Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Everett doesn't take postseason for granted anymore

        In 2004, Adam Everett went to the playoffs with the Houston Astros after his first full season in the big leagues. The following year, Everett and the Astros went all the way to the World Series.
        “When you get to the postseason two years in a row, you start thinking you’re going to be there the rest of your career,” the Tigers shortstop recalled.
        But Everett hasn’t been back to the playoffs since.
        “Now I know, when you get the chance, you’ve got to really embrace it,” he admitted. “Because, who knows, you may never get back there again.”
        That is the message that Everett has been trying to impart to his Tiger teammates this week as they battle the Minnesota Twins for the right to represent the American League Central in the postseason.
        “The biggest thing for me now is just going out there and enjoying the moment,” Everett said. “I’m just trying to have fun,
        “I don’t think I did that in 2004-05. I don’t feel I really embraced it. I think I was too tense. I put too much pressure on myself, trying to do too much.”
        Now all Everett wants is another chance to grab the brass ring.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How does a team pass the time between halves of a twinbill?

        The first half of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader was history. The Tigers had suffered yet another tough loss, 3-2, to the Minnesota Twins -- a game they knew they could have, indeed probably should have, won. Their lead in the American League Central, that stood at a cozy seven games on Sept. 6, was now down to one.
        The start of Tuesday’s nightcap against the Twins was still four hours away.
        What do players do in a situation like that to pass the time?
        “What do you want us to do?” Jim Leyland snapped when a reporter asked that very question, which he considered silly.
        “Say a prayer? Have a meeting? What are they supposed to do, go to Wendy’s?
        “There’s five days left in the season. They’re going to do what they always do.
        “I know what I’m going to do,” Leyland added. “I’m going to smoke a cigarette and watch TV.”
        Down the hall, in the clubhouse, Gerald Laird, who would be called upon to catch both ends of the crucial doubleheader because of his defensive prowess behind the plate, was talking on his cellphone. Brandon Inge, hobbled by two bum knees, one worse than the other, was changing into his street clothes to go say hello to a few friends who had come to the game. Ryan Perry, headset on, was hunched over his computer.
        Baseball is a game. It’s also a business. While the ballpark and the surrounding parking lots emptied, work crews hastily swept and bagged the debris the fans had left behind in the stands.
        Soon, the day’s second crowd would begin arriving. And the players would have to put Tuesday’s opener out of their minds,  regroup, and try again.
        The show must go on.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tigers really need a split against Twins this week

        It’s time to get nervous.
        The Tigers and their fans have invested too much effort and emotion into this strange season to see it all slip away now.
        The Tigers’ magic number is down to six, thanks to Kansas City’s 4-1 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, and the lead they have enjoyed in the American League Central since May 10 remains at two games.
        Here are the possibilities -- and their consequences:
        If the Tigers take three out of four from the Twins this week, the suspense will be over. The Tigers clinch.
        If the Tigers and Twins split their four games, the Tigers’ magic number will be reduced to two and they will continue to lead by two games with three to play next weekend against the Chicago White Sox while the Twins host Kansas City.
        If the Twins take three out of four from the Tigers, the two teams will be tied and it will all be on the line next weekend -- and a possible tie to be settled by sudden-death playoff in Minnesota next Monday will suddenly become a worrisome possibility.
        If the Twins sweep the Tigers, their roles will be reversed and the Tigers will trail the rampaging Twins by two games with three to play.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dates set for postseason parties at Comerica Park

        When Gerald Laird’s parents told him they wanted to make airline reservations so they can join their son for the postseason, the Tigers’ catcher warned them to wait. He didn’t want to jinx his team.
        But with the Tigers’ magic number now safely in single digits, it’s time to look ahead to the postseason schedule.
        The Tigers will open the American League Division Series in New York on either Oct. 7 or 8 -- that will be the Yankees’ choice by virtue of building up the best record in the league during the regular season.
        Either way, the Tigers will host Games 3 and 4, if necessary, at Comerica Park, on Oct. 11-12.
        That means, on Sunday, Oct. 11, the Tigers will host the Yankees at Comerica Park and the Lions will entertain the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers across the street at Ford Field.
        If the Tigers advance to the Division Series, Games 3, 4 and 5 will be played in Detroit on Oct. 19, 20, and 22 -- unless the wild card Red Sox eliminate the Angels in the first round.
        In that case, Games 1 and 2, Oct. 16-17,  and Games 6 and 7, Oct. 24-25, if necessary, would be played at Comerica.
        The World Series? That would begin at the corner of Woodward and Montcalm on Oct. 28. Games 1 and 2, Oct. 28-29, and Games 6 and 7, Nov. 4-5, will be played in the AL team’s park.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Next week?s homestand will be Tigers? biggest in many years

