Friday, September 28, 2007

Bonds A Tiger? I Have No Problem With It

The 2007 season isn't over yet, and already the first salvo has been fired in what might end up being a fusillade of discussion in the coming months.

Steve Phillips, the erstwhile GM of the New York Mets and now blabbing into a microphone in front of the cameras at ESPN, was Q'd on today's Detroit Free Press website about a myriad of Tigers-related things. The question was put to him about Barry Bonds joining the Tigers out of free agency this off-season.

Some excerpts from his answer:

I think there is a way that with (Gary) Sheffield DH-ing, Bonds DH-ing, Sheffield playing left field, (Cameron) Maybin playing from leftfield from centerfield, you can maybe mix and match some playing time. Protect Bonds, protect Sheffield, get Maybin playing time for a young player, and have one of the most dynamic offenses around. Now there’s going to have to be some making up between Sheffield and Bonds for that to happen and it may be a pipe dream but you know what, Barry Bonds in that Tiger lineup with that left-handed bat it would really make a big difference.

And this:

Jim Leyland can manage Barry Bonds, I really believe that. I think it’s a lot more about the Sheffield, Bonds relationship and whether that would be manageable.


A one year deal at 8 million for a guy that can put up Bonds type numbers, especially if you have a team where you might have to mix and match some playing time with young players and old players it’s a pretty nice combination and I think a worth while investment. I never would have said that a year ago.

Besides speaking in run-on sentences -- or at least being transcribed that way -- Phillips is among the first mainstream media folks to seriously broach the subject of Bonds becoming a Tiger. But not the first people to do so. Internet chat rooms and message boards have been burning thru their CRTs with chatter of Bonds-to-Detroit, mainly because of the slugger's relationship with Tigers manager Leyland.

This is far from the end of the speculation and debate.

My guess is that once the World Series is over, and the Hot Stove League starts firing up its furnaces, and until Bonds signs elsewhere (he's committed to playing in 2008 and badly wants 3,000 hits, which he's nearing), we'll be inundated with the virtues or horrors of Barry Bonds wearing the Old English D.

You'll hear why hiring Bonds as the much-needed lefthanded power bat is a smart move, albeit expensive. You'll hear folks threatening to revoke their membership as Tigers fans if the team dares to bring in such a scofflaw. And you'll hear stuff like the following, from bottom feeders like me.

Bonds with the Tigers wouldn't bother me from an ethical standpoint, even though I believe he used performance-enhancing substances. This is because most every other team, with the same needs as the Tigers and with the money to afford it, would sign him as well. It's about winning baseball games and filling holes in your lineup.

My concern would instead be about his age and one-dimensional status (he'd be strictly a DH), and his apparent fragile relationship with Sheffield. I'm not convinced that Bonds and Sheffield have major problems. When I asked Sheffield what he thought about Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's home run record, shortly after it happened, Sheff said definitively, "I think it's great." Almost as if he especially thought it was great.

Regardless, I would have no major problems with Barry Bonds as a Detroit Tiger. I know others feel differently. In fact, check out the new poll on this page and cast your vote.

And brace yourself for an offseason of heated debate about the subject.

What do YOU think?

I'd like to hear your thoughts on the notion of Barry Bonds becoming a Tiger in 2008. Drop me a line at, or post a comment here, and vote in the poll on this page in the blue box.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Winters Not Alone Among Player-Baiting Umps

The story might be apocryphal, as it's been attributed to many umpires, but it nonetheless captures how umpiring used to be, back in the day.

A batter gets called out on strikes, and tosses his bat into the air. The arbiter says, "Son, if that bat comes down, you're out of the game."

It used to be that I admired baseball umpires, the Men in Blue. They were beyond reproach, and when the heat was on, it was the players or the managers who lost their cool and acted the fool.

But along the way -- and I'm guessing it began occurring in the 1990s -- umpires became more and more irascible and confrontational. It was a time when many of the old guard from the 1960s and '70s were retiring.

It's only gotten worse in the 21st century. Players are met more and more with glares and long stares at even the slightest hint of disagreement. The umpires are no longer the reactors -- they're proactors to a further degree than I can remember.

Mike Winters, umpiring a San Diego Padres game over the weekend, has been suspended by MLB for his actions in that contest, in which he -- according to baseball officials -- baited Padres outfielder Milton Bradley, which led to a vicious argument and Bradley badly hurting his knee while being restrained by his manager.

