Friday, May 30, 2008

"Cocoa" Was Hot In Cleveland In '70

The Tigers' starting shortstop on June 21, 1970 was in a slump. Big time. After a hot start, he was mired in a 15-for-99 funk, and that included a 2-for-3 performance in his last game.

Not that hitting was ever part of Cesar Gutierrez's make-up. This was still the era of the good field, no hit shortstop -- when almost every team's lineup (pre-DH) ended like this:

8. SS
9. P

That's just the way it was. The next season, in '71, the Tigers would have a new SS -- Eddie Brinkman, acquired in the Denny McLain trade. And Eddie was about as good field, no hit as you could get. The shortstop's job back then was to prevent runs, not to help score them.

So Gutierrez started in Game 2 of the Tigers' double-header in Cleveland that June Sunday, scuffling along at .218 and just happy to be in the lineup, most likely. He was penciled in by manager Mayo Smith in the #2 hole, behind Mickey Stanley. Ironic, since it was Stanley's move to SS in the '68 World Series that is now legendary. But on 6-21-70, another shortstop would upstage Stanley and everyone else.

The Indians started a pitcher named Rick Austin -- about as big of a name as it sounds, which is not at all. It was Austin's first big league start, and he would have only seven more.

Ahh, seven. A lucky number.

Don't bother trying to explain Gutierrez's day; it's impossible

Gutierrez singled in the first inning, then scored. He singled in the third, then scored on Al Kaline's home run. He singled in the fifth. He doubled in the seventh, and scored on Willie Horton's homer. Another single in the eighth. The game went into extra-innings, and Gutierrez kept hitting. Another single, this one in the tenth. One more at-bat, in the twelfth, and again Gutierrez singled. The Tigers won, 9-8, on Stanley's homer in that 12th frame.

Cesar Gutierrez, he of the 15-for-99 slump, had gone 7-for-7. His average jumped from .218 to .249 in one day.

Gutierrez became the first player to record seven hits in one game in the modern era. No player had done it since 1892. Pittsburgh's Rennie Stennett also went 7-for-7 in 1975.

Gutierrrez, nicknamed Cocoa, was about as unlikely a candidate for seven hits in one game as anyone who's ever played the game. Which is why baseball is such a great game; even the non-descript can have his moment of glory. Just take a look at the list of pitchers who've tossed no-hitters, and the ones who haven't, and you'll see what I mean. Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series is a classic example of the "every dog has his day" theory. Larsen wasn't even a front line starter, let alone a star. Just three days before his gem, Larsen was knocked out in the second inning after surrendering four walks. So go figure.

Gutierrez is one of several Latin American ballplayers who played for the Tigers who died too young. Cocoa passed away in 2005, just days before his 62nd birthday. He joined Aurelios Rodriguez and Lopez as those taken from us too soon.

But Cocoa had his day on June 21, 1970. Did he ever.

(note: game details and some other facts researched thru and

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leyland To Quit? If So, It Might Be A Move Made Nine Years Too Late

Jim Leyland doesn't speak too fondly of his days in Colorado.

He'll tell you that he did a horsefeathers job there, in 1999, when he guided the Rockies to a 72-90 record. He'll go even further, telling you that he stole his paycheck in Denver and should have quit before the season ended. It was a bad enough performance, in his mind, to make him gun shy about managing for a full six years, until the Tigers and old friend Dave Dombrowski reached out to Leyland late in the 2005 season -- Alan Trammell about to be a goner.

I thought about Colorado as I perused that hit-and-run method of communicating, aka the Internet chat forums. A forever anonymous poster said this: "Leyland will quit before the season ends."

Maybe he will.

There's not a lot of hard evidence, just some between-lines reading to go on, but Leyland hasn't been shy to both point the finger at himself for the Tigers' baffling 2008 season and volunteer the fact that he doesn't have a clue as to why things have gone sideways.

He was just as stumped as everyone else when he talked to reporters yesterday about the Tigers' hitting woes. To his credit, he hasn't gone into snake oil salesman mode, where he tries to jabber his way out of this malaise. He doesn't speak of raised expectations or goofy clubhouses or the loss of gregarious players. In other words, he doesn't talk like some of his players. And for that, I give him credit.

But he's out of answers, folks. Leyland looks and sounds tired, and one only wonders if he's learned his lesson from Colorado and will pull a self-ziggy before this season is done.

