Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tigers' Swoon In June '82 Too Much To Overcome

June can be a lovely month: weddings, graduations, school letting out. The weather can be the most pleasant of all the summer months -- usually not too hot or too cold. Just right. And there's baseball -- the season officially starting to get a little serious.

The 162-game season, with its marathon mentality, is always going to provide plenty of ebb and flow. Ups and downs. A rollercoaster, that overused description.

Yes, June can be a wonderful month -- and it has a better chance of being that way if your baseball team doesn't get pulled down by that force field known as the "June Swoon."

The Swoon has jumped up and yanked away pennant hopes -- both false and real. It has caused entire city populaces to run around in panic. It has brought more weather to already craggy manager faces.

I'm not sure what it is about the year's sixth month, but it has been an absolute death knell for so many squads, so many times in the past.

The Tigers, 25 years ago, had one of their worst June Swoons ever.

As is typical of the Swoon, it had no real warning signs. The Tigers, in 1982, sprinted out of the gate, their record sitting at a spiffy 36-19 on June 12. They led the pack. Everything was clicking.

There is an annoying name now for any hit, walk, hit batsman, sacrifice fly, or homerun that produces victory for the home team during its final at-bat. The walk-off________.

Such a nonsensical phrase didn't exist in 1982, but had it, it would have been used quite a bit in reference to the Tigers in June. Their 36-19 record turned to 37-33. Fourteen losses in fifteen games, including a ten-game losing streak. And many of those losses came in their opponent's last at-bat. A walk-off________.

Sparky Anderson, the white-haired leader, was as perplexed as anyone. He'd smoke his pipe after games and try to explain away a season spiraling out of control before July 4th. It was a June Swoon at its worst -- wheels tearing away as the carriage careened down the rocky slope.

The Tigers never really recovered in 1982. By the time they righted the ship, too many teams had leapfrogged them in a highly competitive AL East Division. They finished at 83-79 -- 12 games behind Milwaukee, in fourth place.

Could the 2007 Tigers be felled by a June Swoon? What team couldn't, really?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-4
This Week: (5/28-30: at TB; 5/31-6/3: at Cle)

First take on the week: Magglio Ordonez is hitting on another plane than anyone else.

Second take: the Cleveland Indians were a hungrier bunch of ballplayers than our Tigers this past wekend.

The Indians came here, looked around, and conquered the Tigers -- swiping first place in the process. And they did it while laughing, high-fiving, playing loose and confident, and they just looked like a ballclub who took this series a lot more seriously than the Tigers did. Maybe it meant more to Cleveland. Maybe it was because the Tigers handled the Indians so well in 2006. But if you were looking, you could see it: every hit, every sacrifice fly, every inning-ending double play was met with happy faces and fist pumps -- on the field and in the dugout.

The Tigers, on the other hand, had the look of a concerned, unsure team.

I may be reading too much into this. These just may be the bleatings of an ink-stained wretch and know-it-all blogger. But once I noticed the Indians' demeanor over the weekend, it became harder and harder to ignore.

They had fun at Comerica Park -- boy, did they ever. And they're feeling pretty good about themselves, I'd wager. It's up to the Tigers to go into Cleveland this week and weekend and put a little hurt on the Tribe -- before the Indians open up too big a lead for comfort.

But there are three games against the potentially frisky Tampa Bay Devil Rays before the rematch with the Indians, in Florida. The Rays are 12-14 at home and can put a licking on you if you don't take them seriously. And it might be easy to overlook them, with the Indians looming again.

But the more long-term concern should be the pitching staff -- specifically the meshing of the starters and the bullpen. The starters are finding it increasingly difficult to give Jim Leyland anything more than 5-6 innings. The bullpen is leaky, and is injury-riddled. As a result, the Tigers are becoming what they want to avoid: a team that relies on its offense and power to overwhelm opponents. They have to outslug you now to win, and that's not what a pitching-proud team needs to do.

At Memorial Day, it's proper to say that if the Tigers can keep their heads above water in this wacky AL Central until Joel Zumaya, Kenny Rogers, and others get healthy, then they should be in good shape heading down the stretch.

