DETROIT, OCT. 10 -- Of all the Detroit Tigers whom Jeff Reardon might have feared, Pat Sheridan wasn't one.

Not this Pat Sheridan, the one with 30 home runs in 1,678 career at-bats, who was released by the Kansas City Royals in 1985 and who sat on the bench while rookie Scott Lusader helped the Tigers win the AL East.

A short, tense series can breed improbable heroes, and Sheridan became one this afternoon when he hit a two-run eighth-inning homer that lifted the Tigers to a 7-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins before 49,730 at Tiger Stadium.

Was it important? The Twins were leading by 6-5 and were five outs from a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series when Reardon made a mistake that kept the Tigers' vital signs strong another day.

"If we'd have lost, we might have given you the lip service about coming back," Detroit shortstop Alan Trammell said, "but I don't think we would have believed it."

The Tigers also got a two-run double from Larry Herndon and three innings of shutout relief from rookie Mike Henneman, who might yet turn out to be the team's most valuable player.

In the end, it was another day in the pits for both teams. Twins starter Les Straker dug his team a 5-0 hole in the third inning, but Minnesota scored two runs in the fourth, two in the sixth and took the lead on Gary Gaetti's two-run single in the seventh.

It was just about the time that Gaetti's single plopped in front of Sheridan in right field that the Twins looked as if they might be unstoppable. If that idea occurred to the Twins, it struck the Tigers similarly.

In the Tigers dugout, Manager Sparky Anderson turned to coach Alex Grammas and said: "They might be on one of those rolls where, when they need something, they get it."

Until Sheridan's homer, the Twins had been in a Twilight Zone of sorts. While Kent Hrbek and Kirby Puckett were going two for 23 in the series, the Twins were picking up a bit here, a bit there.

This day, they got 3 1/3 innings of shutout relief from left-hander Dan Schatzeder. If you hadn't heard his name much before, it might be because American League hitters batted .342 against him this year.

They'd also gotten back in the game partly because catcher Sal Butera singled twice in three at-bats, this after batting a hearty .171 in the regular season.

"I've been in some predicaments," Anderson said, "and this one wasn't a good feeling. I truly sensed something when they came back against us. Now, I feel better. Now, they have to beat us. I think their roll is over."

It may be, but in the Twins' clubhouse they took Game 3 as a victory that had been mistakenly wrapped inside a defeat.

Privately, they know Anderson can't keep going back to Henneman, and Anderson said as much today: "He maybe can pitch to one hitter Sunday, but we've got to be real careful with him. I would imagine he won't pitch."

When Anderson doesn't have Henneman, he doesn't have anyone.

Meanwhile, despite Sheridan's homer, the Minnesota bullpen has been excellent, having allowed two earned runs in nine innings. The Twins also believe that Puckett and Hrbek will start to hit -- eventually.

"There was so much emotion out there today," Puckett said. "It went back and forth, back and forth. We had their fans out of the game. But, it's not that bad. We're up, 2-1, and we'll see what tomorrow brings."

Tomorrow could buy Anderson a day of rest for Henneman. Rain and snow showers were forecast for Sunday as temperatures were expected to drop into the low 30s.

The Twins had counted on rookie Straker to celebrate his 28th birthday by keeping his team in the biggest game of his career. He didn't, lasting just 2 2/3 innings and allowing four walks, three hits and five earned runs.

He struggled through the first and second innings, then was hit hard in the third.

Sheridan led off with a double to left and went to third on Lou Whitaker's single. Darrell Evans walked to load the bases, and Sheridan scored on Kirk Gibson's grounder.

Trammell singled home another run, and, after Matt Nokes popped out, Chet Lemon walked to load the bases. Twins Manager Tom Kelly brought in Schatzeder, who allowed Herndon a two-run double then was excellent.

The Twins blew one scoring chance in the top of the third when Tom Brunansky lost sight of Steve Lombardozzi's pop and rushed back to first as the ball fell into left. Evans picked it up and forced Brunansky at second.

Trailing by 5-0, the Twins got a leadoff homer from shortstop Greg Gagne in the fourth.

With one out, Tigers starter Walt Terrell walked Hrbek, and Gaetti singled to left. Randy Bush singled to score Hrbek, and, with runners on first and third, Terrell got Brunansky on an infield pop and Lombardozzi on an infield grounder.

The Twins weren't finished. Terrell walked Bush with two outs in the sixth, and Brunansky homered to left to make it 5-4.

Then in the seventh, Butera led off with a single. Dan Gladden singled, and Henneman came on.

Gagne was safe on a fielder's-choice grounder when pinch runner Mark Davidson was thrown out at the plate. Henneman got Puckett on an infield pop and intentionally walked Hrbek to get to Gaetti, who lined a singled to right for two runs.

Reliever Juan Berenguer had gotten the Tigers out in the top of the seventh, and, with the lead, Kelly went right to Reardon, his 31-save ace.

"We had a lead and had the best relief pitcher in the game in there," Gaetti said. "We know it's not over till it's over, but you've got to like your chances."

Kelly explained the rationale of bringing in Reardon so early by saying: "Juan wasn't as sharp as he was in Minnesota. He did get out of the inning, but we decided to go to Reardon. He's the guy who has done it for us all year."

Not today. Herndon led off with a single, and, after Tom Brookens grounded out, Sheridan homered.

"It was a high fastball," Reardon said. "I'd throw him the same pitch tomorrow. I didn't even see it. I didn't want to know because I could tell where it was headed."

Sheridan is an unlikely hero, having almost won his release with a season-ending six-for-60 slump. He hadn't homered since Aug. 20, but, of his four homers at Tiger Stadium, three have been against Minnesota -- the last off Twins reliever Keith Atherton. In fact, Sheridan wouldn't even be playing this series if Lusader had been brought up before the Sept. 1 deadline for setting playoff rosters.

Sheridan accepted his sudden fame with grace and humor, telling reporters (although he hit two homers for Kansas City in the 1985 playoffs against Toronto): "I've never been in an interview room before."

"I think that says something about my career. I must have started slowly, then tapered off. This has been a tough time for me. I'd been in a bad slump, and Sparky told me I needed some time off. I thought he meant three days. It turned into three weeks. I wasn't worried about my slump because it had been so long since I played I've forgotten whatever my bad habits were."

Had the Twins won today, their 3-0 margin would have been unbeatable, at least judging from playoff history. No team has ever blown a 3-0 lead in the postseason and the Twins would have been trying to win the pennant Sunday night.

Pat Sheridan changed all that.