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.


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