        Beginning Monday, with this season and the postseason -- in other words, everything -- on the line, the Tigers will open what will be, without a doubt, their biggest homestand of the year.
        Indeed,  considering the fact the Tigers already had a place in the playoffs clinched when they came home for the final week of the 2006 season, it will be their biggest homestand in many, many years.
        Throw in the fact that the Tigers will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their 1984 world championship with a reunion of that team on Monday night, and you have the makings of quite a week.
        Depending upon what happens this weekend in Chicago, and in Minnesota’s series against Kansas City, the Tigers could be in a position to clinch the American League Central title during their four-game showdown Sept. 28-Oct. 1 against the refuse-to-die Twins.
        If not, it will all come down to the Tigers’ three-game series against the fast-fading Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park on the final weekend of the regular season, Oct. 2-4.
        Looking ahead, here are the tentative pitching match-ups for that critical rematch against the Twins, who, you surely recall, took two out of three from the Tigers in Minnesota last weekend:
        Monday -- Rookie Rick Porcello against Nick Blackburn
        Tuesday -- Ace Justin Verlander against rookie Brian Duensing
        Wednesday --  Eddie Bonine, filling in for injured Jarrod Washburn who may be gone for good, against Tiger killer Carl Pavano
        Thursday -- Nate Robertson, hero of last Sunday’s desperation win, against Scott Baker.
        It is imperative that the Tigers get out of those four huge games.
        The way the Twins are playing, that won’t be easy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

National media finally notices Tigers' unexpected success

        The Yankees have already received their invitation to the playoffs. The Angels’ magic number is down to five. But it is the Tigers, still fighting for their postseason lives, who are featured on the cover of this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated, which hits the newsstands today. And rightfully so.
        “What has unfolded this summer, one year removed from a last-place finish, has lifted a city,” writes SI.
        You can say that again.
        It’s about time the national media started paying attention to the Tigers who, outside of Detroit and Michigan, have been an under-appreciated, often-ignored story all season.
        The headline on the magazine shouts, “The Righteous Franchise: Detroit.” The subhead reads, “The Tigers’ bold stand with their fans.”
        In a press release detailing the magazine’s overdue six-page look at the Tigers,  SI says, “This week SI kicks off Assignment Detroit -- in which journalists, photographers, videographers and bloggers from all the Time Inc. news publications flood the area to report on the struggles plaguing the cradle of America’s middle class -- with a cover story by senior writer Lee Jenkins, who reports how Tigers owner Mike Ilitch responded to the economic crisis not by cutting costs but by reinvesting dramatically in his franchise and what that has meant to the people of Detroit.”
        Personally, I am tired of all the pity-poor-Detroit stories, every time one of our sports teams does well amidst the ravages of the current recession.
        But right now, the Tigers will take any positive publicity -- and, more importantly, any victories -- they can get.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Regular season tie with Twins would be nightmare for Tigers

        Now that they have come this far, the Tigers’ worst nightmare -- next to losing the American League Central all together -- would be to have to return to the miserable Minneapolis Metrodome that they thought they had left forever to face the perpetually pesky Minnesota Twins in a one game winner-take-all sudden death showdown on Oct. 6.
        With the AL playoffs possibly opening the next day in New York, such a scenario would, at best, turn the Tigers’ postseason pitching plans upside-down.
        And, against the Yankees the Tigers are going to need every edge they can get.
        Trust me, the last thing the Tigers want to do is finish in a regular season tie with the Twins.
        Because the Twins will most likely win the overall season series between the two teams -- they currently lead, 9-5, with four games left to play at Comerica Park next week -- a tiebreaker would be played in Minnesota, where the Tigers are 2-7 this year.
        Normally, Major League Baseball likes to get such playoff games out of the way as soon as possible,  which would mean playing on Monday, Oct. 5. But the Metrodome is already booked that evening for a glamor “Monday Night Football” match-up pitting the Minnesota Vikings and their new quarterback, Brett Favre, against the Favre’s long-time team, the Green Bay Packers.
        And the NFL has no intention of changing the schedule and moving that game to Green Bay, simply  to accommodate the Tigers and Twins. It doesn’t work that way in the real world. And the Vikings’ lease with the Metrodome gives them precedence over the Twins in every situation except a World Series game.
        Baseball is not about to stage a playoff game of such importance at, say, 11 a.m. on Monday.
        Which means, if necessary, the Tigers and Twins will square off on Tuesday, Oct. 6, with the winner immediately moving on to face the Yankees.
        The American League Division Series will open in New York on Wednesday Oct. 7, or Thursday Oct. 8. Because the Yankees own the best record in the AL, that will be their choice.
        And I don’t see the Bronx Bombers doing the Tigers any favors, do you?
        Bottom line: Instead of two or three days off before the start of the playoffs, the Tigers might get none.
        Of course, there is a clear-cut solution to this problem: Don’t finish in a tie with the Twins.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tigers could clinch AL Central at home against Twins next week