It's funny that it should happen with Bradley, who's not exactly a choir boy himself. But good for MLB, because this baiting of players by umpires has gotten way out of hand. Winters was suspended, baseball said, for using profanity when Bradley asked him whether he'd told another umpire that Bradley had thrown a bat toward that umpire.

It certainly isn't the first time an umpire has used profanity, but in the old days, it was in response to a first strike by a player or manager. Today's umps are letting the "F" bombs fly FIRST, and are generally acting as if they are above all, including the very rules they are employed to uphold.

Let's hope that the suspension of Winters, an MLB ump since 1990, sends a message to his brothers in blue: players may be a pain in the keister, but it is they who fans pay to see. And initiating confrontations that are destined to result in ejections isn't what an umpire's role is designed to be.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-4
This Week: (9/24-26: MIN; 9/28-30: at CWS)

I'm not sure which is sadder: September baseball when your team has long ago been eliminated from playoff contention, or September baseball when the postseason hopes start swirling down the drain, slowly but surely. I think the latter.

Oh, how many September 1sts have come and gone in the past 15 years with the Tigers barely a blip on even the most optimistic of playoff screens? So we know of that heartache. But when you've got a shot as August expires, then you see that shot firing nothing but blanks the further the month goes on, well that just seems worse to me.

The Tigers, realistically, had an outside chance at best of making the playoffs this September 1st. But their chances weren't pie-in-the-sky. There was hope, if either the Indians or Yankees faded, that the Tigers could climb back into things. Well, neither happened (not even close to happened), and so now here we are, looking at Tiger elimination sometime this week, perhaps as early as tonight. Granted, many teams would like to stay in it mathematically thru September 23rd. But many weren't the best team in baseball at the All-Star break. And many more weren't defending AL Champs. Hence the bitter taste this week.

There's not much to say at this point. The Indians clinched the division yesterday, and they earned it. The Yankees will nail down the Wild Card this week, and they too aren't backing into the playoffs. The Tigers are going to be outsiders, and that's where they belong, based on their play in August.

So six games remain, and the only drama now is to see if the Tigers can reach 90 wins. They need to go 5-1 in order to do it. Last season, 100+ wins seemed assured when the Tigers found themselves with a 76-36 record in early-August. But they stumbled and finished with 95 wins. This season, 90 wins were all but guaranteed when the team was 57-36 in July. And look what happened.

It's why they play the full docket of 162 games, I reckon.


Friday, September 21, 2007

In Cruel Irony, Tigers Could Use Pena Right About Now

The Tigers have a few needs heading into the 2008 season, and one of them ought to be a lefthanded-hitting bat with some pop. Pop, not popgun. They have plenty of the latter. Sean Casey, with his measly three home runs. Mike Rabelo, with his zero dingers when he bats from the left side. He doesn't have any the other way, either. Only Curtis Granderson and Carlos Guillen (against righties) are threats to park the ball into the seats from the left side of the plate. And neither of them would I consider power hitters, per se. Even not per se.

It seems that the lefty power bat that they could have used has decided to realize his potential a few years and two teams too late.

Carlos Pena, playing first base in near total anonymity for the annually wretched Tampa Bay Devil Rays, hit his 40th home run recently. That's 40th -- as in one season, not for his career.

Pena watching another one fly out of the park, no doubt

I cannot lambast Tigers management on this one. I said my share of "good riddances" when the Tigers lopped Pena from the roster late in spring training in 2006. I, like them, grew tired of waiting for the talented but mega-frustrating Pena to put it all together. And his strikeouts were creating more wind than Lake Michigan in a Chicago winter.

He skidaddled off to Boston, played unremarkably, and landed in Devil Rays camp this spring, looking for a job. Many thought this would be his last chance to prove that he's a major league hitter in anything more than just theory.

Well, Pena has put it all together, alright. And not just in theory. Oh, he still strikes out more than a geeky, pimply kid at a school dance, but you can maybe live with those Ks if they're part and parcel of a 40-home run season. He has had some monster games for the Rays, but like I said, their games are like trees that fall in vacant woods; do they make a sound?

Pena, for sure, is doing his best to make noise. He finally, at age 29 and with his fifth big league team, seems to be shedding the word "potential" from his bio.

And, in cruel irony for the Tigers, he appears to be just what the team needs right now.

He was always a fine fielder. That hasn't changed. But how nice would Pena and his 40 homers from the left side look in Detroit right about now?

It's all a matter of timing. The Tigers didn't get it right, as it turned out, and Pena has, by hooking up with the talent-starved Devil Rays and resurrecting his career.

