TORONTO, SEPT. 26 -- The absurd mixed with the ridiculous and combined with the silly. How ridiculous? Sparky Anderson made so many moves he was forced to let rookie reliever Mike Henneman bat with two runners in scoring position in the top of the ninth inning.

How ridiculous? Toronto Manager Jimy Williams countered by bringing in reliever Jose Nunez to pitch to Henneman, who hadn't batted in a game since high school.

But after the moves and counter-moves, the Toronto Blue Jays scored a second straight stunning knockdown, scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 10-9 victory over the Detroit Tigers.

Juan Beniquez's three-run pinch triple off reliever Dickie Noles gave Toronto its third straight victory over the Tigers and its second sudden-death win in less than 24 hours.

Beniquez's hit set off a mad celebration by many of the 46,429 who had jammed into Exhibition Stadium on this cool, sunny afternoon, and when it ended, many of those fans stayed and gave the Blue Jays a 10-minute ovation.

They even celebrated a bit in the normally quiet home clubhouse. As first baseman Willie Upshaw said, "We're getting closer. The closer you get, the more excited you get."

The Blue Jays (96-69) are close enough that fans from Anaheim to Boston can begin polishing up on the lyrics of "Oh, Canada." Today's victory was Toronto's seventh in a row, and the Blue Jays opened up a 3 1/2-game lead over the Tigers (92-62) with seven to play.

Their magic number has been reduced to five, meaning that if they somehow pulled out a series sweep Sunday afternoon, the race might be over before they even get to Tiger Stadium next weekend.

The Blue Jays won this one after trailing by scores of 3-0, 7-3 and 9-4. They won after starter Dave Stieb allowed six runs in 2 1/3 innings and reliever John Cerutti allowed three more in 1 2/3 innings.

They overcame some tremendous performances. Detroit rookie catcher Matt Nokes hit his 30th and 31st home runs of the season and had six RBI, with four on a third-inning grand slam off Cerutti. Detroit shortstop Alan Trammell had four hits.

But on a day when there were 28 hits and 11 pitchers, the difference was again relief pitching. Toronto's Duane Ward, Mark Eichhorn, David Wells and Jose Nunez did their jobs, combining for five shutout innings.

Nunez (5-1) got the victory by coming into the game in the ninth inning and striking out Henneman and getting Chet Lemon on an infield pop with runners in scoring position.

(Henneman was forced to bat when Anderson switched Darrell Evans from designated hitter to first base, thus forcing the pitcher into the batting order.)

For instance, there was Lemon coming up with runners on second and third with one out in the fifth. A hit might have broken the game open, but instead, Lemon hit a hard grounder to shortstop Manny Lee. Lee went to field the ball, and as he did, Nokes collided with him. Umpire Ken Kaiser ruled interference and a double play.

Meanwhile, the Detroit bullpen blew its 12th save chance since the all-star break. After Tigers starter Walt Terrell lasted 2 1/3 innings, Anderson used Dan Petry for three innings, left-hander Mark Thurmond for one hitter and Henneman for 2 1/3 innings. Anderson brought in Dickie Noles to face Beniquez in the ninth.

Conspicuous by his absence was Willie Hernandez. The $900,000 reliever blew Friday's lead and wasn't even asked to warm up.

Still, when the game ended Anderson sat in his office and recounted not only bullpen failures, but also leaving seven runners on base, six of them in scoring position.

Before the game, Anderson had joked, "If we don't get out of here with at least one win, there may not be a flag flying in Detroit next week. They may have me hung there."

He may not be flapping in the breeze, but his Tigers have been hung out to dry for three straight days. All that stands between them and a season-crushing sweep Sunday is Doyle Alexander (8-0) going against his former teammates.

"We beat ourselves," Anderson said. "Sunday is crucial now."

With Toronto having cut a 9-4 lead to 9-7 as the ninth began, Jesse Barfield led off with his third double of the game (he also tripled). Upshaw then beat out an infield single, sending Barfield to third.

Henneman, obviously tiring, bounced a pitch to hit Rick Leach and load the bases. At that point, Anderson was trapped. His best reliever was tired, and he was either going to Noles or to no one.

He decided on Noles, who fell behind Beniquez, 3-1, then gambled with a fastball down the middle.

"He didn't have his good control, so I knew he'd have to come in with something," Beniquez said. "I was looking for a fastball and was lucky to hit it someplace they couldn't field it."

Beniquez lined it over Trammell's head and past left fielder Kirk Gibson. He waited through a 3-hour 35-minute game to get his chance. "This is exciting," Beniquez said. "When you sit on the bench so long, you have to feel good. This is the reason they got me over here, and I'm glad I could help."

He got the last hit on a day when the offense started before the traffic jams outside Exhibition Stadium had even cleared up. Each team scored three runs in the first inning.

Nokes' homer was the big hit in the first inning, and in the second Whitaker led off with a single. Stieb walked Evans and Gibson moved the runners up with a groundout.

Trammell was walked intentionally to load the bases, and Toronto manager Jimy Williams brought in left-hander Cerutti to pitch to left-handed Nokes. Good thought, bad result. Nokes fouled off five full-count pitches before hitting a monstrous grand slam for a 7-3 Tigers lead.

But the Tigers couldn't hold on. Bell doubled and scored on Barfield's triple to make it 7-4.

The Tigers made it 9-4 off Cerutti in the top of the fifth. Evans hit his 32nd homer and Jim Morrison had an RBI groundout.

But the Blue Jays crept back. In the fifth, Barfield doubled and scored on Leach's single to make it 9-5.

In the sixth, Moseby walked, stole second and scored on Bell's single to make it 9-6.

And in the seventh, Leach got his third homer of the season to make it 9-7, setting up the finish.

"We'll try to salvage one {Sunday}," Trammell said. "No question, this was a big one to lose. It's the difference between being 1 1/2 out and 3 1/2. But you just keep playing and see what happens."