DETROIT, OCT. 2 -- Being tied for the lead in the AL East wasn't what the Toronto Blue Jays expected, not what they predicted in August and certainly not what they talked about a week ago after beating the Detroit Tigers three straight times for what appeared to be a knockout punch.

Tonight, they lost their fifth straight game as the Detroit Tigers got seven innings from Doyle Alexander to win, 4-3.

So 160 games into the season that has wound through Fenway Park and Anaheim, Seattle and Yankee Stadium, the American League East race is dead even. The Blue Jays and Tigers are both 96-64, and the championship won't be decided until at least Sunday, possibly in a one-game playoff on Monday.

"Now it's fair," Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson said. "It's whoever wins two of three, and that's fair. They came in here with a hatchet over our heads. I've said from the beginning that we were the best club in our division, and we'll find out in the next three days. In this case, it ain't no crime to be wrong."

In this case, it might be a miracle if he is. Everything clicked again for the Tigers as Alexander won his ninth straight decision, and rookie Mike Henneman pitched two innings for his seventh save before 45,167 fans on a cold, rainy evening in Tiger Stadium.

The Tigers got only eight hits and left 10 men on base, but two errors by Blue Jays third baseman Rance Mulliniks led to two runs, and rookie Scott Lusader hit his first major league home run in the second inning. The Tigers scored their winning run when Darrell Evans came home on Chet Lemon's double-play grounder.

The rest was up to them doing the little things, which they almost always do. Tonight, they turned five double plays, including a terrific one in the fifth when the Blue Jays had the tying run on third base with one out.

Shortstop Alan Trammell sprinted behind second base for Lloyd Moseby's grounder, and flipped behind him to Lou Whitaker to kill a rally. Lusader also dived toward the right field line in the seventh to take a hit away from Nelson Liriano.

"They made the plays and we didn't," said Toronto's Jesse Barfield. "We hit some balls good, but they were right at 'em. You can't do anything about those but come back tomorrow. We're struggling with the bats a little now, but you can come out of it in one day."

If ever a team appears to have gone belly-up at the wrong time, this is it.

The Blue Jays lost shortstop Tony Fernandez to an elbow injury eight days ago and catcher Ernie Whitt to broken ribs three days ago. And now, it's starting to hurt.

George Bell, the American League RBI leader, struck out twice, hit into a double play and grounded out tonight. He has one hit in his last 19 at-bats. He's hardly alone. Barfield hasn't homered in 19 games; Juan Beniquez is zero for his last 11 at-bats; and Liriano is zero for his last 18.

In fact, the Blue Jays' only runs tonight came from shortstop Manny Lee's first major league homer.

"We just haven't been hitting," Mulliniks said, "and when you don't hit you look bad. The pitching has kept us in some games lately, and we've got to start hitting again."

The drama started before the game when Blue Jay team doctors gave Whitt a pain-killing shot around his cracked ribs, then strapped him into a flak jacket and sent him out to the batting cage.

He got there but never actually swung a bat or threw a ball.

"It was just too painful," he said. "I wouldn't help the club by trying to play in this condition. I tried a different approach {in wearing the flak jacket}, but it still didn't help."

That left Manager Jimy Williams to choose between veteran Charlie Moore, who was hitting .200 and had committed two passed balls and a throwing error Wednesday, or rookie Greg Myers, 21.

Myers had appeared in five major league games as a late-inning defensive replacement, but had never batted. In fact, he hasn't even been Toronto's No. 1 catching prospect, a title that has gone to injured Matt Stark.

Nonetheless, Williams stuck Myers in the lineup tonight and, after Barfield led off the second with a single and Upshaw popped up, Myers singled to right in his first swing in the big leagues.

If that was unusual, what happened next was even more so. That was when Lee, 22, the shortstop playing for Fernandez, got hold of a hanging curveball and lofted it off the facing of the upper deck in right field. All of a sudden, the Blue Jays had a stunning 3-0 lead.

"I struggled like a big dog," Alexander said. "I get down 3-0, and there's nothing I can do but hold 'em. I'm depending on the club to bring me back. I made a bad pitch to Lee, and he hit it out. If he beats me on that one, I take my hat off to him."

Alexander had pitched the division-clinching game for the Blue Jays in 1985, and he showed up at Tiger Stadium tonight wearing the same sweater he wore that night -- complete with his Toronto No. 33 on it.

"No one would recognize it here," he said slyly. "The Blue Jays might remember it."

If they got the old man (37 and counting) on the ropes early, they didn't do much else. He got double plays in third, fourth and fifth, then turned it over to Henneman in the eighth.

Toronto starter Jim Clancy hadn't beaten the Tigers since Sept. 14, 1984, and he ran his career record against them to 4-16 tonight, lasting only two innings and allowing four hits and four runs (two earned).

In the second, Mulliniks bobbled Lemon's grounder, and Lusader got his first major league homer, barely the left field fence.

That got the Tigers within 3-2, and they took a 4-3 lead an inning later when Trammell led off with his 28th homer and Evans walked.

Reliever David Wells allowed Matt Nokes to single to right. Evans tried for third, and Barfield's throw had him by three feet. But Mulliniks dropped the throw, the error costing another run when Lemon followed with a double-play grounder that scored Evans for a 4-3 lead.

"He slid into me and the ball got away," Mulliniks said. "Normally, I'd get my glove out of the way, but the ball got there so late I was trapped."