When is he a free agent?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Indians, Yanks Deserve Their Playoff Stripes

All hail the Cleveland Indians -- your 2007 AL Central champs. They deserve it -- every bit of it. They played like champions do, beginning in early August, when they came to Detroit, saw, and conquered the Tigers, 2-out-of-3. They turned it on when you most need to, while the Tigers sputtered, gasped, wheezed, and took forever to get their motor restarted. When they finally did, winning 10 of 12 recently, it was far too late.

The Indians are going to the playoffs with the same recipe as most playoff-bound teams use: comeback wins, a solid staff ace, and a decent bullpen. They also did it despite an off year from Travis Haffner, who some had penciled in as an MVP candidate back in April. They did it despite a wretched stretch of baseball in the first few weeks following the All-Star break, when it seemed neither they nor the Tigers wanted to win the division. They took the division from the Tigers, make no mistake. It wasn't handed to them. The Tigers may have did some extreme disservice to their cause with some bad July and August baseball, but the Indians took advantage of that and created separation from themselves and Detroit -- like a good NFL wide receiver does.

Congratulations, too, to the New York Yankees, your AL Wild Card representative. Nothing was handed to them, either. In fact, they just might win the East Division before all is said and done -- 1978 Redux. But the Red Sox will still make the playoffs, anyway -- thanks to the Wild Card, which has now taken all the starch out of this Yankee charge. How dramatic can it be, when the Red Sox will qualify for the October tournament whether they win the division or not? My case in point against the Wild Card -- Exhibit A, in fact.

The Yankees and the Indians are going to the playoffs and the Tigers are not, mainly because the Tigers had too much to overcome: injuries; an inconsistent bullpen; a vanishing act by Jeremy Bonderman; a complete lack of timely hitting in August. You know it's not your year when Gary Sheffield -- who rarely plays the field -- hurts himself badly, diving for a ball because he was playing the field. It's not your year when Kenny Rogers goes down for 80% of it. Not your year when Joel Zumaya misses May thru August. Not your year when last-at bat victories are as rare as moments of dead air during The View.

But mainly, the Tigers will be watching October baseball on Fox because they don't deserve to be playing it. Simple as that. They played their worst baseball of the year when their playoff competition was playing its best -- and that's pretty much the long and short of it. They let too many big leads get away. They had an apparent allergy to winning games in the late innings. Their starting pitchers played a frustrating game of "Guess which of us will show up today?" They didn't get anywhere near the production from the lower third of the batting order as they did in 2006 (Brandon Inge and Craig Monroe -- pre-banishment to the Cubs -- were quiet; Sean Casey lost his so-so power). Meanwhile, the Yankees went into turbo mode after the break, and the Indians found their mojo just in time, and refused to let go.

If this was the NHL, the Tigers would be in, as a fifth seed. They'd open up the first round at fourth-seeded New York. But this is baseball, where, despite the Wild Card, you still have to squarely earn your playoff stripes -- not merely survive the regular season to get in, as in hockey.

High marks to the Indians and the Yankees. They got it done when it mattered most. But there was one good thing: this is the first time the Tigers have had back-to-back winning seasons since 1987-88 -- nearly 20 years ago. So they were no one-year wonder. But they do have one year to wonder.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 6-1
This Week: (9/17-19: at Cle; 9/21-23: KC)

Remember when the Metrodome used to be a House of Horrors for the Tigers?

Even if the Tigers don't make it into the October baseball tournament, they've at least exorcised one demon: that damned Metrodome in Minnesota.

The Tigers swept the Twins over the weekend, making it six straight in the HHH Dome. Todd Jones saved all six of those games. The last one was the biggest for Jonesy -- no. 300 in the saves department.

But did you join me later in the night in a good chorus of "F---ing Yankees?" The Bronx Bombers did it to Boston again -- a clutch, late innings victory, thanks to Derek Jeter's three-run swat in the 8th inning. This after scoring six runs in the 8th on Friday night to erase a 7-2 deficit.

So the Tigers, who are absolutely playing scared baseball now to the tune of 10-2 in their last 12, instead of being 1-1/2 games out of the Wild Card are still 2-1/2 out, thanks to Jeter's heroics. Not an impossible mountain to climb, but a one-game difference now (between being 1-1/2 and 2-1/2 out), with just two weeks left in the season, can take on Everest-like qualities.

