TORONTO, SEPT. 25 -- This was exactly the kind of loss the Detroit Tigers had feared, one in which they would do everything right, get a brilliant performance from a starting pitcher, then have to watch as their bullpen wasted it all.

The firecracker that is the Detroit bullpen blew up all around Manager Sparky Anderson's silver hair tonight as the Toronto Blue Jays rallied for three stunning runs in the bottom of the ninth and defeated the Tigers, 3-2, before 46,233 at Exhibition Stadium.

The victory is the second in as many nights for the Blue Jays, who now lead the American League East by 2 1/2 games with nine to play. Before the game, Anderson called his Tigers 5 to 1 underdogs, but by the time they walked off the field tonight, the odds were longer than that.

Toronto tied the game right on schedule, just as slumping reliever Willie Hernandez entered the game. But they won it at an unexpected time, with Manny Lee scoring the last run on a throwing error by second baseman Lou Whitaker. Lee, 22, was shoved into the spotlight tonight as a replacement for injured Tony Fernandez.

"It was looking good for a while," Anderson said. "I just don't know."

In the other clubhouse, the Blue Jays celebrated a miracle ending and talked about destiny and digging the Tigers a hole from which they can't climb out next weekend in Detroit.

"Tremendous," Jesse Barfield said. "We battled back, and this is a big, big one. We were down to the end and pulled it out. You win like this one, and you feel good for a couple of days."

Lose one like this, and the opposite holds true. Anderson sat quietly behind his desk, explaining that he thought Hernandez could at least retire left-handed hitters and that he didn't blame Whitaker for throwing home on what might have been an inning-ending double-play grounder.

"We were playing in and coming home all the way," Anderson said. "It's tough to turn a double play in that situation because it's a bang-bang play. If you look and the guy isn't at second, you might not have enough time to get the guy at the plate."

He pulled the words out one at a time and rubbed deep, hard lines into his forehead. Anderson had gambled on starter Frank Tanana, who hadn't won in six weeks and hadn't pitched at all in 10 days, and Tanana was terrific, yielding five hits over seven innings.

But Tanana's shoulder stiffened in the seventh, and Anderson had to turn over a 2-0 lead to a bullpen that has blown 11 save opportunites since the all-star break.

Detroit's runs had not been cheapies. Both came off starter Jimmy Key, who has won eight straight decisions, leads the league in ERA (2.73) and hasn't lost since July 11.

Key left after allowing two hits in the top of the ninth, but rookie Jeff Musselman (12-4) got Whitaker on a fly to left and Kirk Gibson on a pop to shortstop to end the inning. That set up Toronto's comeback in the last of the inning.

Anderson got 1 1/3 innings out of recently acquired right-handed reliever Dickie Noles, but when Barfield dumped a single into center with one out, Toronto Manager Jimy Williams sent up left-hand-hitting Rick Leach.

Anderson countered with Hernandez, the 1984 AL Cy Young Award winner.

Hernandez threw three pitches. Leach lined his second one down the right field line for a double, and Lee lined the third down the right field line for a two-run triple that tied the score, 2-2.

With one out, Anderson brought in his only reliable reliever, rookie Mike Henneman, and he had Henneman walk Willie Upshaw and Nelson Liriano to load the bases.

He drew in the infield and outfield and hoped Lloyd Moseby would hit a ground ball. He did -- right at Whitaker, who scooped and bounced a throw in front of catcher Mike Heath as Lee scored.

"We got a break," Leach said. "That could have been a double-play ball. We'll take it."

Whitaker refused to speak with reporters, but Heath said, "I saw it coming low and tried to come up with it. It handcuffed me."

"I don't know if we've buried them, but it was a big win," Williams said. "To win the first two means a lot."