DETROIT, OCT. 12 -- If the Detroit Tigers were down, 4-1, in a best-of-nine series to the Minnesota Twins, they would still think they had a good chance to win it.

But American League Championship Series only run a maximum of seven games. And the Tigers were eliminated, four games to one, by the Twins today in one of the more surprising dominations of a team in postseason play.

"We're the best team in the American League," Tigers Manager Sparky Anderson said, "but we aren't the best team in postseason play. I don't think anybody would deny that we were the best team in the American League. We all play each other the same amount of games. But that doesn't do us any good."

"Over the course of a 162-game season," pitcher Doyle Alexander said, "I don't think there's any doubt that we were a better team than the Twins. But in this five-game series, they were better."

It wasn't just that Detroit won 98 regular season games to Minnesota's 85, or that the Tigers had gotten incredible starting pitching down the stretch from Alexander, Jack Morris and Frank Tanana. What seemed to make Detroit a lock was Minnesota's 29-52 regular season road record.

Before winning two of three this weekend at Tiger Stadium, the Twins had not won back-to-back road games since Aug. 29-30.

Anderson was particularly impressed with the Twins' attitude under the pressure of a playoff series. "They acted like they had been in this thing eight, nine times," he said. "They walked right into the playoffs and acted like they'd been there forever."

Detroit's starting pitching did not fare well in the ALCS. Only Morris pitched as many as eight innings in a game.

Today, Alexander lasted 1 2/3 innings, giving up four runs on six hits.

"I think the contribution I made during the regular season was pretty significant," said Alexander, who was 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA for the Tigers during the last quarter of the season. "The Twins did everything better than we did in this series. I think the Twins won; I don't think we lost."

The Twins also got clutch hitting from MVP Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky (eight RBI). Catcher Tim Laudner had only one hit in the series, but it was a two-out, two-RBI double in Game 2. Greg Gagne, a .265 hitter in the regular season, had five hits (including two homers), drove in three and scored five runs.

"{The Twins} might have had two big innings in every game they won," Alan Trammell said, "and we might have had maybe one in the whole series."

The Tigers' leadoff batter, Lou Whitaker, hit .176 (three for 17), cleanup batter Trammell hit .200 (four for 20) and Kirk Gibson needed three hits today to raise his playoff average from .176 to .286.

"We haven't really hit for two weeks," first baseman Darrell Evans said. "We really haven't sustained anything. We relied on pitching to get here. It was fantastic in the Toronto series."

"For five games, we were outplayed," said center fielder Chet Lemon. If it wasn't for that big hit by Patrick {Sheridan, in Game 3, giving Detroit a 7-6 victory}, they really outplayed us in that game, too."

Some people in Detroit's locker room tried to remind players that the Tigers' overtaking of the Toronto Blue Jays in the season's final week was an accomplishment in itself.

Designated hitter Bill Madlock, who missed the final four games of the title series with a sore hand, said the last two series of the season against the Blue Jays, sandwiched in between a set with the Baltimore Orioles, might have left the Tigers with little to play the Twins with.

"Minnesota beat us," he said, "but those 11 games were very draining on us, no question."

"As time goes by," Gibson said, "we'll all sit down and iron some things out in our heads, and we'll probably appreciate the season. but right now it's kind of hard not to be disappointed.

"We can if-and-but for hours. We can get a 12-pack. What the hell? We lost."

"Sometimes, you wish you could play a little longer, because things would even out," Evans said.

"The thing that frustrates you," Trammell said, "is that you know the season's over. If I get in a bit of a slump during the season, I know I just have to regroup. But in a series like this, it's over."

But Madlock was already looking forward to next season.

"You're disappointed, but you've got to be satisfied in a positive sense," he said. "We're still a good team. Darrell can play in this ballpark until he's 50. {Trammell} is young. We're in a good situation right now."