        Mission accomplished.
        Despite being blanked by Minnesota rookie Brian Duensing on Friday night, despite the crushing disappointment on Saturday when rookie Don Kelly, inserted in left field for his defense, lost sight of Orlando Cabrera’s routine fly against the backdrop of the dingy white Metrodome roof, the Tigers escaped what looked like it was going to be a disastrous weekend  as Nate Robertson, restored to the starting rotation because Jim Leyland didn’t have anyone else, rose to the occasion with his biggest game of the year.
        The Tigers desperately needed to win at least one game against the Twins over the weekend. 
        That was what they did. That was all they did.
        But it was enough.
        Believe me, the difference between leading by one game and being three games in front, is huge.
        Now the Tigers go to Cleveland and then on to Chicago with their magic number for clinching the American League Central down to 11.
        If the Tigers continue to get good pitching, and if their hitters wake up, they should be a position to lock up a place in the postseason when the Twins come to Comerica Park for four games Sept. 28-Oct. 1.
        Sunday’s must-win 6-2 triumph over the Twins meant that much.
        Had the Tigers been swept, the lead they have enjoyed since May 10, would have been down to one game.
        The Twins, who are already beginning to believe, would have been further invigorated.
        And the Tigers would have begun to seriously sweat, which is never a good thing in the heat of a pennant race.
        The Tigers are not home free yet, by any means.
        If they don’t play any better than they have for the past two weeks, they can forget about the postseason.
        Sunday marked the Tigers’ final appearance in Minnesota’s dismal excuse for a ballpark known as the Metrodome.
        And they certainly don’t hate to see it go.
        In a book Andy Van Slyke and I wrote about the 2008 season, the Tigers’ first base coach summed up the team’s feelings about the place.
        “The Metrodome is the most unique place in the American League to play --  and, in a lot of ways, it is also the most annoying place to play,” Van Slyke declared.
        “Aesthetically, it certainly is the ugliest. This ballpark just has a murkiness to it. There is no cleanliness, no crispness to the Metrodome.
        “The noise is deafening, they’ve got artificial turf, and you’re playing inside.
        “It smells, believe me, it smells terrible in the visitors’ dugout. That may be from all of the teams that have gotten their brains beaten in here over the years, all of the carnage that has been left in the visitors’ dugout.
        “Whatever the reason, this really is a strange place.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

$18 Million Man Ordonez: "I'll celebrate when we clinch"

        Magglio Ordonez went hitless in three trips to the plate Tuesday night. But that was enough to guarantee he will be back with the Tigers, making $18 million again next year.
        However, Ordonez resisted the temptation to celebrate.
        “We lost the game,”  he said Wednesday. “I’ll celebrate when we clinch the division.”
        When, and if, the Tigers do win the American League Central, Ordonez will be able to take pride in the fact that, after a miserable start, he has played a significant role in helping to keep the Tigers in first place.
        His home run and RBI production (seven HRs, 40 RBI) has dropped off dramatically, but since August 1 Ordonez has batted .391 in 35 games, lifting his once anemic average to .294. Since the All-Star break, his slugging percentage has been .510, compared to .494 for all of last year.
        “Am I happy with my season? No,” Ordonez admitted. “But I’m happy we’re in first place.”
        Ordonez is also happy to have all of the uncertainly over his future behind him.
        “It’s always nice when you know where you’re going to play next year,” he said. “I’m happy to be back here next year.”
        There’s also a good chance Ordonez will hit above .300 this season for the third year in a row and the fourth time in his five seasons as a Tiger.
        That may come as a surprise to some people, but not to Magglio.
        “I’ve been hitting all my life,” he said. “I had .312 average coming into this season after nearly 6,000 at-bats.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Robertson surprised, upset about demotion to bullpen