In the meanwhile, be ready for some long games.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Oh Say, Can You Seay? Bobby's A Valuable Commodity

Perhaps it says a lot about how baseball has evolved that when a middle-innings, situational lefthander flees for another team and more money, that his departure is accompanied by some nailbiting and furrowed brows.

In years past, such a personnel move would have been greeted with a yawn. And rightly so. But today, the lefthanded pitcher who can come into games and get lefthanded hitters out consistently is becoming more and more of a precious commodity.

So when Jamie Walker capitalized on this new way of looking at pitching staffs, taking an unbelievable offer from the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason, there was genuine concern in Tigertown. Namely, who would get lefty hitters out, if Walker is not here to do it?

Wilfredo Ledezma? More of a spot starter, long relief guy. Someone who can chuck two or even three innings in a game if need be. Andrew Miller? Starter of the future. Needs to pitch every fifth day -- somewhere. But not a situational lefty.

Bobby Seay? NOW you're talking.

Seay signed with the Tigers as a free agent in November, 2005. He made the team out of spring training last year, but didn't pitch for the Tigers after early June. This is because with Walker around, there wasn't much need for Seay's services. So Seay, who had a mostly undistinguished career with Tampa Bay and Colorado prior to signing with the Tigers, was sent back to Toledo.

This year Seay, 28, is being counted on more and more by manager Jim Leyland to not only get out lefty batters, but some righthanded ones as well. And that confidence is something that the southpaw from Sarasota, FL certainly appreciates.

"Well, with having (Joel) Zumaya out, I think we all have to kind of pick up our roles," Seay told me before yesterday's 12-0 skunking of the Los Angeles Angels. "Having Jim's confidence is definitely a positive for me, and I just look to go out day in and day out and try to get the job done."

That he has -- even though the ERA is a typically misleadingly high 5.40 in 13.1 innings of work. The more relevant stat for a reliever is opponents' batting average. And despite the slightly elevated ERA, opposing batters are hitting Seay at just a .216 clip.

Seay acknowledges that the bullpen is going through a rough patch currently (its overall ERA is scraping near the bottom of MLB), but he points out that those numbers can be misleading.

"We started off pretty hot," Seay says of his bullpen comrades. "The bullpen I think, in my opinion, has been pitching pretty well. We've just had some tough games where we've given up a lot of runs. But for the most part, we're doing our job."

It would be naive to say that the Tigers don't miss Zumaya, despite the team's winning ways ever since he got injured. But Jason Grilli seems to be getting off the schneide, and even Fernando Rodney has settled down, though he's been unavailable for a couple of days due to a stiff shoulder that's not believed to be serious. Jose Mesa is still scuffling along. But Seay has only given up three walks and one homerun in his 13.1 IP -- numbers that also bode well for a manager's confidence in a reliever. And those are numbers that are in alignment with the goals he set for himself prior to the 2007 season.

"Just throw strikes, really. Keep the walks down. Pitch to contact. You know, just not give up any free bases. So far so good, for the most part," Seay says.

A team's bullpen often manages to form a bond and camaraderie unlike anything in team sports, because of the time spent together -- and its distant proximity from the dugout. Seay says the Tigers have established a definite esprit de corps beyond the left field wall at Comerica Park.

"It's pretty loose. Jeff Jones (bullpen coach) keeps things pretty loose down there. We know it's a long season and that we're going to be relied upon to seal up some wins or hold some leads. I think the spirit down there is pretty good."

It usually is, when the wins are coming as consistently as they have for the Tigers in May. And Bobby Seay is no small part of that.


Carlos Guillen is a man of his word.

Before yesterday's game, working for Michigan In Play! Magazine, I hit Guillen with some questions about his health. I had noticed, as did others, that he was wincing at second base the other night, not long after a ferocious swing at the plate.

"I feel great, my friend," Guillen said.

The back doesn't feel stiff?


He also told me that as far as his reputation for not being able to stay healthy, "What can I say? If you play everyday and expect something to happen ... you know, it can happen sitting on the bench."

