Archive for October, 2011
This time, the other guys are disillusioned about their supposed franchise quarterback.
This time, the other team has its falsely-hoped, tenuously-raucous crowd taken out of the game in the very first quarter.
This time, the other guys are mocked and made fun of.
This time, the serious questions about the health of the franchise are for the other guys to answer.
This time, the playoff talk isn’t for the other guys.
The Lions are 6-2. But this isn’t 2007′s 6-2, which was a papier-mache 6-2.
The 2007 6-2 was also attained at the expense of the Denver Broncos, also in a blowout victory. The Lions beat them, 44-7 at Ford Field and the lingering image of that game was Shaun “Big Baby” Rogers rumbling for a touchdown after an interception.
How appropriate that it would be Rogers who took it to the house, because he partly symbolizes the false hope Lions. The Lions of unfulfilled promise.
The 2007 Lions were 6-2 by record only. Their true value would play out over the next 24 games, of which they lost 23.
There’s no such feeling of foreboding about this version of the Lions, who got off their mini-schneide in a big way Sunday in Denver, thumping the Broncos, 45-10.
These aren’t the Bucking Broncos—more like the Buckling Broncos.
The Broncos are a mess. They have a quarterback, Tim Tebow, who is less an NFL quarterback and more a suggestion thereof. They can’t pass protect. Their receivers are mediocre. Their running game makes the Lions look like the Lombardi Packers of the 1960s.
There seems to be separation within the ranks in Denver about Tebow, and it’s never a good thing when not everyone in an organization backs the guy under center.
Tebow was left in for every minute of Sunday’s shellacking, which was just plain mean on the part of Broncos coach John Fox. If part of developing a young quarterback in the NFL is to handle his confidence like eggs, then Fox just made Tebow into an omelet.
Who knows how long it will take Tebow to recover, mentally, from Sunday’s awful performance. The kid doesn’t have it, didn’t have it Sunday, and may never have it. But when it was painfully obvious that Tebow was little more than the Lions’ pinata, why didn’t Fox get him out of there?
Maybe because Fox is among those not sold on TebowMania?
Still, even if Fox isn’t convinced that Tebow is his guy, the coach should be ashamed for not lifting the young man as early as midway through the third quarter. A day that began with hope ended with a bloodletting.
As for the Lions, they are 6-2 but as lovely of a win as Sunday’s was, it’s tempered by the fact that it came against the Broncos, one of the NFL’s dregs and losing relevance by the week.
Denver’s days of a playoff contender are so far in the rear view mirror, they are borderline in the category of “remember when?”
The 2011 Lions are not the 2007 Lions, by any stretch. A quick comparison of the rosters of the two squads should make that obvious.
I’ve written it before; any team can get lucky and fool folks for eight weeks. That happens almost every year. The contenders separate themselves from the pretenders in the next eight games—the ones they play in November and December.
The Lions are 6-2 and should contend in the season’s second half, which begins after next week’s bye.
The Broncos are 2-5 and you just have to wonder how bad the other teams were in Denver’s two wins.
That’s OK. Let the other team have to answer those kinds of questions. For a change.
Nick Lidstrom doesn’t block shots. He doesn’t body check anyone. He’s never thrown an elbow. His next fight will be his first.
The greatest hockey defenseman of his time—or maybe of any time—isn’t supposed to be so mild-mannered. He isn’t supposed to be less physical than a second baseman.
Lidstrom, the Red Wings‘ all-universe defenseman, is 41 years old. In human years.
In hockey-playing years, he’s closer to 30, because he hasn’t used his body as a battering ram or for someone else’s target practice.
Lidstrom plays hockey like Bobby Fischer played chess and Minnesota Fats played billiards—literally. No one has seen that 200’x80’ sheet of ice better than Lidstrom, who is always a move or two ahead of his opponent. He’s the geometric hockey player—using the puck’s caroms and angles like Fats used those green felt rails.
There hasn’t been a defenseman like him, before or since he entered the NHL in 1991. I’ll put up a batch of my wife’s Pasta Fagioli that there won’t be one like him after, either. Ever.
He’s 41 and despite his lack of wear and tear, Lidstrom is on the back end of his career. Only a delusional fool would believe otherwise.
The topic came up Monday night on “The Knee Jerks,” the podcast I co-host each week with Big Al Beaton of The Wayne Fontes Experience.
What will life be like, we wondered, when Lidstrom neatly folds his sweater and hangs up his skates?The word “terrifying” came up, more than once.
It’s an annual question—one that we ask without really wanting to know the answer. You ask the question and then bury your face in something, shivering.