Jones appeared emotional after the final out was made in Minnesota yesterday. It came after another typically rocky outing. The Twins loaded the bases before Michael "I'm Suddenly Horrible" Cuddyer grounded into a game-ending fielder's choice. I think I saw Jones crying on the field as his teammates hugged him, one-by-one. Then when it came time to give manager Jim Leyland some love, the skipper looked to be on the verge of squeezing out some wet ones, too.

I think that's cool. You don't see enough genuine emotion on the field of play anymore. Mostly the reactions are premeditated, insincere acts of showmanship. Jones, not shy to break down in front of a camera, went all Dick Vermeil on the Metrodome's carpet. Good for him.

The Central Division still looks like a lost cause, despite the deficit being bumped down to 4-1/2 games yesterday and the Tigers having three more shots at Cleveland, starting tonight. It would, realistically, take nothing less than a sweep to declare the Tigers still in it. Do you see the Indians being swept at home, the way they're playing lately?

I said it last week in this space. The Yankees started last week with a magic number of 16 to edge out the Tigers for the Wild Card. I told you to write that number down somewhere and deduct one for every Yankees win and Tigers loss. Did you do that? Well, if you didn't, the magic number is now down to 11. So get that paper and Sharpie out and do it this time!

Oh, just for fun: the Tigers' magic number to surpass the Yankees is ... 16. May as well have two pieces of paper going on at the same time. Ya never know.


Friday, September 14, 2007

Tigers' Slide Started After Last Minnesota Trip

The last time the Tigers were in Minnesota, they had just wrapped up a three-game sweep, all victories by one run. They were 57-36, about a week or so after the All-Star break. Most everyone had them back into the playoffs. Barring anything unusual, like injuries and team-wide slumps. You know, things of that nature.

Well, here the Tigers are, back in Minnesota, some 54 games later -- one-third of a season. And they are no longer favorites to make the playoffs; not even close. And much of that can be blamed on injuries and team-wide slumps -- things of that nature.

Just after the Tigers returned home from Minny, Gary Sheffield got hurt, making a rare appearance in the outfield. Then Kenny Rogers got hurt again. Then, the starting rotation, supposedly a strong suit, began tearing away at the edges. Sheffield came back, got hurt again. The hitters couldn't buy a clutch hit to save their souls. Only now are the Tigers starting to come out of it, and it's probably too late. They're 7-2 in their last nine, but that only makes them 23-31 since their last Minnesota visit. One-third of a season, playing 69-93-type ball. No wonder they're on the outside looking in, when it comes to the playoffs.

I call it the Curse of the Twins. Those pesky, frustrating Twins, with their abhorrent excuse for a baseball stadium. It's almost like the Curse said, "OK, you swept the Twins -- FINALLY -- in Minnesota. Well, now you're gonna PAY." Sheffield, in fact, got hurt in the very next game.

Oh, where would the Tigers be with a healthy Sheffield for 162 games and a healthy Rogers and a healthy Joel Zumaya? Where would they be with more consistency from their pitching staff? Where would they be with some more hitting with RISP?

Most likely not where they are now, struggling to keep afloat in the American League whirlpool.

Those Twins -- they can get ya, even from the graveyard.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

If Being Controversial Means Playing With Pain, Then Kudos To Sheffield

They've said a lot of things about Gary Sheffield over the years. They've said a lot of it this year, too.

Too opinionated. Speaks without thinking. Can be disruptive to a team's chemistry. Has an ax to grind. A wearer out of welcomes.

But they'd better not say this: Gary Sheffield dogs it for his team.

Sheffield, the Tigers' DH/sometimes outfielder, is playing with a sore shoulder. That's the Reader's Digest version. The fuller-length version, the one that could fill up some space in a medical journal and a page or two in media notes, is that Sheffield shouldn't be playing baseball at all -- instead he should be shut down, someplace warm, and do nothing baseball-related until next spring training. He shouldn't be where he is now, in the #3 spot in the Tigers batting order, trying to give it a go after at least two cortisone shots and much shorter rests than are necessary. He shouldn't be anywhere near a baseball stadium, but yet here he is, because he knows his team needs him -- for even a Gary Sheffield at 60-70% is better than most of what MLB's personnel has to offer.

"You've got your teammates coming to you and saying, 'No matter how you feel, you're out there and it makes a difference,' " Sheffield said yesterday to the Free Press. "When your teammates say that, it makes you feel good inside. It makes you want to go out there and try harder. No matter what I go through, I still give the effort."

Isn't that what matters most, anyway -- how much effort you're giving forth as a player? How hard you're willing to work to give your team a chance to win, even if your shoulder feels like it's been stomped on by some elephants?