        Nate Robertson has always believed he belongs in the Tigers’ starting rotation. He was battling to resume that role this spring when a sprained left thumb late in training camp relegated him to the bullpen. In late August, after recovering from elbow surgery, he became a starter once more.
        Now a pelvic inflammation has knocked Robertson out of the rotation again, at least for the rest of the regular season. Robertson will be replaced by Eddie Bonine, who began the season in the Tigers’ bullpen but spent most of the year at Triple-A Toledo.
        No one, least of all Robertson, knows what the future now holds for the 32-year-old left hander who is signed through 2010 and scheduled to make $10 million next year.
        Jim Leyland admitted Monday that Nate was not pleased when the Tigers’ manager gave him the bad news.
        “Nate’s kind of upset,” Leyland said. “And I don’t blame him. I feel bad for him. I know he’s worked hard. But I’m kind of in no-man’s land here. I don’t know when that thing is going to flare up again. If I start him and he only goes two innings, that leaves us in a bind.
        “If this was April or May, you could fool around a little bit. But not now. I can’t send him out there, worrying if he’s going to hurt that thing again. I get paid to make the tough decisions around here and I’m doing the best I can.”
        Robertson declined to comment on Monday’s demotion. “I don’t have any control over anything,” he said.
        “I’ve been doing a pretty good job of starting for about six weeks,” Robertson added. “I didn’t think this was going to knock me out of the rotation the rest of the year.
        “But there doesn’t need to be a big issue made of this. I need to come here and do whatever I can to help. There’s nothing more to say. We’re trying to get in the playoffs.”
        Leyland said he believes Robertson can be a asset as the Tigers’ third left hander in the bullpen.
        But that is hardly what Robertson wants -- or what the Tigers are paying him $7 million this season to do

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why don't Tigers admit $29 million error and let Willis go?

        What the Tigers need right now is another dependable starting pitcher. But, in case you haven’t noticed, one name that is never mentioned as Jim Leyland ponders the possibilities with Nate Robertson, Jarrod Washburn, and Armando Galarraga all struggling -- and hurting -- is Dontrelle Willis.
        I don’t think Willis will ever throw another pitch in a Detroit Tigers uniform
        It is time Dave Dombrowski acknowledged his $29 million blunder, swallowed the $12 million remaining on the 27-year-old left hander’s contract for next year, and cut Willis loose.
        The Tigers ate the $14 million left on Gary Sheffield’s contract this spring, and Sheffield was still capable of contributing a whole more than Willis has -- or will.
        What is the point in prolonging this ordeal, bringing Willis to spring training again next year, and pretending he might suddenly find himself?
        Been there, done that.
        In two injury-interrupted seasons with the Tigers, Willis has started just 14 games. He has won one and lost six. His ERA 8.34. He has walked 63 batters in 57 innings. For that, the Tigers have already paid him $17 million.
        How bad does a guy have to pitch before you admit your mistake and move on?
        In a belated rehab stint at Triple-A Toledo this summer Willis was 1-2 with a 4.81 ERA in five starts. I am told he can’t understand why he wasn’t called up to the big leagues on Sept, 1,
        Can you imagine the reaction in the Tigers clubhouse -- and among Tiger fans -- if Leyland sent Willis out to the mound in the thick of this pennant race?
        That would be like conceding a game before it even begins.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Writer's complaint may have magnified Rodney's suspension

        Marc Topkin is a sportswriter who covers the Tampa Bay Rays for the St. Petersburg Times. Topkin is a fine writer and friend of mind. He is also the chairman of the Tampa chapter of the Baseball Writers Association.
        It was in the latter capacity that Topkin complained in writing to the baseball commissioner’s office after Fernando Rodney, in frustration, flung a ball into the press box after securing the final out of the Tigers’ victory over the Rays last Friday night.
        And Tigers’ president and general manager Dave Dombrowski believes Topkin’s letter influenced the decision by Bob Watson, major league baseball’s disciplinarian, to suspend Rodney for three games, in addition to imposing a fine.
        “Without the letter being written, the suspension would not have been as strong, and I don’t know there would have been a suspension,” Dombrowski told reporters traveling with the team.
        That suspension could yet prove costly to the Tigers in their quest for the American League Central title.
        Rodney is appealing the suspension. Until that appeal is heard, Rodney is free to pitch. His hearing could happen next week.
        If the sentence is upheld, Rodney will then have to begin serving his suspension immediately -- at the worst possible time.
        Beginning Friday, Sept. 18, the Tigers will play 13 or their final 16 games against the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, their two challengers in the Central Division.
        That is one throw that Rodney definitely wishes he could take back.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Back end of Tigers' rotation remains cause for concern