I'm not so sure that we won't.

If this craziness lasts close to the All-Star break, with no end in sight, then I wouldn't choke on my waffles if Leyland did a self-ziggy and returned home to Pennsylvania. Some would fret that the wrong Detroit sports guy is the one retiring to the Keystone State (right, Matt Millen haters?), but there you have it. Is it probable? No. It's still quitting, no matter how you try to spin it. And sports fans don't have much tolerance for quitters, no matter how good the intentions.

I don't REALLY think that Jim Leyland will quit on the Tigers this season. But I'm not convinced that it WON'T happen, either.

If that makes me wishy-washy and a fence-sitter, then I'm guilty as charged.

But he'll quit before the Tigers ever fire him. That much I know.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Monday Morning Manager - Tuesday Version

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 4-2 (plus loss 5/26 at LAA)
This Week: (5/27-28: at LAA; 5/30-6/1: at Sea)

One of the cruelest jokes being played out on an unsuspecting public over the years has been the imported Mexican tradition of the children's pinata. Any parent whose child has had at least one birthday party at the age of five or above knows what I'm talking about.

The pinata, that candy-filled, festively shaped object, has tormented us moms and dads for years now. And, by extension, our children. The premise is fun: hang it from a tree or a garage beam, beat the tar out of it, and watch it pop open, treats spilling out. That's the premise.

The reality is that these pinatas must be made by the same folks who manufacture black boxes for airplanes. The year that we were fooled, our daughter and her little friends spent no less than 45 minutes trying to bust that freaking thing open. Granted, they were seven years old and had the strength of watered down beer, but still. We finally gave up and tore the pinata open.

The Tigers' offense of 2008 is that pinata.

It will occasionally spill out the goodies, as in Saturday's 19-3 win over Minnesota. Then when the pinata is replaced, it's back to beating it over and over again with precious little result. The Tigers have scored one run in 21 innings since the Minnesota outburst, after last night's 1-0, 12-inning loss to the Angels out west.

The Tigers are a perfect example of why you cannot always trust numbers -- those things that supposedly never lie. Wrong -- they DO lie on occasion. The Tigers rank among the top in runs scored in the American League, but they've also been shut out a ton and their overall numbers are skewed by their pinata-like status. Theirs is not an offense built on consistency. If it was graphed, it would look like a snapshot of an EKG (see below).

The Tigers' offense. Note the gaps between peaks

So there you have it. Nineteen runs here. One there. Two here. Ten there. None there, and there -- and there. It's not how you win enough to be a serious playoff contender.

It is, however, the kind of offense befitting teams with 21-30 records.

Oh, and if you haven't done so, do NOT ever buy a pinata. Unless you have a rifle with you -- and that's not very kid-friendly.


Friday, May 23, 2008

MLB's New Edicts For Speedier Play Just Plain Silly

Major League Baseball wants Jim Leyland to jog to the mound. They want hitters not to leave the batter's box. They want pitches thrown in a timely fashion. All of this, and more, in order to perhaps shave a few minutes of game time off the clock.

Hogwash. And Leyland agrees.

"Baseball is like a movie," he told reporters yesterday about the new mandates, which go into effect today as a means to speed up game play. "If it's good, people stay. If it's bad, people leave."

Well said.

Nothing in my first paragraph is made up. Part of the new world order is indeed that managers are asked to jog to the mound instead of walk. The other stuff is true, too.

Would it be crass to mention that part of the reason why games are so long is because of the amount of time between half innings, which has steadily risen due to increased TV ad time?

I agree with Leyland. While I think games are definitely longer than they used to be, I don't know of any tangible evidence that this in any way affects attendance or TV ratings.

"When the Tigers win, people stay. When we're losing, some leave," Leyland opined, extending his comments. Then, some wry humor.

"I smoke three packs (of cigarettes) a day. And they want me to jog to the mound?"

Look, some pitchers work fast (Justin Verlander). Some work slow (Kenny Rogers). Some hitters stay in the box (Curtis Granderson). Some step out a lot (Carlos Guillen). Some pitchers throw to first base a lot. Some don't. And so on. It's all part of baseball, which was never a cookie-cutter sport to begin with, when it comes to its players. And what's the difference if a game takes 2 hours, 45 minutes, or 2 hours, 36 minutes? I mean, really.