Not speaking out against former managers, as Sheffield did earlier this summer about Joe Torre. Not being indignant about steroid use, as he was when the Barry Bonds chase of Hank Aaron reached its crescendo. Not, basically, simply giving honest answers to every question that's put toward him, as Sheffield has done this season, and as he's done all his previous seasons.

If you don't want to know, then don't ask him. That's pretty much the rule of thumb when it comes to talking to Sheffield. Yet the media always acts so stunned when they get spin-free answers from him.

"Gary Sheffield should just shut up!," anti-Sheff baseball fans have wailed. Sure -- he'll shut up. As soon as the reporters stop asking him questions. Sheffield doesn't call press conferences. He doesn't wave reporters to his locker. I know this to be true. The only reason controversy follows him is because it's stalking him -- baiting him with questions designed to elicit the very responses that they receive.

All I know is that Sheffield is sticking it out with the Tigers during this final, frantic -- and sadly, probably unsuccessful -- push for the playoffs. He's playing with a shoulder that shouldn't be played on, for a team that he wasn't even a part of nine months ago. He's doing it, because he knows he's needed.

"He's rusty and he's sore, but he's playing for the team," manager Jim Leyland said yesterday. "There's no question about that. He's a proud guy. He knows he's not right."

But he's out there. Maybe the anti-Sheff fans are the ones who should just shut up.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 4-2
This Week: (9/10: TOR; 9-11-12: TEX; 9/14-16: at Min)

This is what the Tigers' record is right now: 77-66.

This is what the Tigers' record probably needs to be in order to be in the mix for a Wild Card berth at the end of the season: 92-70.

This is what the Tigers' record, then, needs to be in the final 19 games of the season: 15-4.

This is what the Yankees' record is right now: 81-62.

This is what the Yankees' record needs to be in the final 19 games of the season -- if the Tigers end up with 92 wins -- that will put the Tigers into the playoffs: 10-9.

So, the Tigers' season pretty much boils down to these questions: Can the Tigers go 15-4? Will the Yankees only go 10-9?

Forget the AL Central title. It's all about the Wild Card now. And if the Yankees don't start losing some games, it might be Olly, Olly, Oxen Free for that, too.

The Yankees, over the weekend, did what the Tigers could not recently -- which is sweep the Kansas City Royals. So, despite a four-game winning streak at the end of the week, the Tigers' loss to Seattle Sunday kept them four behind the Yankees.

Let's make it even simpler. The Yankees' magic number is 16 to clinch the Wild Card. That means any combination of Yankees wins and Tigers losses totalling 16 will thrust the Bronx Bombers -- they of the very pedestrian first half, into the playoffs. And the Tigers -- possessors of a sparkling first half, will be watching it all on television. That's why they play 162 games, and why it's not important how you start, but how you finish.

So despite all my number crunching at the top of this post, just do this instead: Take a piece of paper and write a big number 16 on it. Whenever the Tigers lose, and/or the Yankees win, subtract one from it for each Tigers loss/Yankees win. Then you'll see, as that number dwindles, how much on life support the Tigers' season is.

It's not all that difficult, really. It's pretty cut and dry at this point.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tigers Need Another Leyland Rant

Last year, it was all we heard. It was, we were told, one of the turning points of the season -- and it had happened the day after Easter. Yet it was supposedly one of the things that helped propel the Tigers to the 2006 playoffs.

"It" was manager Jim Leyland's tirade against his ballclub, behind closed doors but audible to reporters, after a humdrum loss to the Indians. The Monday game was the last of a four-game set and also "getaway day," that baseball term for the last game played before traveling. And the Tigers, Leyland felt, were already mentally on the plane to Oakland. After winning two of the first three games of the series, the Tigers sleepwalked against the Tribe. And Leyland let them know it. Big time. Then he held a brief, terse postgame media session before ordering reporters out of his office.

Last year, if you asked any Tiger who was present, you'd have been told that Leyland's rant was much-needed, and that it resonated for the entire season. You'd have been told that, at that moment, Jim Leyland secured a firm hold on his ballclub.

So where's the rant this summer? Where's the outrage?

The Tigers are 16-29 in their last 45 games, a .356 winning percentage. Extrapolated over an entire season, that's a 58-104 record, which brings back chilling memories of just about any season from 1994-2005.

The hitters can't buy a clutch single, or even a gosh darn sacrifice fly, to save their souls. The bullpen leaks like an old radiator. The starting pitching is Jekyll and Hyde. There's an overall malaise. Even so-called "big" victories, like the 3:30 a.m. homer to beat the Yankees, don't seem to have any carryover effect at all. It's like the Tigers' momentum is magically erased when they get out of bed the next morning.

