The Tigers surprised baseball observers by winning the 1987 AL East despite losing catcher Lance Parrish to free agency, and despite a terrible 11-19 start. Now they would have to repeat under duress yet again.
Outfielder Kirk Gibson, the Michigan State kid who was the heart and soul of the Tigers, fled to the Los Angeles Dodgers via free agency. As much as the Tigers liked having Parrish behind the plate, the idea of slicing Gibson out of the roster was a daunting one.
Darrell Evans, who would turn 41 during the season, was back as the team's first baseman and unofficially took the baton as the Tigers' main veteran leader. To help offset Gibson's loss, the Tigers acquired veteran utility man Luis Salazar from the San Diego Padres over the winter. Also new was another veteran, 1B/3B Ray Knight, whose wife was the arguably more famous golfer Nancy Lopez.
The Tigers were also a little long in the tooth on the mound. Their rotation featured 33 year-old Jack Morris, 37 year-old Doyle Alexander, 35 year-old Frank Tanana and 30 year-old Walt Terrell. The closer role had been ceded by Guillermo Hernandez to righty Mike Henneman.
The team got off to a good start, and by the end of May the Tigers were 28-20 and in third place. At the All-Star break, the Tigers were 52-33 and held a three-game lead over the New York Yankees. Lurking in fourth place were the Boston Red Sox, just a game over .500 but about to make a move. In fact, out of the break, the Bosox went 19-1 to surge into first place. That set up a five-game showdown at Tiger Stadium in early-August, necessitated by earlier rainouts.
The Tigers and Red Sox were tied for first place, and the Motown baseball fans went crazy as the Tigers won the first four games of the series before the Bosox finally stopped the bleeding.
Sadly, the Red Sox got hot again and the Tigers stumbled. Down the stretch, Boston's lead lead had grown to six games by mid-September. As for the Tigers, not even the acquisition of veteran outfielder Fred Lynn from Baltimore on August 31 was enough to spur a hot streak.
The Red Sox won the division by one game, but the race wasn't really that close; the Tigers only closed the gap after the Red Sox clinched.
Gibson, meanwhile, led the Dodgers to an upset World Series win over Oakland, and won the NL MVP Award.
For the Tigers, Evans led with 22 homers, but batted only .208. The double play combo of 2B Lou Whitaker (47 games) and SS Alan Trammell (34 games) missed over 80 man games between them due to injury. Knight was underwhelming as a Tiger, and even though Lynn smacked seven homers in 90 at-bats, he batted just .222 as a Tiger.
Four Tigers starters registered double digits in victories: Morris (15); Alexander (14); Tanana (14); and young Jeff Robinson (13). Henneman saved 22 games with a 1.87 ERA.
Despite the second place finish, baseball people worried that the Tigers were getting too old, too fast. The 1989 season would prove those fears to be correct.By GregEno
- Boston Red Sox, Darrell Evans, Detroit Tigers, Doyle Alexander, Frank Tanana, Fred Lynn, Jack Morris, Jeff Robinson, Kirk Gibson, Los Angeles Dodgers, Mike Henneman, Ray Knight, Walt Terrell, Willie Hernandez