Last spring, Nick made us sweat a little bit more than normal. It took several weeks after the Red Wings were once again eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks for Lidstrom to consent to play his 20th season.
They could hear the sighs of relief from Detroit all the way to, well, San Jose.
It’s not just that Lidstrom has played 20 seasons, or that he’s played them flawlessly, or that he’s the perfect teammate or that he seamlessly took over as captain from Steve Yzerman, no less—which is like a singer stepping onto the stage right after a set by Sinatra and no one noticing.
No, it’s that Lidstrom has done all that while hardly missing a game.
His games-played column reads like an early-summer thermometer: 76, 78, 80, 77, 79, 80, 81.
The spooky notion of no more Nick Lidstrom is just as much the fear of the unknown as anything else.
We don’t want to think of the Red Wings without Lidstrom because we haven’t really seen the Red Wings without Lidstrom since before he was a Red Wing.
It’s History 101.The last time a Red Wings roster didn’t list Lidstrom’s name, George Bush The First was President. The Pistons were the defending NBA champs—but they were the Pistons of Isiah and Dumars, not Chauncey and Hamilton.
There was no Internet.
The kids graduating high school this year were still two years from being born.
Need I go on?
Lidstrom’s longevity is one thing; his durability is quite another.
As much as Yzerman is revered in Detroit—and he should be—Steve wasn’t exactly an Iron Man, unless you count his days spent in those hyperbaric chambers. Stevie Y was more Iron Lung than Iron Man.
Yzerman missed games in chunks, due to various injuries. He was the anti-Lidstrom, in a sense.
There was a serious knee injury in 1988. But that wasn’t the worst of it. As Yzerman got older, his body broke down more frequently. He played the 2002 playoffs on a knee so mangled that he managed to report to work for just 13 games the following season, recovering from the knee’s reconstruction.
There was more time lost in the 2005-06 season, Yzerman’s last as a player.
So we had heaping spoonfuls of Red Wings life without Steve Yzerman, making his retirement no less sad—just less of a shock to the system.Not so with Lidstrom, who has played with mind-numbing consistency and Lou Gehrig-like durability.
We have not been prepped for Lidstrom’s retirement.
If the Red Wings fan base thinks that another Lidstrom is being groomed, or that he can in any way be replaced, forget it. Not going to happen.
This is no affront to Niklas Kronwall or Brad Stuart or Jonathan Ericsson or to any of the prospects in the Red Wings’ system.
Players like Nick Lidstrom come by once in a franchise’s lifetime—if that.
How will the Red Wings ever replace him?
Did the Boston Bruins replace Raymond Bourque?
Yzerman, for all of his Hall of Fame worthiness, was in the process of being phased out by the time he retired in 2006. The cache of forwards the Red Wings employed made Stevie’s departure easier to digest.
All the Red Wings can do when Lidstrom finally bids farewell—and it’ll be sooner rather than later—is take a deep breath, exhale and hope that they have a defensive corps that can band together and do one of those “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” kind of things.
Because if you think he’s going to be replaced, you’re mad.The Red Wings have had four—four—players who’ve played 20-plus seasons for them: Lidstrom, Yzerman, Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio.
This is significant.
The Montreal Canadiens, for all their history and Stanley Cups, have had just one player—Jean Beliveau—play as many as 19 seasons for them.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had only George Armstrong play 20 seasons wearing the Leaf.
The New York Rangers have no 20-plus-year men.
The Boston Bruins have only Bourque, who played a tad over 20 in Beantown.
The Chicago Blackhawks had Stan Mikita for 21 years. That’s it.
The Red Wings have had four such men. It’s significant.
The most recent of the Red Wings’ 20-plus-year men might leave a void that none of his predecessors left—not even Howe, for Gordie “retired” with the team well on its way to being miserable for an entire decade.
How do the Red Wings replace Nick Lidstrom?
I guess he’ll just have to keep playing until we figure something out.
I would love fall—or autumn, if you prefer—much more if I was more tolerant of what comes behind it: Old Man Winter.
I adore a crisp fall morning, afternoon and evening. I get to enjoy them all because our Jack Russell Terrier demands exercise in the form of several walks per day, so I don’t have much of a choice. But it’s all good.
So I like the smell of someone burning something or another in the distance. I like the colors, of course. On Saturday afternoons, I like knowing that, all over the country, college football games are being played, whether that college has 1,000 students or 50,000.
But as I get older I find myself more and more resentful of the Old Man every year from December thru March.
I just don’t have the patience anymore for the snow and the ice and the hazards they both bring—and I’m including dog walking in there, in addition to driving.
