East championship with a division-clinching 5-1 triumph over the New York Yankees. Alexander still ranks that game as his most memorable. “That was a pretty good feeling in 1985,” he said. “That wrapped it up for us. This feels pretty good, too, but all this does is get us even. It gets us down to a two-game season.” . . . Each of the last five games between Detroit and Toronto have been decided by one run. The Tigers are 3-2 in those games. . . . Slumps: Toronto’s five-game losing streak can be attributed to an offensive breakdown. Entering Friday’s game, George Bell had one hit in his previous 15 at-bats, Jesse Barfield was 0-for-9, Juan Beniquez 0-for-7, Nelson Liriano 0-for-16 and Willie Upshaw 0-for-7.