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Bert Blyleven vs. Jack Morris: The 1987 ALCS

Dec 21, 2010, 7:40 PM EDT

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No, I’m not going to go over the entire candidacies of both. Suffice to say I support Blyleven for the Hall of Fame and not Morris. Those who have it the other way around say that Morris was better than his statistics and Blyleven worse. And, sure, there are cases in which statistics don’t tell the whole story. I don’t really believe this is one of them.

What most don’t remember is that Blyleven and Morris actually met in a big game. And the supposed big game pitcher didn’t fare so well.

In Game 1 of the 1987 ALCS, the Tigers started Doyle Alexander, who had performed so brilliantly down the stretch after being acquired from the Braves for John Smoltz. Alexander had a rough night, though, and Frank Viola pitched the Twins to an 8-5 victory in the Metrodome.

Morris and Blyleven got the call in Game 2. Morris, still in his prime at 32, had just finished one of his best regular seasons, going 18-11 with a 3.38 ERA in a year in which offense had increased dramatically.

Blyleven wasn’t quite as good in his age-36 campaign, finishing 15-12 with a 4.01 ERA. He led the majors in homers allowed for a second straight season, coming in at 46 in 267 innings. Still, his 115 ERA+ was perfectly solid, if slightly below his career mark. Morris had come in at 126.

Game 2 opened with a scoreless first inning. The second saw Morris handed a two-run lead thanks to a single from Matt Nokes and Chet Lemon’s two-run homer. However, it didn’t last. Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Tim Laudner all doubled in the bottom of the inning, and the Twins went up 3-2.

The Twins went on to add two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth. Blyleven shut the Tigers down until the eighth, when he was pulled after a Lou Whitaker homer and a Darrell Evans single with one out. Juan Berenguer came in and retired five straight to give the Twins a 6-3 win. Morris went the distance for Detroit in what was his first career postseason loss after three wins.

That was it for Morris in 1987. Blyleven came back on three days’ rest in Game 5 and outpitched Alexander as the Twins claimed the series 4-1. Morris was held back for a Game 6 that never came. The Twins went on to win the World Series, and Blyleven ended up 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA in his four postseason starts.

As much attention as Morris’ postseason record gets, Blyleven also deserves credit for going 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA when he got the opportunity. Yes, he made the postseason just three times and barely pitched in one (he made one relief appearance as a 19-year-old for the Twins in 1970 ALCS), but he does have two World Series rings to go along with his fine regular-season record. Morris, who has three rings, went 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in his 13 postseason starts.

  1. BC - Dec 22, 2010 at 9:29 AM

    Wait, wasn’t Blyleven on the 1979 Pirates championship team?

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