DETROIT, OCT. 9 -- Outside of perhaps Dorothy and Toto, few teams have run into as many problems away from home as the 1987 Minnesota Twins.
They won just 29 times on the road, fewer than 20 other major league teams. Only Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta and San Diego did worse on the road, and they were all out of contention by Father's Day.
In fact, since the start of divisional play in 1969, no team has come near the playoffs with a 29-52 road record.
"I have no explanation for it," Twins Manager Tom Kelly said. "I've thought about it a lot, and I've talked to people about it. I've never heard one reasonable explanation."
Statistically, the Twins are one team in the weird confines of the Metrodome, a very good one, and another on the road, a very bad one. Their pitchers had a 3.91 ERA in the dome, 5.49 away from it. Their hitters batted .268 in the dome, .255 away from it. The Twins averaged 5.0 runs per game in the dome, 4.56 away from it.
So, logically, this might not be a perfect weekend for the Twins as the American League Championship Series resumes with Game 3 scheduled here for 1:07 p.m. Saturday.
Their last trip here was in mid-August when they were outscored by 26-3 in a three-game sweep. Rookie Les Straker, their scheduled starting pitcher for Saturday, has an 18.00 ERA here. And as the Twins walked around the grand old ball park this afternoon, they might have imagined the day Reggie Jackson banged a home run off the light tower or the time Kirk Gibson hit a ball over the roof and onto Trumbull Avenue, near the Brooks Lumber Co.
They might have remembered the days of Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain, if not those of Hank Greenberg and Ty Cobb. Or if they weren't inclined toward the soul of the game, they certainly could remember Aug. 18, 19 and 20.
"The fans here, uh, they're loud," Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett remembered. "They say some nice things out there in center field. Yeah, this is a real good place to bring your kids. I guess those people have their own way of expressing themselves."
Puckett remembers the evening a pair of flashlight batteries went whizzing past his head and the night a rum bottle came flying out of the bleachers.
"Our fans are loud in the Metrodome," he said, "but not like that."
The Twins might not like it here but have a chance to clinch their first pennant in 22 years. They came here after having played two near-pefect games in the Metrodome to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
They did it by beating the Tigers aces, Doyle Alexander and Jack Morris, and they did it with brilliant skill and efficiency, hitting .538 with runners in scoring position and stranding only six runners in two games.
They've also done it with relief pitching. Jeff Reardon closed out Wednesday's victory and Juan Berenguer Thursday's. Between them, they've pitched 3 2/3 shutout innings, striking out seven and allowing one hit and no earned runs. The Tigers are two for 11 with runners in scoring position. The middle of their lineup, Gibson and Alan Trammell, is two for 16.
So, as the Twins worked out briefly at Tiger Stadium, they did it knowing they could lose all three games here and still look forward to playing Games 6 and 7 in the Metrodome.
"I would think there's some pressure on them right now," Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek said. "They can leave here up 3-2 and still have to beat us in the dome. At the same time, if they lose one here, they're really in trouble. The key for us is winning once, but we're thinking of winning two and going home for the World Series."
Kelly is bypassing knuckleballer Joe Niekro to pitch Straker, who will turn 28 Saturday and made his major league debut this season after 10 years in the minor leagues. He spent seven of those seasons in the Cincinnati Reds' organization, then bounced to the Oakland system for a year before signing with the Twins.
His career apparently turned around when he refined a change-up that he was first shown by Cincinnati's Mario Soto several years ago. He said he finally was able to throw it for strikes this season, and it has allowed him to get by with only a passable fastball (86 mph) and curveball.
He has pitched only once in Tiger Stadium, allowing six earned runs and two homers in three innings. The Twins picked up Niekro and Steve Carlton for the pennant race, but down the stretch only Frank Viola and Bert Blyleven were more reliable than Straker, who had a 3.56 ERA in his last five starts.
A native of Bolivar, Venezuela, he faced the dozens of reporters with grace and patience the past two days, explaining that, no, he doesn't mind pitching away from the dome and that, yes, it would be the first time his parents have seen him pitch in the major leagues (the game will be televised by a Bolivar television station).
"I'm going to be excited, but it won't be a problem," he said. "I'm adjusted to major league hitters now. If I can throw my change-up for a strike, I'll be okay."
Right-hander Walt Terrell will start for the Tigers. He won a career-high 17 games in 1987, but he's best known for having a home-road split that would make the Twins proud: In three years with the Tigers, he has gone 32-7 at Tiger Stadium, 15-25 away from it.
"I have no explanation for it," he said tersely. "Personally, I think too much has been made of it."
He'll be pitching an important game for the Tigers, but there have been several of those the last couple of weeks as they caught Toronto on the last weekend of the season.
"At this point, I wouldn't say we're down or anything like that," Tigers catcher Mike Heath said. "We're not going to let down. But we know we're in a position where our backs are semi to the wall."
Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson added: "I don't feel almighty and powerful if that's what you mean. Anyone can be beat in a short series, but this one isn't over yet. They haven't told us to go home yet."
If the miracle of Minneapolis continues, the Twins would go to the World Series with the worst winning percentage of any American League team in history.
They finished 85-77, which figures to a .525 percentage. The lowest winning percentage for an AL champion was .551 by the New York Yankees (59-48) in the strike-shortened 1981 season. The worst percentage over a full season was .556 by the 1974 Oakland A's (90-72). The only major league team to make the Series with a worse record was the 1973 New York Mets, who went 82-79 (.509).
The Twins' 4.63 staff ERA is the highest for a team in postseason play. The previous highest was 4.40 by the 1930 St. Louis Cardinals, who played in an era when the league batting average was around .300 for several years . . .
Berenguer said he intends to apologize to his former teammates for his actions in Thursday's 6-3 victory. He pitched the last 1 2/3 innings in relief of Bert Blyleven, striking out four of the five Twins he faced. However, the Tigers didn't appreciate his ending every strikeout by making a hand gesture toward the Tigers dugout.
"I wasn't trying to show anyone up," he said. "Sparky gave me a chance to play in '83. He helped me. I did those things, but it wasn't to show anyone up. It's something I've done the whole year." . . .
Bill Madlock's status remains in doubt. He saw a Detroit doctor today about his sore left hand, but no diagnosis was immediately available.