It's silly, to steal another of Leyland's words as he talked about the new edicts. Just like the fashion police and their insistence that managers wear official jerseys instead of the pullover warmups. Silly.

Funny how quickly they'll move on stuff like that, but not so much on little things like the use of steroids in their game.

Actually, it's not so funny after all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Grilli: Removing The Mayor Beginning Of Tigers' Woes

But Leyland Begs To Differ

This crazy, upside-down Tigers season of 2008 has just taken another little dipsy-do.

In this corner: Jason Grilli, deposed relief pitcher -- banished to Colorado last month after some turbulence in Detroit (literally in Detroit; he pitched OK on the road).

And in the other corner: Jim Leyland, flabbergasted, cranky Tigers manager -- sentenced to remain the Tigers skipper during his own time of turbulence.

Grilli said some things that got themselves printed, and made their way onto the Internet, and through the miracle of something called reading, burrowed their way under Leyland's leathery skin.

If only the team hadn't lost 1B Sean Casey, Grilli said. No Mayor, no harmony. And just like that, the Tigers' chemistry turned into a botched experiment by the Nutty Professor. Well, maybe there's something to that; you can't spell "harmony" without "mayor", you know.

Nonsense, says Leyland.

"Sean Casey? We're not doing well because we got rid of Sean Casey?," Leyland harrumphed, using some colorful language in the process. The manager went on to poo-poo Grilli's assessment of the clubhouse atmosphere. "Everyone's doing the same bleeping thing. They're walking around, bleeping joking, whatever the bleep they do. Nothing's changed."

Then this: "Jason Grilli isn't here because he didn't pitch well in pressure situations and he didn't pitch well in Detroit," Leyland said firmly. "If players want to start talking, then I'll start talking too. He should worry about Colorado."

There was more to Leyland's rant, which you can listen to here.

Leyland also made reference, later on in the sound bite, to players currently on the team who he accused of "popping off" to the papers with "weak bleep." He indicated that those were diversionary tactics and that those players will hear about it. Not really sure what he was talking about, although I know Brandon Inge and Gary Sheffield had made some comments about the team's work ethic, which weren't terribly complimentary. Inge lamented that the '08 Tigers have now become "the teams we used to beat" with hard work in the past. Sheffield seemed mystified by the team's relaxed demeanor. "I don't know if that means that we don't have a killer instinct or we're just a real loose team. I've never seen anything like it," Sheff said.

Bottom line: when comments like Jason Grilli's are enough to set Leyland off, it's obvious that the skipper's nerves are frayed and that he might be showing signs of overt frustration. Let's hope that this isn't seeping into his players' psyche.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 1-5
This Week: (5/20-22: SEA; 5/23-25: MIN)

Oh, to be a fly on the wall. Assuming that flies have great hearing; they must, for all the times people have wanted to be them.

Today manager Jim Leyland is set to meet with GM Dave Dombrowski. They have, in Leyland's words "issues" to discuss. Lots of them. The kind that normally befells teams with the worst record in their league, which the Tigers possess at 17-27.

The speculation is that some of the issues will be Dontrelle Willis (what to do with him and Armando Galarraga now that the former's minor league rehab stint is over with); Gary Sheffield (like, should we buy him out?); and Miguel Cabrera ($150 million for WHAT?).

These may be on the agenda, along with others. Regardless of what is actually talked about, wouldn't you just die to get your hands on the transcript?

Last week I wrote that the Tigers were burning through their bag of tricks like a teenager through his allowance. Players have switched positions -- both on the field and in the batting order. The manager has yelled. The manager has gently prodded. Rookies have been called up. Rookies have been sent down. Veterans have been cut. Veterans have been put into the field, then removed. Socks have been worn high. Now this -- a tete-a-tete between the manager and the GM, on the team's off day, no less.

And it's only May 19, folks.

Of course, the calendar is both a blessing and a curse. The good news is that there are still 118 games to be played. The bad news? That there are still 118 games to be played. Depends on how you look at it.

Me? I'm still holding on to my pathetic little 2007 Yankees example. You know, how the Yanks started 21-29 but still came roaring back to claim a playoff spot -- at the Tigers' expense. So if the Tigers can go 4-2 this week, they'll match that 21-29 start, and all will be OK.