        With four weeks to go until the start of the playoffs, the back end of the Tigers’ starting rotation, which has been the strength of this team for much of the season, remains something of a work in progress.
        Armando Galarraga is out. Again. And Nate Robertson is back in. At least for the time being.
        Meanwhile, there is continued concern over the damaged cartilage in rented left hander Jarrod Washburn’s aching left knee.
        In a best case scenario, the Tigers won’t need to use either Robertson or Galarraga in the postseason, where, because of the off days, teams usually go with four starters.
        For the Tigers, that would mean a rotation of Justin Verlander, Washburn, Edwin Jackson and Rick Porcello,
        However, if Washburn, who, after missing a turn, is scheduled to make his next start on Thursday against Kansas City, continues to struggle, Robertson or Galarraga -- and at this time I would guess Robertson or possibly Eddie Bonine -- will  take his place.
        Either way, that is hardly a comforting thought heading into the playoffs against the hard-hitting Yankees or the Angels.
        Galarraga, who lasted less than three innings but gave up six runs on Saturday night, has been demoted to the bullpen. He has a 6-10 record with a 5.36 ERA -- the highest of any pitcher in the American League who has thrown at least 135 innings.
        The Tigers are at a loss to explain why Galarraga, who was so effective last year and during the first month of this season, seems to have suddenly lost it. At this point, I can’t see the Tigers including him on their postseason roster.
        Robertson, who lost his bid to rejoin the starting rotation in spring training, will make his third start of the season on Friday.
        Meanwhile, Jeremy Bonderman continues his comeback in the bullpen. Bonderman threw 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief his last time out. Bonderman’s arm is not strong enough yet to warrant using him as a starter. But he could find himself in the bullpen for the postseason.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Players deal with pennant race in different ways

        The start of Wednesday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians was still nearly four hours away, but outside the front entrance to the Tigers’ Comerica Park clubhouse the players’ lunch room was already crowded.
        However, no one was eating.
        At tables scattered around the room, Brandon Inge, Clete Thomas, Adam Everett, Ryan Raburn, Aubrey Huff, Alex Avila and others all had their eyes focused on the TV screens where the Chicago White Sox were coming from two runs down in the ninth inning to beat the Minnesota Twins, 4-2.
        Across the hall, in the manager’s office, Jim Leyland and several of his coaches, including Gene Lamont, Lloyd McClendon, and Jeff Jones, were doing the same.
        “It’s that time of the year,” Leyland said. “Of course, I would have watched that game if it was May.”
        But don’t get the idea the Tiger players are uptight, feeling the pressure of the pennant race.
        While the third-place were doing the Tigers a favor by rallying to beat the second-place Twins, inside the clubhouse proper several players were passing the time before their game by flying toy helicopters and airplanes, which has become almost a daily routine for some.
        Leyland didn’t mind that, either.
        “I’ve told them, ‘Do what you do,’ ”  the manager said. “I don’t want them just sitting there, staring at the TV. I want them to enjoy this.”
         So far, it appears that they are.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's scoreboard watching time

        I do it. You do it. The Tiger players do it. Even Jim Leyland admits to doing it once in a while.
        It is called scoreboard watching and it is a popular September pastime when a team is in a pennant race. It happens every night now, every inning or so.
        It’s happening in New York and Anaheim and Boston and Minnesota and Chicago and Tampa and Texas.
        And, of course, it’s happening here.
        It’s half the fun.
        How are the Twins doing? What’s happening with the White Sox?
        “You take a peek out there,” Leyland admitted. “You have your moments when you are managing a game when you have time to do that. Anybody would be lying if they said they don’t look.
        “If I said that I didn’t see the scoreboard I’d be lying. I’m not staring at it, hoping the White Sox or the Twins are behind. It’s not like that. It has nothing to do with that. But are you aware of stuff? Sure, you’re aware of stuff.
        “I mean, the scoreboards are so huge anymore that everybody knows what is going on in every game,” Leyland continued.  “I watch the Cardinal game for my friend Tony (La Russa).”
        Feel free. Take a look.