The AL East had been won by different teams since 1981. The Yankees won it in '81, followed by the Brewers in 1982, the Orioles in 1983, the Tigers in 1984 and the Blue Jays in 1985.

The Tigers, obviously. wanted to stop that trend and win the division for the second time in three years, in 1986.

One of their concerns involved catcher Lance Parrish, a Tigers mainstay. Parrish was in the final year of his contract, and folks wondered if he would test the free agent waters after the 1986 season.

The Tigers brought in a new 3B---Darnell Coles, acquired from Seattle in the off-season for young pitcher Rich Monteleone. Also new for '86 was outfielder Dave Collins, a fleet-footed player brought over from Oakland for Barbaro Garbey.

But the one player the Tigers felt they could least afford to lose---outfielder Kirk Gibson---once again fell victim to injury. On April 22 in Boston, Gibson twisted his ankle getting back to first base during a pick-off attempt. Gibby was hitting .359 at the time. Detroit baseball fans sagged. The prospect of the Tigers without Gibson was discouraging.

Gibson was out of the lineup until early-June. Meanwhile, the division looked like it might be won by yet another team---the Boston Red Sox. When Gibson returned, the Red Sox were 34-15 and in first place by 3.5 games over the New York Yankees. The Tigers were mired in sixth place, 10 games behind the Bosox.

Then the Tigers got some major production from an unlikely source. Veteran OF Johnny Grubb, a Tiger since 1984 and the hero of Game 2 of the ALCS, got red-hot in July, carrying the Tigers on his back. Grubb hit nearly .400 in July and slammed seven homers in the month, as the Tigers stayed in sixth place but moved to within six games of the Red Sox in a suddenly tight division race.

In August, Grubb stayed hot and so did the Tigers. The Red Sox visited in early-August for a four-game series. The Tigers were just 4.5 games out of first place, in third position, when the Red Sox came to town. But Boston won the first three games of the series and the Tigers were essentially finished at that point.

The Tigers finished 87-75, in third place, 8.5 games behind the Red Sox.

Six Tigers hit 20 or more homers: Darrell Evans (29); Gibson (28, despite missing all of May due to injury); Parrish (22); Alan Trammell (21); and Lou Whitaker and Coles with 20 each. Grubb batted .333 for the year in 210 at-bats, which included 13 home runs.

Jack Morris had a great year---21 wins and a 3.27 ERA in 267 innings, which included 15 complete games and six shutouts.

The year ended with the Tigers still not certain whether Parrish would return, or would sign elsewhere as a free agent.

By GregEno

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