Somehow I doubt that Leyland is going to try to sell that to his boss today.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Leyland Again Presides Over A Long Stretch Of Bad Baseball In Detroit

So, Mike Ilitch is spending over $100 million for THIS?

I know he's not the type, but I wish Tigers owner Ilitch would summon manager Jim Leyland into his office and say, basically, "WTF? I've got the second-highest payroll in the big leagues and THIS is what I get for my pizza dough?"

This is simply unacceptable.

Twenty-five percent of the baseball season is in the books. We're through the first turn. The first quarter is in the books. And the Tigers sit at 16-25, one of the worst records in all of baseball -- for a team widely expected to have one of the best records in the game. If the Tigers ever hope to reach .500, it likely wouldn't come much before the 70th game. They'd still have to go 19-10 to do so. It's conceivable that .500, if it's in this team's future, won't happen until damn near the end of June or beyond. THEN how buried will they be in the divisional or wild card races?

Nine games below the break-even mark isn't a small amount, folks. Even a nice five or six-game winning streak still puts them a short distance away. Then what? Lose a few more? Fall to eight or nine games back again?

Let's examine something. And I'm about to be very unkind to Leyland -- and I guess I mean to be.

In 2006, the Tigers were 76-36 in early August. Then they finished 19-31 -- nearly one-third of a season playing .380 ball. It damn near knocked them out of the playoffs. Yes, they recovered in the post-season. So kudos there. But some of that was Kenny Rogers being unconscious and guys like Alex Gomez coming out of nowhere.

Last summer, the Tigers had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break before a 40-game rut from late-July thru August (16-24) did them in. Another 25% of a season wasted away.

Now this.

Yes, managers get too much praise and too much blame. And Leyland probably got too much praise in '06 -- and it was only the team's surprising post-season that pulled his rear end away from the fire. Had the Tigers gone down meekly in the ALDS against the Yanks, that, combined with the team's awful stretch run, would have cast a nasty pall on what had been a great year.

But Leyland has now presided over three horrible runs in three seasons in Detroit: the 50-gamer in 2006, last year's 40-gamer, and this year's 16-25 start. That's 130 games of bad baseball. There was a time when Jimmy Leyland could have been mayor of Detroit. Now I think he'd be hard-pressed to beat even Kwame Kilpatrick in a primary.

And I don't like how fragile the team's chemistry seems to be. In '06, Placido Polanco went down with an injury and things went sideways. Last summer, Gary Sheffield hurt himself and things went sideways. This year, Curtis Granderson misses the first few weeks and things went sideways. How can one player's absence, no matter how good he is, wreak such havoc? Isn't it the good manager who doesn't allow that to happen? Don't the good ones make lemonade when the baseball gods present them with lemons?

I admit, I'm a little cranky. At least the Pistons and Red Wings have provided ample distraction. But they can't play forever. Sooner or later we're going to have to pay more attention to our Motor City Kitties.

Something drastic needs to be done if this malaise carries on much longer. I'm not sure what that is, but it needs to be BIG.

Sheffield, by the way, is done. I've said it before: I'll bet you three coneys that Sheff hangs 'em up before the season is over with. That'd be sad, as we only got to see the REAL Gary Sheffield for about half a season. But he's still hurt, isn't getting any better, and it's only out of deference to his great career that the Tigers haven't cut him loose by now.

Yes sir, if I was Michael Ilitch, I'd be a little perturbed right about now. Maybe he's too caught up in the Red Wings as well.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sain Got Dumb In One Year; Did Hernandez, Too?

The Tigers had the Midas touch in 1968 -- from Gates Brown's clutch pinch-hitting to Jim Northrup's grand slams all the way to manager Mayo Smith's decision to shift Mickey Stanley to shortstop in the World Series. Everything worked. Come-from-behind victories were the team's modus operandi. Smith and his coaches could do no wrong.

Until one year later.

Pitching coach Johnny Sain was heralded in '68 as the guru behind the success of guys like Denny McLain (31 wins) and Mickey Lolich (3 wins in the Series) and just about everyone else who took the hill for the team. He was glorified just as Roger Craig was in 1984. And as Chuck Hernandez was in 2006.