Hmmm...I suppose.

So what does Guillen do after proclaiming his great health? Only hit two homeruns and drive in five runs as the Tigers had a field day against the Angels.

That'll teach me to question a guy's wince.
Saw backup catcher Vance Wilson and asked him how close he was to returning from his elbow injury, which has knocked him out all season thus far.

"I don't know. Not sure. Just trying to get it to loosen up," he said of the elbow, which is on his throwing arm.

Having as much fun as last year?

"Team-wise, yes. Personally, no," Wilson told me.

Wilson is chomping at the bit -- you can tell. He bounds around the clubhouse and in the dugout -- being one of the most active injured players you'll ever see.

His return shouldn't be considered a minor addition for the Tigers -- no disrespect to current backup Mike Rabelo. For Wilson, at his best, is perhaps the best #2 catcher in all of baseball.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tigers' Old Road Threads So Simple, So Grand

They were flannel, of course -- these were the days before double knits were all the rage. And they were remarkably plain and simple. Kind of like the Penn State football duds. I thought they were rather boring when I was a child, but I find myself longing for them now.

They were the Tigers' old road uniforms -- and when I say old, I mean the style that was worn in the 1960s and early-1970s. The 2006 Tigers wore them in Seattle last year for a Turn Back the Clock Game, but in case you missed that, here's what I'm talking about:

That's good old Mickey Stanley modeling the uniform for you.

It's lovely, isn't it? Plain block DETROIT on the front. Light grey. A number on the shoulder (actually, I think the latest version had numbers on both shoulders. Looks like the number is only on the right shoulder in this pic). The back had the number in dark blue, with no edge or drop shadow. In 1970, all MLB teams (save a few, like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Cubs) sewed names on the backs of the jerseys. I can live with the names. And with this uniform, the players' names were in the same block, no-frills style as the DETROIT on the front.

The pants had no piping down the sides of the legs, that I can recall, and while searching for images on Google, I saw none. Just plain grey.

Be still my heart.

I think my infatuation stems from the fact that whenever I think of those uniforms, I'm taken back to my childhood -- a much simpler time. Plus I've been listening in my car a lot to an old audio cassette a co-worker made for me years ago of the classic album, "Year of the Tiger," which features actual game audio of radio men Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane describing the thrills of 1968 as they originally broadcast them. So I think listening to that is making me long for the old road threads, too.

The plain greys were the road unis that the Tigers wore for the entire decade of the 1960s, and until midway thru 1972, when they changed during midseason (which was odd, come to think of it) to this version:

By the way, Mark Fidrych is on the right in this photo.

Note the thick "D" on Fidrych's cap. It was orange with a white drop shadow. For the 1982 season, the "D" lost its drop shadow and became the plain orange that the team still wears today, on the road caps.

Yes, I know way too much about uniforms throughout history. I admit it.

Anyhow, the above version that Fidrych is wearing served the Tigers thru the glory days of 1984, all the way until 1994, when the team switched to a similar version of today's road uniforms. Those had ridiculous shoulder stripes that continued down the sides of the leg. That was scrapped after a couple of years to the current version. Also, the Tigers briefly used this logo on their road caps:


The home uniforms have remained basically unchanged -- the creamy whites of Greenberg and Gehringer in the 1930s and 1940s are practically the same as the ones of Inge and Bonderman today. And I love that, too.

So there you have it. I think the Tigers should change back to the 1960s' road duds -- at least for more than just one game per year. Maybe they could wear them on Sundays away from Detroit.

Whaddya think?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 4-3
This Week: (5/22-24: LAA; 5/25-27: CLE)

It was great to see the Tigers spank the Cardinals after getting a little wind knocked out of their sails by Boston. This is the sign of a good team -- when you can shake off a frustrating series like the one against the Red Sox and then kick a team that's down, as the Cardinals are.