Don’t tell me that you’re safer walking on the sidewalks in winter time than you are sliding around on the roads.
You ever hear of black ice?
Old Man Winter hasn’t been my favorite guy lately
The sidewalks are full of it, lying sneakily beneath the thin layer of powdery snow. And it’s as dangerous as anything you’ll encounter on the roads—especially when your ability to keep your balance is compromised by having one hand occupied with a leash.
I have almost fallen innumerable times—which scares me to death every time it happens—and have actually fallen way more than once.
Neither is pleasant, though the actual falling is worse. That’s because your first thought isn’t if you’re OK—but rather if anyone saw you.
We are all like that, I’d lay odds. Seems it’s human nature to be far more concerned if someone saw us tumble than if we are physically OK. The ego is bruised easier than our bodies.
And let me tell you—I’ve taken some nasty falls in the past several winters, walking Scamp, who gets the bejeebers scared out of him every time I fall and nearly fall. The involuntary tug and yank on his leash as I try to keep upright is what startles the poor little guy.
Then there’s the shoveling. My snow blower went kaput several years ago and I’ve neglected to get it fixed—shame on me. The result is clearing snow the old fashioned—and more physically-demanding—way.
I would appreciate the romance of winter more if I didn’t have to interact with it beyond looking at it.
Hey, keep me inside, away from winter’s elements, and I’m good to go. I’ll romance the heck out of it in the coziness of indoors.
If fall could extend all the way to spring, with no stop for winter in between, then I’d be ecstatic.
And less bruised.
It’s hockey season in Detroit again. Time to put up with another 82-game grind. In our self-ascribed “Hockeytown,” it’s considered par, not impolite, to look past the months of October through March so that we can worry about playoff match-ups.
The 82-game regular season is something we tolerate. It’s a longer opening act than a bad comedian.
We actually had to pay attention, a little, to the regular season two years ago, when the calendar turned to 2010 and the Red Wings were still monkeying around, trying to secure a playoff spot. But that drama was short-lived and by the end of February, order was restored as the Red Wings distanced themselves from the bottom feeders.
It’s never a matter of if the Red Wings will make the playoffs. It’s, “How far will they go?”
The 2011-12 season is just underway, but I submit that this campaign might, just might, provide a legitimate sidebar.
Mike Babcock, the steel-jawed, facially scarred coach, is into his seventh season helming the Red Wings. Yes, seventh.
That’s longer than any Red Wings coach since Jack Adams, with two exceptions: Sid Abel (11 years) and Scotty Bowman (nine years).
The fear is this, simply: will the Red Wings get a seven-year itch with Babcock?
Is seven years, in this day of modern pro sports, too long for one coach with the same team?
I suppose we’re about to find out.
Coaching and longevity are fickle partners. You can be a coaching “lifer,” but that’s typically done with a whistle in one hand and a road map in the other.
The coach who stays put in one city for any longer than three years is, frankly, usually a “dean” in his division.
Terry Francona just had a rather messy break-up with the Boston Red Sox. All Francona did in his eight years as Red Sox manager was make the playoffs just about every year and win two World Series—ending the franchise’s 86-year drought with the first one.
Yet a bad September this year proved to be Terry’s death knell.
The seven-year itch inDetroitwhen it comes to Babcock and his players might just be the warped bleatings of a worry wart sports blogger.
Yet I suggest that the Red Wings are entering into a potential danger zone with Mike Babcock. And it has nothing to do with whether he’s the best coach in the entire NHL—which he is.
It won’t matter how good of a coach Babcock is if he can’t get his players to keep him tuned in.
The coach’s voice starts to grate after a few years, depending on the character of the team involved.
Which makes it a decent bet that my Chicken Little hand-wringing over the Red Wings and their seventh-year coach is much ado about nothing.
The Red Wings are veteran-laden. Their captain is 41 years old and his face doesn’t look a day over 30. They have worked in some younger players over the past several years but their core is still Nick Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom—not a spring chicken among the group.
Hey, is Chris Chelios still on the team?
He may as well be.
The greatness of the Red Wings organization is that, for them, familiarity hasn’t bred any contempt.
They’ve had the same owner since 1982.
They’ve had the same GM since 1997.
They’ve had the same assistant GM since about that time, too.
They’ve had the same VP since 1990—and he started in 1982, too.
They’ve had the same trainers, equipment guys, masseuses and probably even the same mechanic for the Zamboni machine for years.
And, of course, they’ve had the same players, for the most part.
When you play for the Red Wings, you skate for them until they pull the sweater over your head and tell you that enough is enough.
Oh, they do it in a nice way, but Chelios, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Chris Osgood have all departed in recent years, and in every instance, they were pretty much stared down by management.