Here's Tigers manager Jim Leyland, speaking of the outsiders' furor over the job Hernandez is doing in 2008 -- a season so far that belongs in the trash heap when it comes to pitching staff performance: "I don't think there's a thing wrong with the pitching coach," Leyland told the Detroit Free Press. "He's the same pitching coach who when we were winning (games) 3-1 a few years ago, had everyone bragging about him and wanting to sign him for 20 years."

True enough -- about how Hernandez was praised in 2006.

Chuck Hernandez

Coaches always get more credit and blame than they deserve. Always. Johnny Sain knew that all too well.

Sain, part of the old Boston Braves' rotation that spawned the catch phrase, "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain," (Sain paired with Warren Spahn to produce a top-heavy rotation), was out as Tigers' pitching coach in 1969. He got dumb real quick, apparently.

Johnny Sain

Smith, who fired Sain in a dispute over how the pitchers were being handled, himself got dumb a year after canning Sain. Mayo was fired after the 1970 season.

I feel Leyland when he tells us that Chuck Hernandez is a good pitching coach. I know that the reason the starters have been so awful can't solely be blamed on him. I know that Hernandez might not be doing many things differently than in 2006, when the Tigers' staff was among the best in baseball. But here's the rub: it doesn't matter. Something's not right this year (the staff faltered in '07, too) and maybe it's time that Hernandez does indeed try a new approach. The paltry percentage of quality starts being turned in by Tigers pitchers in 2008 is embarrassing. What's more, it's hurting the team, big time. The on-again, off-again offense isn't able to compensate. It's a big reason why the Tigers sit at a ghastly 16-23.

Chuck Hernandez isn't the reason the Tigers pitchers are floundering. Not the only one, anyway. But he's not free from blame, either. To suggest otherwise is being disingenuous.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 2-4
This Week: (5/13-15: at KC; 5/16-18: at AZ)

Last week SHOULD have been one of the most exciting, biggest weeks of baseball in Detroit all year. It SHOULD have been brimming with suspense and drama. And the results of the games SHOULD have determined whether the Tigers would be in first place or not by the end of the week.

Last week's seven home games with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees (limited to six due to Sunday's rainout) figured to be, as one looked at the calendar, a momentous week for the Tigers and their fans. An early season indicator of how our Bengals measured up against the big, bad beasts of the East.

But here's what actually happened: four humdrum losses, devoid of almost any degree of tension; one nice come-from-behind win, and one escape job in the 9th for another win. Two wins, four losses. And this sobering reality: the Tigers are nowhere near the class of the Bosox. Forget their 4-1 record against New York. It's the Red Sox who are the standard bearers in the American League, and maybe all of baseball. And the Tigers are 2-5 against Boston, and they've earned that .286 winning percentage, every last decimal of it.

The week started tenuously, with the Tigers coming off a horrific three-game sweep at the hands of the Twins in Minnesota. This following a three-game brooming of the Yankees in New York. Go figure. Anyhow, the Red Sox loomed right away last Monday, and any hope that the Tigers would find their NY mojo dissipated quickly as the Red Sox easily took the first two games of the series. And they darn near snatched the third game, too -- twice erasing four-run deficits. Only a near-miraculous comeback against Jonathon Papelbon in the ninth inning saved the Tigers from an o-for-4 against Boston. Then the Tigers, in Game 4, showed why they're spinning their wheels in 2008, as any momentum from the previous night's walk-off win vanished. Josh Beckett saw to that. Yet another good pitcher who's silenced the Tigers bats. Some not-so-good pitchers have done that to them this year, too.

Interesting set of games coming up this week. Three in Kansas City, which has faded after a fast start but which still has some very talented starters in their rotation, and a weekend set in Arizona. The Diamondbacks are 3-7 in their last ten, but prior to that were as hot as the southwest desert. They lead the NL West by 3 1/2 games and are threatening to bury everyone except Los Angeles in that division.

The Tigers will continue to rock back and forth until they get more consistent starting pitching and somehow shed this label of having a feast or famine offense. Twenty-five percent of the season has been played, and the Tigers are still stuck in the mud. If they don't improve soon, that mud will start acting like quicksand.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Hard Hat Area: Coaching Boxes, And It's A Good Thing

At first blush, MLB's directive to have all base coaches wear batting helmets during games might seem overkill -- an overreaction to the tragic death last summer of minor league first base coach Mike Coolbaugh, who was struck in the skull by a batted ball and died. I know some coaches were very resistant, i.e. the Yankees' Larry Bowa, who felt their rights were being infringed upon. Plus, the helmets are probably considerably less comfy than a regular cap. I get all that.