It's probably desperate bleatings from an ink-stained wretch wearing a sour puss, but I'd have liked to have seen another Leyland explosion, somewhere during this horrific 45-game stretch. Maybe he's already done it, again behind closed doors but just not as loud so as to alert the media guys. Even if he has, fine. Do it again -- and make it a little more public this time. Light into these guys a bit. All I hear is how good of a team the Tigers have. As recently as last week, the malaise still dripping over the team, Leyland spoke enthusiastically about the playoffs and about how good of a team he has.


Yes, injuries (read: Gary Sheffield) have played a factor into why 2007 ain't 2006, or anything close to it. But there are still enough big league ballplayers in the Tigers' clubhouse to make a go of things, if only they'd engage in outpatient surgery to have their noggins removed from their posterior.

The endless array of popups and strikeouts with runners in scoring position and less than two outs is mind-boggling, considering we're talking over a quarter of a season of bad baseball. The inability of the bullpen to hold a lead, or the silly game of "Guess which starting pitcher is showing up today?" the rotation has been playing, is getting real old.

Yet Leyland -- and I like the guy, don't get me wrong -- just seems helpless, without any energy or vinegar. Enough is enough. Can't he kick over a buffet table or toss some equipment around? Heck, when was the last time he even got kicked out of a game?

The Tigers are sinking like a lead balloon, and I wish the skipper would act like he's offended by what he's seeing. Then again, it's probably too late anyway.

I fear he had his chance, but now it's gone.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-4
This Week: (9/4-6: CWS; 9/7-9: SEA)

OK, this is it. I mean, this is IT.

No more fooling around. No more giving up 7-0 leads. No more inconsistent starting pitching. No more leaky bullpen. No more bad clutch hitting. No more insisting that you're a good team.

This is it.

The Tigers, if they still believe they harbor hopes of making the postseason tournament, have got to start, right NOW, playing like it. Because of their ineptitude during this hideous 44-game stretch (they're 16-28 since rising to 57-36 in late July), they now have to reel off one of those 10 out of 12 runs. They have to start winning and rarely, and I mean RARELY, lose. Their margin for error now is about as narrow as the width of a tightrope -- and that's where they find themselves on, wobbling, with no safety net below them.

They coughed another one up yesterday, a horrific 8-7 loss to the A's, who rallied from 0-7 down to sneak away with a 10-inning win. Former Tigers farmhand Jack Hannahan, just traded to the A's a couple of weeks ago, shot a flare out of his popgun in the 10th that landed on the fair (foul?) chalk line just past third base. Mark Ellis, hit by a pitch one batter prior, was running on the pitch and crossed home plate before Timo Perez could even pick the ball up, which by this time was rolling away in foul territory, maybe 120 feet from home plate.

You can bellyache all you want about the irony of Hannahan beating the Tigers on such a flukey hit -- especially considering he was only swinging because the count was 3-2 thanks to a poor bunting effort. You can yelp that last season, that ball lands foul. You can moan that the Tigers don't seem to be getting any breaks nowadays.


Yesterday's game should never have gotten to a Jack Hannahan fluke hit being the deciding factor. The Tigers, playing late, knew that the Indians had lost. They had a 7-0 lead and were poised to creep within 4-1/2 games of the Tribe. But they blew it, and even in the 10th they should have seized momentum, despite frittering away all of their seven-run cushion. This is because Todd Jones somehow, some way, wiggled his way off the A's fishing hook in the bottom of the ninth, when he loaded the bases with nobody out. A double play and a "I got it, you take it" fly ball that was nearly mishandled got Jones out of the inning. The Tigers should have made the A's pay for wasting such a golden opportunity. But they went out in order, feebly, in their half of the 10th, setting up Hannahan's heroics.

That game was, sadly, a microcosm of the past month for the Tigers. Blown opportunities. Suspect relief pitching. An inability to bury teams. And yes, some bad breaks here and there.

But bad breaks haven't placed the Tigers where they are today, which is on life support in this playoff chase. They haven't "bad lucked" their way into this situation. They've played poorly -- for over a quarter of a season now -- and unlike last year, when a similar August slump cost them the division but wasn't bad enough to rob them of the Wild Card, there isn't a Plan B. The Tigers are a patient on a gurney being rushed to surgery STAT. And just like a heart attack victim with a love affair for bacon and eggs, they did it to themselves.