Surely the Cardinals must be experiencing one of the worst seasons of any defending World Series champion -- including the 1998 Florida Marlins, who lost well over 100 games after winning the Series in '97. At least that freefall was relatively predictable, considering how ownership went on a salary-dumping spree. But with the Cardinals, it's almost as if they're being punished for winning the World Series. They lost starting pitchers Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver to free agency; manager Tony LaRussa got arrested for drunk driving in spring training; the team got off to an awful start; then the biggest blow of all -- the tragic death of pitcher Josh Hancock in a car accident, in which it was determined he was under the influence of alcohol and maybe other substances.

"I wish we hadn't played them this season," Tigers manager Jim Leyland told the media after Sunday's win. "Tony's a special friend ... It's hard to see my friend go through a tough time like this ... I hope they go on a long win streak."

The Tigers might be on their way to another one. They righted themselves -- big time -- against the Cards after losing a tough doubleheader to the Red Sox on Thursday. They shrugged off the DH loss by jumping out to a 14-0 lead on Friday night. The next two games, the Tigers relied on an awakening offense and clutch defense and pitching to win.

The All-Star break is still nearly two months away, but if the Tigers can continue to separate themselves from .500 -- and beating up on the struggling clubs is a great way to do it -- just think of the good shape they'll be in when first Kenny Rogers, then Joel Zumaya return to the pitching staff from injuries.

Interesting little weekend set with the Indians at CoPa starting on Friday, too. And hey -- the Sunday game is an ESPN night tilt. The Tigers are now ready for prime time, apparently; it'll be their second Sunday nighter in three weeks.


Friday, May 18, 2007

This Bud Needs To Say Something -- And Quick -- About Bonds' HR Assault

We don't ask a lot from Bud Selig, baseball's farcical commissioner. Rarely do we go to him for any sort of direction or bon mots -- mainly because we know we'll almost always be sorely disappointed.

So is it too much to ask that Selig say something, anything, about his intentions regarding Barry Bonds' assault on Hank Aaron's homerun record?

We've already heard from Aaron regarding this matter. Hammerin' Hank has made himself clear: He won't be anywhere near the ballpark where his record might fall to Bonds. No sir. Fine. We can debate his reasoning all we want (I happen to agree with it) but at least we have something to debate.

After Aaron (it's not often a record of this magnitude falls when the former holder is still alive) and Bonds, the most relevant person in all this is Selig, like it or not. And the other day, with yet another chance to make his intentions known about whether he plans on being in attendance when Bonds passes Aaron, Selig was coy.

"Is he getting close?," he asked facetiously. I could abide his droll comment, if it had been followed by anything of substance. Instead, Bud said something about getting back to us on this issue. Good grief.

Selig has been mum for far too long about Bonds and Aaron

OK, here's my opinion -- or what I think I would/should do if I was in Selig's shoes.

This is a baseball record, not a Bud Selig record. It's the sort of event that, regardless of the circumstances behind it, should be witnessed by the sport's commissioner in person -- and in full view of the people, not tucked away in some luxury suite. Selig can hold whatever personal view he wants -- this is America, after all -- but he needs to show up. This is one of those situations when it's acceptable for Selig to separate his titular duty from his personal feelings. Did NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle shun the presenting of the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Raiders owner Al Davis (twice), despite the two men's dislike of each other? No. Because it was his duty as commissioner to present the trophy to the Super Bowl winners.

Selig should realize that it's not going to besmirch baseball if he sits in a box seat and watches Bonds crack his 756th homer. He doesn't have to cheer and get all googly-eyed. But some polite applause and a handshake won't harm anything. Maybe he can look at it as a mayor does of another ribbon-cutting somewhere: grip and grin -- a photo opportunity. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here's what he needs to say: "There was never any question, in my mind, that I was going to do whatever I could to be in attendance when Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's homerun record. I'm sorry for having evaded the subject, but I believe the commissioner of baseball should be in attendance when such an event as this occurs."

That's all. End of discussion. He's just saying he's going to be there -- not that he condones everything that is clouding the moment.

It's sad, of course, that this should even be an unanswered question. Normally, this would be a slam-dunk, when a record this momentous is eclipsed. But the mere fact that we're even asking the question of Selig is much more of an indictment of Bonds than it is of the commissioner (though we could debate baseball's response to the steroid issue for hours on end).