It's also tempting to say, "Why the fuss? Coolbaugh's case was one in a million. It's unlikely to ever happen again."

But really, when you think of it, I'm surprised that it hasn't happened MORE often.

Mike Coolbaugh

Base coaches aren't exactly the picture of lean, mean physiques. It's hard enough to evade a line drive, even when you're young and agile. Sometimes you just get frozen. So if you're in your late-40s, early-50s, and are carrying some junk in the trunk ... get my drift?

Think back to the (thankfully) comic image of a retired Tommy Lasorda in the All-Star game several years ago. Coaching third base, Lasorda ended up on his rear end trying to avoid a bat that slipped out of someone's hands. That was a bat -- t
raveling considerably slower. What if that had been a ball heading Tommy's way? You think he'd have a prayer of avoiding it?

Granted, the likelihood is still slim that what happened to Coolbaugh will happen again anytime soon, but I still think we're amazingly lucky that it hasn't happened before, several times over, throughout baseball history. Seems that donning a helmet isn't that big of a deal, to help ensure that tragedy doesn't strike again.

Besides, that Bowa always was a truculent little rascal.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Paper Tigers

Paper was a wonderful invention. It took some ingenuity and some good old-fashioned hard work, to devise a method of turning tree bark into something on which we can write.

But you can't tell all that much from paper, beyond the ink that's imprinted on it.

Take the Tigers, for example.

On paper, they looked invincible. How many runs would they score? A thousand? How many games will they win? 110? Who can possibly overtake them? Anyone? It was a rather simple thing to do, to peruse the roster on a piece of paper and rattle off the star names.

Miguel Cabrera. Gary Sheffield. Magglio Ordonez. Pudge Rodriguez. And so on.

But the Tigers didn't count on Cabrera crawling out of the gate and still not looking comfortable after nearly 40 games. They didn't count on Sheffield still not being right despite off-season shoulder surgery and looking closer and closer to retirement. They didn't count on Placido Polanco having back trouble and hitting his weight (barely) throughout April. They didn't count on Curtis Granderson getting hurt. They didn't count on having Cabrera and Carlos Guillen swap positions, because neither could play the other. They didn't count on Dontrelle Willis being a non-factor for the first month. They didn't count on their ace, Justin Verlander, starting 1-5. And so on.

Once the names on paper actually started playing the games, some things became evident.

The Tigers are a slow, still-depend-on-the-home run-too-much team that has a leaky defense, especially in the infield -- the corner spots specifically. They have a lot of the same types of players. They still have no major lefthanded thumper in the middle of their lineup. And the pitching staff, the rotation especially, is pedestrian -- at least right now.

But I look no further than the 2007 Yankees to have hope. Those Yanks were 21-29 at one point, and then went on a tear, all the way to the finish line. And the Tigers, last year, had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break. The Yankees made the playoffs; the Tigers scuffled along in August, which killed their chances.

So at 14-20, it's not ledge-jumping time. It's just what happens sometimes in sports, when ink and paper are poor substitutes for flesh and bone.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Monday Morning Manager

(my weekly take on the Tigers)

Last Week: 3-3
This Week: (5/5-8: BOS; 5/9-11: NYY)

The Tigers are coming close to supplanting the Pistons as the most maddening team in Detroit (the Lions passed Maddening 30 years ago and now reside in Exasperating).

Tony Bennett sang "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." The Tigers could pen a new song: "We Left Our Bats in New York."

Oh, how infuriating it is to sweep the Yankees in New York, to creep one game within .500, only to be swept in Minnesota. And to lose the final game in come-from-ahead fashion after scoring six runs in the first inning. How many times have you seen the Twins peck, peck, peck away at leads, stinging your sides with annoying little hits that: a) aren't hit hard; and/or b) don't even get out of the infield. Then, when the dust settles, they've stolen your lunch.

