TORONTO, SEPT. 27 -- There was Alan Trammell, the brilliant Detroit shortstop, getting on base 11 times in 19 plate appearances, and, until today, having three losses to show for it. There was 37-year-old Doyle Alexander spinning sliders on the corner and sneering at thousands of booing fans for 10 2/3 innings and 137 pitches.

There was Kirk Gibson bringing the Tigers back in the ninth, and Darrell Evans breaking a tie in the 11th, only to see Toronto's Jesse Barfield answer in the bottom of the 11th. There was umpire Ken Kaiser shoving fellow ump Jim McKean out of the way to get at Detroit reliever Mark Thurmond for a word in the 13th, and Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson leaving the field shaking his finger at Kaiser when it finally ended.

So on this day when the NFL strike began in earnest, NBC gave the nation a chance to see the summer game at its heavyweight best, to watch the Detroit Tigers extend the American League East race a bit longer with a 3-2, 13-inning victory over the Blue Jays before 46,346 at Exhibition Stadium.

The four-game series drew a club-record 181,434 fans.

The Tigers won it on Gibson's RBI single in the top of the 13th and in the last of the inning when the Detroit bullpen finally held a lead.

But between the time George Bell's single got Toronto a 1-0 lead in the first and Detroit's Dickie Noles got Barfield to hit a soft grounder in the last of the 13th, there was a little bit of everything.

There were 42 players used, including nine relievers, seven pinch hitters, three pinch runners and one pinch catcher. Anderson was so conscious of losing on a passed ball by rookie Matt Nokes that he jerked Nokes in the bottom of the 12th and put in veteran Mike Heath. Toronto's starter, Jim Clancy, left after seven shutout inning, having thrown only 77 pitches. But he had thrown 147 Wednesday night in Baltimore.

It began in the warm afternoon sun and ended four hours six minutes later in a light rain. When it did finally end, Evans sat slumped in a chair and pulled the words out one or two at a time.

"It doesn't get any better than that," the 40-year-old boy wonder said. "I'm just drained emotionally. It went on so long, with so many ups and downs . . ."

All it did for the Tigers was save their season. They'd lost the first three games of this series and had blown ninth-inning leads Friday and Saturday. Had they lost today, they would have been 4 1/2 out of first with seven to play. Instead, they trail the Blue Jays (96-60) by 2 1/2 games and may have a chance to win the AL East next weekend at Tiger Stadium.

Between now and three games next weekend, the Blue Jays play host to the Milwaukee Brewers for three games, and the Tigers to the Baltimore Orioles for four. If they proved anything here this weekend, it's that they are about as even as two teams can be. All four games were decided by one run, and, in the final three, the winning run was scored in the ninth inning or later.

But the Blue Jays' magic number is still only five and, if they sweep the Brewers, they only have to win once in Detroit.

"We're satisfied," Blue Jays Manager Jimy Williams said. "We had a chance today, but overall, we have to feel pretty good. Now, we've got six games left, and we'll just see where we are on the fourth of October."

All that stood between the Blue Jays and a four-game sweep was Alexander. He brought an 8-0 record into the game and was coming off a two-hitter against the Boston Red Sox. But Toronto's Nelson Liriano led off the first with a single, stole second and scored on Bell's single.

Since he was acquired from Atlanta, that was the first time in 10 games he'd even trailed in a game. He didn't allow anything else, mixing 80-mph breaking balls, change-ups and batting-practice fastballs.

After the first, only two Blue Jays got as far as second and, had it not been for shortstop Trammell's error in the 11th, he might have left with an 11-inning complete game and 2-1 victory. Gibson's 23rd homer, this one off reliever Tom Henke, erased the Blue Bays' 1-0 lead in the ninth.

"I wanted a fastball in and just left it out over the plate," Henke said. "When you rely on a fastball, that's going to happen sometimes."

Both teams threatened in the 10th, then in the top of the 11th Evans' 33rd homer broke the tie against Toronto's Jeff Musselman.

The Tigers couldn't hold the lead. In the bottom of the 11th, Trammell let Juan Beniquez's grounder skip off his glove with one out. Williams sent in Kelly Gruber to run and, after Alexander got Bell on a fly to center, he walked Ernie Whitt and allowed Barfield a game-tying single.

Finally and (apparently) reluctantly, Anderson went to his bullpen, the one that had allowed nine runs, 13 hits and five walks in seven innings of work Friday and Saturday. He wanted left-hander Willie Hernandez to pitch to left-hand-hitting Willie Upshaw, and Hernandez did, sort of. He walked him.

Anderson then brought in rookie Mike Henneman, who had worked both Friday and Saturday, but remains Anderson's only reliable relief arm. Henneman did his job again, getting Cecil Fielder on a fly to right to keep the game alive.

The Tigers broke the tie again in the 13th. Jose Nunez (5-2), the Blue Jays' fifth pitcher and the eventual loser, walked Jim Walewander to lead off the inning. Lou Whitaker sacrificed, and Evans was put on.

Gibson then looped a single into center for the go-ahead run, and Anderson used Henneman, Thurmond and Noles to get out of the bottom of the 13th. Henneman began the inning but left with one out when he hit Bell. Thurmond got Whitt to hit a fielder's choice grounder, although Anderson and Thurmond argued for a double play. Noles ended the game by getting Barfield on a grounder.

"Now, we have to win three of four from the Orioles and sweep these guys," Anderson said.

"What this meant today is that we're still breathing, that we don't have to get help from Milwaukee. It wouldn't have been fair asking them to do our dirty work."