No, we don't ask much from Bud Selig. Maybe because our expectations are so low.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Age Forty: It's Not Just For Retirement Anymore

Greg Maddux threw a complete game the other night. Needed just 96 pitches to do it. Gave up five hits. Got his 336th career victory. He's 41 years old.

Julio Franco still plays a competent first base in a league where you can't be half a player to lengthen your career. He still hits a homerun here and there. He's 48 years old.

Roger Clemens just signed a one-year contract to grace the New York Yankees with his pitching presence. The contract is worth over $22 million. He's 44 years old.

Jamie Moyer keeps using his creaky left wing to chuck baseballs for the Philadelphia Phillies. He's 44 years old.

Since when did baseball sign a partnership with the AARP?

Ahh, Maddux was that age on his uniform ten years ago

Franco: Aww, let him play till he's 50; why not?

No, I think it's great. They say 40 is the new 30. I believe it. The Red Wings are being led on a long playoff run by a 45-year-old defenseman and a 42-year-old goalie. Kevin Willis, in his mid-40's, signed a late-season contract with the Dallas Mavericks. And the above mentioned ballplayers are still major contributors to their respective teams.

As for Chris Chelios, the 45-year-old defenseman, and Franco, I'm rooting for both of them to be active players at age 50. It could happen. Franco, in fact, reminds me of George Burns, the old actor/comedian. Many times I truly believed that Burns would never die. And I am getting the feeling that I will never see Julio Franco retire. He seems that constant. I mean, at this point, when do you finally say to him, "OK, Julio -- enough is enough"? The guy still plays, he still is a key component -- and for a pennant contender. Unreal.

Maddux, the spring chicken of this group, still throws with an efficiency that goes a long way toward explaining his longevity. It just doesn't seem to be all that hard for him on the mound. I didn't see the game Monday night against the Reds, his latest complete game, but I don't need to, to know that it was probably vintage Maddux. The numbers are there to confirm it -- the 96 pitches, the five hits. He probably got ahead of nearly every hitter and rarely went to a ball three count. Been there, done that.

Go, graybeards!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 4-2
This Week: (5/14-17: at Bos; 5/18-20: STL)

This may not be good timing, since the Tigers just got done playing two straight games on national TV, but do the wags at ESPN notice what's going on in baseball? They'll put the Red Sox and Yankees on their cable waves, ad nauseum -- especially when they play each other. But the Tigers are in Boston for a big four-game series -- the two top teams in the American League -- and not one of the games is being shown on, as Big Al calls them, the Worldwide Leader.

Now, I may have missed something; maybe there's a game on ESPN2, but I don't think so. This promises to be one of the most intriguing early-season matchups -- the Red Sox and Tigers have rarely played a series when both were in first place -- but it's getting the cold shoulder from the folks in Bristol.

A word about emergency starter Virgil Vasquez, the young righthander called up from Toledo to start in Jeremy Bonderman's place: these things seem to go one of two ways, with no in between. The kid either gets shellacked, or he befuddles the hitters and pitches a gem.

Vasquez got shellacked.

But that's OK. He didn't seem any the worse for wear afterward, and talked of cherishing the 2 2/3 innings he pitched in the Metrodome. Good attitude. I'm sure he'll be back up again, and will do better.

This is a very interesting week. There's the four games against the Red Sox -- which are always unpredictable in Boston -- and then another look at the St. Louis Cardinals, who come to town over the weekend.

Oh, what a horrible hangover the Cards are having after winning the World Series last year. There's been injuries and tragedy and off-the-field misconduct (by the manager, no less), and under-achieving players. It all adds up to a team well below .500 and who will not even come close to making the playoffs, I don't believe. Makes me kind of glad the Tigers didn't win the Series in 2006. Would this kind of luck have followed them into 2007?

As for last week, anytime you can take two of three in that Metrodome is a blessing. You take that and scoot out of town, pronto.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Twins Need A New Ballpark, But Do They WANT One?

