Detroit upsets Chicago. Toronto beats Thunder Bay to reach the Championship Series in back-to-back seasons. The Championship Series would go seven games and give us the most dramatic ending in Great Lakes Baseball history.
Good pitching and home runs define a tense series. The first two games end with the score 1-0, and the first four games all go into the seventh inning tied. All the runs in the first three games come via the long ball. Toronto wins most of the close ones, then seizes their chance by knocking out Thunder Bay in Game 5.
Sep 15: Toronto 1, Thunder Bay 0. Toronto’s Shannon Freake and Thunder Bay’s Carlos Snow pitch dueling shutouts for seven innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Benedict Speck doubles in Kelly Kennealy for the game’s only run.
Sep 16: Thunder Bay 1, Toronto 0. Another pitchers’ duel. Ricardo Márquez and four relievers pitch a shutout. Rolland Girault takes a shutout of his own into the seventh, but Corey Smith homers, and the Caribou tie the season.
Sep 18: Toronto 3, Thunder Bay 2. Thunder Bay’s Corey Smith and Toronto’s Elton Anderson each hit a two-run homer. With two outs in the top of the ninth, Tadakuni Nishi homers to give the Maples the win.
Sep 19: Toronto 4, Thunder Bay 2. In the first, the Caribou score the first runs of the series that do not come via the home run. An Kelly Kennealy error and two doubles score two. Kennealy quickly redeems himself, tying the game with a two-run home run. In the eighth, Jim Gates hits a two-run homer. The Maples take a 3-1 series lead.
Sep 20: Toronto 6, Thunder Bay 2. Caribou slugger Brett Collins hits a solo home run in the first, but Toronto rallies in the second for three runs—the middle one driven in on a single by starting pitcher Shannon Freake. In the seventh, Don Reeves doubles with the bases loaded to put the game to bed.
Detroit wins the first game then lose Game Two in extra innings. When Chicago wins Game Three, it looks as if it will be heartbreak for Detroit once again. The T-Birds win Game Four, then win a pair of very close games to take the series. Jon Harrison bats .400, hits two home runs, and drives in eight runs and wins Series MVP.
Sep 16: Chicago 4, Detroit 3 (13). Chicago takes the lead in the eighth. With two outs in the ninth, Detroit’s Jon Harrison triples and Rafael Morales singles him in, tying the game. In the 13th, Morales homers. One out from a loss, Chicago’s António Méndez singles and Mäel Durant homers—evening the series at one win apiece.
Sep 22: Detroit 7, Chicago 6. Jon Harrison singles in Masatake Morita. Detroit takes the lead, 1-0. António Méndez doubles in two runs. Chicago takes the lead, 2-1. Albert Forbes singles in Dave Steele, Morita doubles in two runs, and Morita scores when he steals third and the catcher’s throw sails into left field. Detroit takes the lead, 5-2. Daniel Huffman and António Méndez homer, and Tynan Conner and Jim Leonard double in a run. Chicago takes the lead, 6-5. With one out and the bases loaded in the ninth, Jon Harrison singles in two runs. Detroit takes the lead, 7-6. Noriyuki Sakuma closes it out, and Detroit wins the series.
Great Lakes Championship
Detroit lost three Championship Series in a row between 2024 and 2026. Now, 17 years later, Detroit returns to the Championship, attempting to break their jinx and bring a trophy back to Motown. Toronto, last season’s runner-up, wins three of the first four games—all close. Was Detroit’s luck was jinxed again? The T-Birds fight back, winning Games Five and Six and forcing Game Seven. There, they provide the most dramatic ending to a Championship Series in Great Lakes Baseball history.
Sep 24: Toronto 2, Detroit 1. Both starters, Rolland Girault and Steve Klassen, bring their A game. The Maples score one in the sixth. The T-Birds tie it in the seventh on a Rafael Morales home run. After the stretch, Toronto’s Kelly Kennealy hits the winning home run.
Sep 25: Detroit 1, Toronto 0 (10). Another pitchers’ duel. Augusto González pitches six scoreless frames; Ralph Baxter pitches eight. Scoreless after nine, Detroit wins it in the 10th on a Paul Corrigan sac fly.
Sep 27: Toronto 4, Detroit 2. Barry Durston puts the T-Birds in the lead using both his power (hitting a solo home run in the fifth) and his speed (walking, stealing second, and scoring on a single in the seventh), but a pair of two-out, two-strike, pinch-hit doubles win the game for Toronto. With two outs and a full count in the eighth, Scott Robertson doubles in two to tie the game. With two outs and an 0-2 count in the ninth, Tadakuni Nishi doubles in the winning runs.
Sep 28: Toronto 1, Detroit 0. One bad pitch decides the game. Sam Goerts strikes out 10, but one of his sliders catches too much of the plate and Elton Anderson pulls it into the right-field bleachers. The home run is the only extra base hit by either team. Shannon Freake and Mark Sabine combine on the shutout.
Sep 29: Detroit 2, Toronto 0. This past off-season, Detroit signed Steve Klassen to a six-year and nearly $200 million contract. His 9-7 record and 3.02 ERA, while decent, was a step down from his Pitcher of the Year performance the previous season. Could T-Birds fans be blamed for wondering if they had overpaid? But with Toronto one win away from the Championship, Klassen had the chance to prove his worth, and prove it he did.
Klassen works out of trouble in the first two innings, but settles down and retires the next 17 batters in order. The T-Birds only get three hits but eke out two runs. Klassen gets his first win of the postseason, and Detroit lives to see another game.
Oct 1: Detroit 6, Toronto 2. Dave Steele hits a three-run homer, and Adam Alblas hits a two-run homer. Ralph Baxter pitches eight shutout innings before giving up two in the ninth, and the T-Birds force a Game Seven!
Oct 2: Detroit 4, Toronto 3. Detroit came into Game Seven looking for their first Championship, but Toronto had other plans. In the fourth, the Maples takes the lead. Jorge Barrón doubles in José Ramírez, and Aaron Bennett hits a two-run homer. Meanwhile, Nick Lane holds the T-Birds scoreless for seven innings. In the eighth, Robin Bates came in for the two-inning save. He gives up a solo home run to Dave Steele, but the Maples still take a 3-1 lead into the ninth.
Bates strikes out Paul Corrigan. Masatake Morita flies out to center. The bases are empty, and Toronto is one out from the Championship. Needing to keep the inning alive, Jon Harrison hits a swinging bunt down the first-base line and beats it out. Rafael Morales comes to the plate. He works a full count. Bates walks him.
On the next pitch, Adam Alblas pulls the ball into the right-center field bleachers.
Noriyuki Sakuma, who saved 34 games this season, comes in to save the biggest game of his career. He retires the Toronto batters in order. Detroit wins their first ever Championship!