Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How the Tigers somehow lost the Central


Randy Marsh, to rhyme, was harsh. To the Tigers, that is.

As the home plate umpire made poor calls Tuesday evening, it was almost as if he was saying, "Hey, you guys had your chances. Why are you even here tonight?"

And that's a good question.

The tendency at this moment so closely removed from the end of the Tigers' 6-5, season-ending loss to the Twins is to pick apart how Detroit lost the 12-inning game.

Hey, I spent a one-hour train ride dissecting the causes:

— Marsh's horrible calls (a called third strike on Placido "I never strike out" Polanco in the top of the ninth with no outs and runners on the corners; not giving Brandon Inge a base for getting brushed by a pitch with the bases loaded in the 12th. The Tigers failed to score in both innings).

— Two defensive miscues in the bottom of the 10th that allowed the Twins to tie the game. First, Ryan Raburn badly misplayed a fly ball to left, turning a single at the worst into a leadoff triple. Two batters later, Polanco somehow missed a groundball up the middle that could have been a game-ending double play.

— Twelve runners left on base and several innings in which they couldn't get a run home from second or third with less than two outs.

But to understand why the Tigers aren't preparing to hop a plane to New York to take on the Yankees, you can't just look at Tuesday's result. Rather, this was a three-week collapse.

They were up seven games just a few weeks back, with a favorable schedule down the stretch that featured a plethora of home games.

They struggled during that stretch, losing several games to inferior opponents, but rebounded last week to take two out of three games from the Twins. That left them up three games with four to play.

Only three times since 1901 had a team blown that kind of lead.

And the Tigers had their final series at home, where they had been strong all season.

But after losing to a desperate Minnesota team last Thursday, the Tigers looked lifeless in an 8-0 loss to the White Sox Friday. Then Saturday they continued their scoreless streak, not putting a run on the board until the eighth inning of a 5-1 loss.

In the bottom of the eight inning of that defeat, Detroit was within 4-1 and had two runners on with no outs. After Magglio Ordonez sharply lined out, Miguel Cabrera took a lazy swing at the first pitch of his at-bat and grounded into an easy 6-4-3 double play.

Why do I mention this? Because it was later reported that Cabrera had been heavily drinking Friday night and fighting with his wife, which explained the scratches on his face noticed by those close to the first baseman.

Nice timing, huh?

I doubt it's a coincidence that the Tigers' best hitter finished the series 0-for-11.

Chalk that up as another possible reason the Tigers couldn't wrap up the Central Division during 162 regular-season games.

Listless play. Disappearing bats. And possibly the pressure of holding off a charging, hyped-up team with nothing to lose.

But I saw none of that from the Tigers Tuesday. They came out swinging, taking a 3-0 lead. And when the Twins clawed back to snatch a 4-3 advantage in the seventh inning, Ordonez stepped up to the plate and calmly launched a home run — a rare thing for him this season — to lead off the eight inning and tie it.

Brandon Inge had a terrible game at the plate for most of the evening, but he stepped up with two outs in the 10th and delivered an RBI double to give the Tigers the 5-4 advantage.

And after Raburn's gaffe helped cost the team the lead in the bottom half of the inning, he made a hell of a catch and throw on a line drive to nail Alexi Casilla at the plate and extend the game.

I haven't even mentioned Fernando Rodney, who pitched almost three full innings and was very solid. He kept his cool and didn't allow free baserunners — which, usually, is his downfall.

So in the aftermath of Tuesday's heartbreaker, the Tigers have nothing to be ashamed of. They played one hell of a game and simply didn't come away with the win.

That happens sometimes.

But when they return to Detroit to clear out their lockers, I'm sure they'll all relive in their minds the letdown that precipitated Tuesday's trip to the Metrodome.

And they'll know this lost season never should have needed one right call from Randy Marsh or, for that matter, a win in a win-or-go-home game.

1 comment:

3rdStoneFromTheSun said...

it isn't quite the collapse the Phillies has decades ago, but Tigers fans soon won't forget this