I'll start, I guess. I can maybe sell some stuff on eBay and get the fundraising rolling. Maybe I'll stand outside the Produce Palace near my home and shake a can, asking for donations. But I wish the good people of Minnesota would gather their own cash already.

I don't know if there's pending legislation, or if it's been tried and failed, but someone needs to buy the Minnesota Twins a new baseball facility. Now. Put all the other problems of the state aside. This takes priority.

OK, not really, but it should be on someone's to-do list over there. Gosh, I can't stand that damn Metrodome, which surely must be one of the five worst places in which major league baseball has ever been played.

But I wonder if the Twins really want a new ballpark, after all. As horrible as it is, it does provide them with a sinister home field advantage. And they've taken advantage of it, using it to win the 1987 and 1991 World Series.


It's not baseball that they play in the Metrodome -- it's ping-pong. Or pinball. It's aesthetically bankrupt, and it so drastically changes the way the game of baseball is played that it should be outfitted with enough explosives to blow it to kingdom come -- and then some.

The Tigers are getting ready to play three at the Dome this weekend, and already they're talking about the roof.

"The color of the ball is the same as the color of the (roof) top," Tigers outfielders coach Andy Van Slyke said in today's Free Press, talking about the extra work he was going to have to put Curtis Granderson and co. through before the games. "If you take your eyes off it (the ball), then you might not be able to pick it up again."

How MLB allowed one of their stadiums to be built with such a brainless deal as the roof being the same color as the baseball, is beyond me. But they did, and that's only part of what irks me about the Metrodome.

I guess my dander is up because the Twins have played there since 1982 and it was a bad idea even back then, as a brand-new facility. Twenty-six baseball seasons later, it's still bad. All I know is, the Twins played outside from their inception in 1961 to 1981 -- 21 seasons -- and so I don't know why in the world they can't do it again. At least make the new stadium, if it has to have a dome, equipped with a retractable roof. And paint it this time -- something other than white, too.

In my older age I find myself getting cranky easier. And that crankiness is leading me to suspect that the Twins enjoy their awful ballpark just fine, thank you, because it gives them an advantage unmatched in MLB.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Price About As Good A Play-by-Play Man As He Was A Hitter (.214 Career BA)

One of my favorite childhood memories, growing up in the late-1960s, early-1970s, was of my dad working outside, the ballgame on the radio, its lazy descriptions in the background. The sounds of Ernie Harwell and Ray Lane, followed eventually by Paul Carey.

Today I try to do the same thing -- working in the backyard while the Tigers game fills the air from the boombox turned up high. I did it again Sunday, as the Tigers were trouncing the Royals. Somehow, it's not the same.

It's not Dan Dickerson so much -- he I can abide. He's no Harwell, but that makes him the same as the other billions of people in this world, and that's certainly no crime.

It's, frankly, Jim Price.

Price does the fourth and fifth innings of play-by-play for the Tigers radio network, and they can make you hate baseball on the radio.

Where do I begin with how bad Price is?

Well, there's the score, number one. As in, he rarely gives it. Score-giving is, to me, a cardinal rule of radio broadcasting. It's the first thing people want to know, for crying out loud. Yet Price makes you wait brutally long -- sometimes until a run is scored or when the inning ends.

A large part of calling baseball on the radio is the "painting of the picture". Remember, your listeners know what a baseball diamond looks like. But they don't know what's happening on it until you set the scene. A batter swings and grounds the ball to second base -- this may seem mundane and routine, but Price can butcher it, don't worry. He particularly massacred a double play started by Neifi Perez.

First, he rarely tells you when the batter is swinging. He'll be babbling and all of a sudden the ball is in play. This was true in the Perez double play.

I'm listening, not even knowing a pitch was thrown, when all of a sudden I hear, "Ground ball...oh, what a play by Perez! Over to Guillen....he's out! They got him!"


That was Jim Price calling a double play. Note that the above description only includes one of the two outs.

I'm sorry that I can't do Price's butchering more justice here, but I hope you get the idea. There are plenty more examples, believe me.

