DETROIT, OCT. 4 -- It ended with one last Toronto hitter, Garth Iorg, flailing at one last Frank Tanana screwball, another one a few inches low and a few inches outside. The ball skipped out toward the mound, where Tanana grabbed it and made an underhand toss to Darrell Evans.

In a game that was about as simple as that and Larry Herndon's second-inning home run, the Detroit Tigers had won the American League East with a 1-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays before 51,005 at Tiger Stadium.

The Tigers will begin the best-of-seven league playoff at 8:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday against the West Division champion Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis' Metrodome.

"It's the best ever for me," crowed Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson above the shouting and Asti Spumante showers in his clubhouse. "This is the best group I've ever had. Never once did I have to get involved in any hassles out there. You don't have to when you have guys like Alan Trammell and Darrell Evans."

As the Tigers began a mad celebration on the infield and the fans poured onto Michigan and Trumbull avenues, the Toronto Blue Jays retreated to their clubhouse to slam their equipment and slam their doors one last time.

Their collapse was complete. Write it down.

The 1987 Blue Jays can remind people forever that in the final two weeks they lost two of their best players to injuries and that they still won 96 games and that they duked out seven straight one-run games with the Tigers.

But what they will be reminded of, perhaps forever, is that they finished the season with seven excruciating losses, four of those to Detroit, and that what should have been an invincible 3 1/2-game lead evaporated like the morning dew into a two-game deficit.

"It was incredible," said Willie Upshaw, the Blue Jays' thoughtful first baseman. "It has been like a war out there, and they happened to outpunch us."

He was asked about a spot in history, about being remembered with the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, who blew a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to play. He shook his head and smiled.

"I know I tried my hardest and did my best," he said. "If you do that, you have nothing to be ashamed of."

Six feet away, Toronto Manager Jimy Williams kicked an equipment bag but tried to stay composed.

"I've got a wife and four kids," he said. "I've got to push on. I was 19 in 1964. I remember the Phillies a little, but you people are the ones who make comparisons like that. I don't think it's like that. We just got beat by a good club. In one-run games, the winner is decided by one play or one hit."

Meanwhile, the Tigers (98-64) have just about hit for the cycle in pennant races. It was only three years ago they started 35-5, led the AL East from beginning to end and won by 15 games.

This year, they started 11-19, and even though Anderson announced early on, "We're going to win it," it took an 87-45 sprint and weekend sweep to make his prediction come true.

They won it with what amounts to a one-man bullpen (rookie Mike Henneman), a tough starting rotation and possibly the best everyday lineup -- especially after the Blue Jays lost shortstop Tony Fernandez and catcher Ernie Whitt.

Ten days ago, Anderson made his smartest move, tossing Tanana, 34, back into the rotation, gambling that the junkballer would snap out of one of his worst slumps.

"At the time, people were saying I was finished," Tanana said. "I took it as a challenge."

Since then, he has started twice against Toronto and once against Baltimore, and allowed one earned run in 24 innings. He made 130 pitches today, keeping most of them out of the strike zone against a frustrated team swinging at almost everything.

And he was brilliant. He has allowed the Blue Jays two earned runs in 32 2/3 innings this season and, today, they got runners into scoring position only four times.

He also was lucky. The Blue Jays' best chance to score was in the fourth when Cecil Fielder singled with one out. Williams put on the hit-and-run sign, then tried to call it off when he saw that Manny Lee had missed it.

Too late. Fielder missed the second signal and was thrown out easily at second. Lee followed with a triple off the right field wall that should have created a 1-1 tie.

"The hitter missed the hit-and-run sign," Williams said, "then things got screwed up. A human error. They're part of the game."

After Lloyd Moseby singled in the eighth, Tanana retired the last six Blue Jays.

In the end, it was not complex. The Blue Jays stopped hitting a week ago in Toronto and never started, not in a Sunday loss there to Detroit, not in losing three straight games to Milwaukee and not in losing three straight here.

A team that had hit all year suddenly didn't, scoring five runs in its last 42 innings. All three of its extra-base hits this weekend came from little shortstop Lee, who had a homer on Friday, a double Saturday and a triple today.

Left-hander Jimmy Key (17-8) was magnificent in defeat, going eight innings and giving up three hits in losing for only the second time since July 11.

Key's only costly mistake was a high fastball that Herndon just poked over the left field fence -- his ninth homer. Blue Jays fans may forever wonder if left fielder George Bell would had caught the ball were he not playing on a left knee that may require surgery this winter.

"You can second-guess those things all your life," Jesse Barfield said.

Across the way, champagne-drenched players were filing into Anderson's office one at a time to get or give a hug.

The former Cincinnati manager will begin his seventh championship series in 16 seasons Wednesday evening in Minneapolis, his Tigers' second in four years.

"This is sweeter than '84," center fielder Chet Lemon said.