The four-run 7th inning yesterday was a typical Twins rally in that damn Metrodome. Carlos Guillen fails to come up with a routine grounder at third, with the Tigers still ahead by three and about to get out of the inning. Then, an infield hit (a "Dome hit" off the front of the plate), a well-placed line drive to left-center, and a seeing-eye tapper up the middle, and suddenly the Twinkies have scored four runs and moved ahead. The Tigers went scoreless after Inning One, and let not only starter Boof Bonser off the hook, but the Twins' tired bullpen as well.

It's mind-boggling that Bonser needed 45 pitches to get out of the first inning, then only five to escape the second. If this was a boxing match, that's like a fighter absorbing a fusillade of punches in the first round for three minutes, then sitting down for a cup of tea with his opponent in the second. Crazy.

It's also crazy that, after 32 games, the Tigers STILL have failed to show any sort of offensive consistency. Now the inconsistency is rearing its head from inning to inning; used to just be a game-by-game thing. It's crazy that Justin Verlander is 1-5. It's crazy that Pudge Rodriguez has one home run. It's crazy that Miguel Cabrera has morphed into a solitary microcosm of the team's schizophrenia. He, too, looks alternately good and bad from one at-bat to the next.

There's no time for the Tigers to catch their breath. The Beasts of the East -- the Red Sox and the Yankees -- come calling this week. Manager Jim Leyland promises "drastic" changes to his lineup. Speculation has Curtis Granderson moving toward the middle of the order, though I fail to see how that will help things. Leyland says the shakeup won't involve any bench players, so how drastic could it really be? Just moving guys around in the order isn't necessarily going to help matters. But Leyland is grasping at straws now, and has even used the word "shocked" to describe his team's Jekyll and Hyde act.

The bottom line? The Tigers over the weekend gave away all the momentum and good feelings they had gained by virtue of their sweep in New York. They're four games below .500 -- just as they were when last week began. They wasted another week, is all they did. Thankfully, nobody seems to want to take control of the AL Central. Not yet, anyway. But someone will, and when they do, Jekyll and Hyde ain't gonna cut it anymore.

Eager to see these "drastic" changes tonight.


Friday, May 02, 2008

69 Years Ago, Gehrig Sat The Biggest One Out

I can't imagine Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game streak ending, in 2008, the way it ended 69 years ago today, in Detroit. Funny how simple and bottom line everything was before television and the Internet clogged our thinking.

It was on May 2, 1939, when Gehrig walked into Yankees manager Joe McCarthy's office and told him that it would be best for the team if Lou wasn't in the lineup. McCarthy consented, and just like that, Gehrig's streak of 2,130 straight games played was over with. The fans didn't even realize the gravity of the situation until the Briggs Stadium P.A. announcer told them what was going on. I'm sure you've probably seen the photo below, of Gehrig gazing out onto the field in Detroit from the Yankees dugout that fateful May 2nd, realizing that his career was soon to be done. Doubtful that he knew his life was doomed, too.

Gehrig, shortly after pulling himself out of the lineup in Detroit on 5/2/39

Gehrig's slide began the year before, in 1938, when his numbers -- though pretty darn good -- weren't very Gehrig-like: 29 HR, 114 RBI, .295 BA. Perhaps it was the batting average that was the tip-off; the .295 was easily Gehrig's worst (by over 30 points) in ten years. He turned 35 in '38, and managed just four singles in the World Series. By the end of spring training in 1939, something was definitely amiss; not only had his timing left him at the plate, but he was laboring to make even the most routine plays in the field. At the time of his self-ziggy in Detroit, Gehrig was 4-for-28 (.143) and done. He never played another game. And he was dead two years and one month later. He was 17 days shy of his 38th birthday.

Not to be a downer here -- with the Tigers finally breaking out of their slump, seemingly -- but the Tigers' series in New York reminded me of Gehrig, and how his epic streak ended in Motown on this day. It was reported that after Gehrig notified McCarthy, he changed out of his uniform midway thru the game and walked down Michigan Avenue to a local pub, where he ordered coffee and chatted with the (no doubt amazed) bartender and patrons. Can you imagine such a scene nowadays? Recall the fanfare (justifiable) surrounding Cal Ripken Jr.'s breaking of Gehrig's record? Now imagine if Ripken had pulled himself out of the lineup, citing some sort of physical maladay. And that was before the Internet really took hold.

May 2, 1939. A sad day in baseball history, but not as sad as June 2, 1941 -- the date of Gehrig's death.