In trying to describe Price's style, I think I can sum it up best this way: Jim Price calls a baseball game on the radio as if he's an amateur newshound calling in a story as it's happening.

"There's a ...ohh! Did you see that? Now he's...oooohh!! Wow!"

I made that up, but it might be Jim Price calling a big Tigers hit, for all I know.

I usually don't slam people here, but Price's scattered playcalling irritates the hell out of me -- mainly because I know it can be done soooo much better. And, to be honest, it bothers me because it decreases my enjoyment of the listening experience. When Dickerson took over for the sixth inning it was like giving a man lost in a desert a drink of water. I was SO very relieved.

Maybe I'm being too hard on the guy. What do YOU think?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 6-0
This Week: (5/8-10: SEA; 5/11-13: at Min)

A perfect week? Well, yes -- and then...NO.

Perfect in terms of the record: 6-0, with the hapless Orioles and Royals (that almost rhymes!) serving as fodder for the Tigers. But very IMperfect, too, when you consider the bad news out of Kansas City Saturday night.

Joel Zumaya -- Zoom-Zoom. Zoomie. The Big Z. However you choose to refer to him. Gone, out -- and it's anybody's guess for how long.

"I heard something pop when I threw a fastball in the bullpen," Zumaya was quoted as saying about the injury to his middle finger on his throwing hand. "I thought I cracked my knuckle."

If only.

The extent of Zumaya's injury won't be known until today, most likely. He will be examined by a hand specialist in New York, according to the reports.

Manager Jim Leyland said he was preparing for the worst case scenario. I shudder to think what that may entail.

Still, it's being classified now as a "strained" finger, and we'll have to go with that for now. Certainly it's less daunting than other scenarios.

My theory about injuries in sports is this: best to have them earlier, rather than later. OK, so it's not so much a theory as it is common sense. But to miss Zumaya now, in early May, is certainly preferrable to losing him in August or September.

Besides, it still might be relatively minor. We'll see.

Zumaya aside, it was a great week for the Bengals. A couple of comeback wins against Baltimore, a systematic destruction of the Royals, and the warming up of bats such as Sean Casey, Gary Sheffield, Craig Monroe, and the continued heat of Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez. A great week for the beleaguered offense.

They might need to stay hot, too -- if the bullpen's diamond stick pin is out for any considerable length of time.

Thank goodness for the starters.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mesa's "Second Season" Begins Now

When Jose Mesa debuted in the major leagues, the Tigers were a couple weeks away from providing us with one of the most thrilling weeks of baseball ever seen around these parts, a.k.a. the final week of the 1987 season.

Nearly 20 years later, Mesa -- who'll turn 41 later this month -- returns from the disabled list to give the Tigers yet another quality arm in their suddenly shaky bullpen.

It was supposed to be like that from the very beginning of the season, but Mesa hurt his groin and made a very rare trip to the DL in mid-April. So his season, for all intents and purposes, begins now, with the Tigers pen having already experienced more rocky outings than for most of the entire 2006 season.

Mesa gives manager Jim Leyland a wonderful option: the veteran, late-inning guy who's known the grind of starting, the pressure of closing, and everything else in between. There's little that's happened on the mound, if anything, that Mesa hasn't experienced.

Mesa made a token start with Toledo earlier this week, a 25-pitch test to gauge the status of his groin. The bill of health was clean, and so he re-joins the team. Veteran leadership is even more prime now, with starter Kenny Rogers out until July. Rogers is with the team, but veteranship is also needed on the field. Mesa provides that, including a sometimes-menacing 6-foot-3 frame on the hill.

That the Tigers' bullpen has been sometimes leaky should come as no surprise. It's difficult to replicate what the relievers did last season. You almost had to count on some meltdowns. Todd Jones has had a couple. Joel Zumaya, too. Jason Grilli was rocked coming out of the gate. And Fernando Rodney has been a rollercoaster. And it's only May 3rd.

So here comes Jose Mesa to lend a hand, some of his mind, and most importantly, some innings.

Call it Opening Day, Redux, for Mr. Mesa.