MINNEAPOLIS, OCT. 7 -- The Detroit Tigers got to the American League Championship Series despite a massive Achilles' heel: a bullpen that totaled 31 saves, which is what the Minnesota Twins got from one reliever, Jeff Reardon.

This night, in their first playoff appearance in 17 years, the Twins romped through that bullpen, scoring four eighth-inning runs and winning the first game of the AL playoffs, 8-5, before 53,269 in an echo chamber called the Metrodome.

Third baseman Gary Gaetti hit two home runs off Tigers starter Doyle Alexander, who went seven innings and allowed six runs to lose for the first time in 12 starts with Detroit. The Twins got 10 hits, including two doubles from Tom Brunansky, who batted in three runs. Reardon went two innings to get the victory.

"Now, the Tigers have to be thinking about getting a split here," Minnesota designated hitter Don Baylor said. "The pressure is on them . . . We'll hold our own."

Baylor's eighth-inning pinch single off Willie Hernandez broke a 5-5 tie and gave the Twins a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues Thursday night with Detroit's Jack Morris pitching against Minnesota's Bert Blyleven.

In the end, Game 1 realized most of Detroit's fears. The Metrodome was noisy and intimidating, and if 19 of the Tigers had been through playoff pressure, rookie reliever Mike Henneman had not. He was brought into a 5-5 tie in the eighth, and his nervousness showed as he issued an intentional walk to Kent Hrbek. He then couldn't find the strike zone against Gaetti, and Manager Sparky Anderson gambled on the rest of his bullpen.

That meant Hernandez, who failed the Tigers again, allowing Baylor's hit and a two-run double to Brunansky. By the time the Twins finished, three Detroit relievers had faced five hitters and gotten one out.

"They came back and beat us," Anderson said. "Let's give them a little credit."

It was a huge victory for the young Twins, a team that reached the playoffs despite the worst road record ever for a division champion.

Baylor was one of only five Twins with playoff experience, but Minnesota won tonight in the best way imaginable. The Twins won despite blowing a 4-1 lead and trailing, 5-4, into the eighth. They won despite seeing their No. 1 starter, Frank Viola, get hit hard (five runs, seven innings).

Trailing by 5-4, the Twins got a single from Dan Gladden to lead off the eighth. Greg Gagne popped up, but Kirby Puckett doubled to center to tie the score, 5-5. Anderson went to Henneman, who walked two batters to load the bases.

He was then forced to go to Hernandez, the same reliever who didn't retire a single batter in seven recent games with Toronto. He didn't tonight either, giving up hits to Baylor and Brunansky that broke open the game.

"I think this is an important game to win because we're a young ballclub," Twins Manager Tom Kelly said. "We got some big hits, but that's the way we've done it all year."

Gaetti's first homer got the Twins a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but more importantly, it could have given the Twins an important psychological lift. Alexander had come into this game with a 9-0 record. Those nine victories included two against the Twins, and he began the game having allowed three homers in 88 1/3 innings.

"It gave everybody a little bit of hope," Gaetti said. "He'd always shut us down, but when something like that happens here, it's usually a pretty good sign for us."

Brunansky said, "Gaetti's first homer was a big blow. There was a sigh of relief in our dugout. It was like we finally realized the guy is human, too."

A homer by Mike Heath off Viola tied it in the top of the third. Gaetti broke the tie in the fifth, driving another Alexander hanging pitch over the wall in right-center.

Randy Bush then grounded a ball down the right field line, and by the time it took a couple of odd bounces and Larry Herndon picked it up, Bush was standing on third. Brunansky doubled Bush home for a 2-1 Twins lead, and after Steve Lombardozzi bunted Brunansky to third, Gladden lined a single to right to make it 4-1.

Detroit's Kirk Gibson homered to right field in the sixth to make it 4-2.

An inning later, Detroit got leadoff singles from Herndon, Chet Lemon and Darrell Evans to load the bases. But Viola was at his best.

He struck out Tom Brookens and worked the count to 3-2 before Heath lined a single to center that scored Herndon and kept the bases loaded. Viola got Lou Whitaker on a fourth straight grounder to Hrbek at first and got Madlock on a grounder back to the mound to keep the Twins in front, 4-3.

In the eighth, the Tigers were right back on Viola, with Gibson drawing a leadoff walk and Alan Trammell doubling to center. Kelly brought in Reardon.

Pinch hitter Dave Bergman scored Gibson with a flyout to center, and after the catch, Trammell tagged up and moved to third as Puckett threw home. That became important because Lemon followed with a flyout to right to score Trammell for a 5-4 Tigers lead.

"I was trying for the strikeout," Reardon said. "I didn't give up a hit, but I didn't feel like I'd really done my job."

But the Tigers couldn't hold the lead. Gladden led off the last of the eighth with a single, and after Greg Gagne popped up, Puckett doubled to center to score Gladden.

Henneman walked Hrbek and Gaetti, and that brought up Bush, a left-handed hitter. Anderson brought in Hernandez, a left-hander, knowing Kelly would counter with Baylor. Baylor's hit got Puckett home to make it 6-5, and Brunansky's hit scored Hrbek and Gaetti (Baylor was thrown out at the plate).

"I just thought I had a better chance of getting a double-play ball from Baylor," Anderson said, "and I would have. The pitch Willie threw was up and over the plate."

Kelly sent Reardon back out for the ninth, and he was overpowering. John Grubb led off with a pinch single, but Reardon struck out Matt Nokes. He walked Whitaker, but struck out both Madlock and Gibson on fastballs to end the game.

"Tonight was the most nervous of any game this year," Reardon said. "It was a real big game because we're known as a good home team {56 regular-season wins}. It gave us confidence we can match up with them."

Game 2 will be big for the Tigers, who send out Morris and his 10-0 Metrodome record against Blyleven. It'll be a showcase on a couple of fronts for Morris, a native of St. Paul, Minn. who said the Twins were his No. 1 choice when he was a free agent last winter.

Morris said he had no explanation for his success in the Metrodome, although he admitted that pitching in front of his family was a factor.

"I think luck is also part of it," he said. "Another thing is that I've always taken the Twins seriously, even when they weren't as good as they are now. But the law of averages will catch up. They waxed me a couple of times in Detroit, and they'll eventually get me here."