In a nice way.
But the flip side to that is that when you’re done as a player wearing the Winged Wheel, you stay with the organization in some capacity. The Red Wings reward their fully-vested employees almost as much as Bob Ficano does inWayneCounty.
The ex-Red Wings, in addition to the aforementioned—who all have jobs with the club—dot the org chart.
There’s Mark Howe, who heads the advanced scouting department.
There’s Aaron Downey, who works in strength and conditioning.
There’s Jiri Fischer, whose domain is player development.
To name a few.
Yet the coach, Babcock, is the one we should keep an eye on. It’s always the coach, isn’t it? That is, if it isn’t the goalie.
Babcock brought in two new assistant coaches this season, perhaps as a nod to the concern of the players hearing the same voice, being preached the same thing in the same fashion.
The seven-year itch.
It didn’t get Bowman, who lasted nine. But they weren’t exactly nine blissful years. Just ask Steve Yzerman, or Brendan Shanahan. Two Hall of Famers, each who would have liked to jam a puck down Scotty’s throat from time to time.
Babcock, in six seasons as Red Wings coach, has delivered a Stanley Cup, two Finals appearances and three conference final appearances.
But the two most recent seasons have seen the Red Wings bumped out of the playoffs in the second round—to the same team.
This is Hockeytown, which is theBronxof the NHL. A season that doesn’t end with the Red Wings raising the Stanley Cup over their heads is a season wasted, followed by a summer of consternation.
It’s been that way since Bowman re-instilled a level of excellence that had been missing for decades.
Now Babcock is the keeper of that flame. He’s going on seven years of being on the job. That’s a mighty long time, anymore.
Just something to chew on, as you bide your time waiting for the playoffs.
I’m old enough to remember a simpler time—when being a “stage mom” was pretty much as bad as it got when it came to the mothers of child actors.
I remember Teri Shields, the mother of actress Brooke Shields, who was vilified for being too aggressive and bossy as her daughter rose through the ranks as an adolescent.
Teri Shields was taken to task because at that time and prior (the late-1970s to early-1980s), the parents were very much in the background. You ever hear salacious stories of the moms of Larry Matthews or Jerry Mathers or any of the kids on “The Brady Bunch”?
No, you didn’t.
But then came Teri Shields, who was bombastic and sometimes, it seemed, in competition with her daughter for attention.
Well, turns out that the “stage mom” maybe isn’t such a bad thing. At least the stage mom keeps tabs on her child(ren), albeit perhaps in a way that prompts eye-rolling.
Brooke Shields turned out just fine, thank you. Granted, I’m biased. I’m a big Brooke Shields fan. But she certainly hasn’t gone sideways, despite being in the public consciousness from before she was a teenager.
Then there’s Lindsay Lohan.
Lindsay just had her probation revoked because she failed to show up for her community service. Before you knew it, she was being slapped into handcuffs and led out of the courtroom.
It’s just another sad chapter in the story of Lohan, who was once, believe it or not, a fresh and freckle-faced youngster with a promising movie career that was budding.
Now the only time her face appears before a camera, it’s for a mugshot.
Lindsay’s had six of those snapped since 2007. You can see the gallery here.
The difference between Lohan’s free fall and the stability enjoyed by Brooke Shields?
Parenting. Pure and simple.
Like I said, turns out that being an overbearing stage mom isn’t so bad, when compared to the Jerry Springer-esque escapades of Lohan’s parents.
Parenting is the thing that I was fearful would take Miley Cyrus down. I’m still not convinced that it won’t. I hope I’m wrong. But Miley’s choices have left a lot to be desired. It’s not a leap to conclude that Miley’s broken family upbringing isn’t helping matters.
Lindsay Lohan’s folks’ public meltdowns are well-known. Mom Dina has acted more like a party buddy than a mother. And now we’re in that sad stage of affairs when dad is taking shots at daughter.
Four of the five faces of Lindsay, since 2007 (far left)
Michael Lohan says that he thinks Lindsay is smoking something—literally.
Michael Lohan has had his shares of brushes with the law—and drugs, too. So maybe this is simply a case of “takes one to know one.”
Regardless, life in Hollywood when you’re on screen before you’ve lost all your baby teeth is tough enough with good parents and a stable home life, let alone when you’ve got Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as your mom and dad.
I’ll take the embarrassing stage mom over that, any day.
The Little Italian General, Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, has offered up some lambs for sacrifice in the Turkia Mullin severance scandal, but this time he’s finding that the county natives’ appetite is a tad more voracious than what he’s able to offer them.
Ficano suspended for 30 days, without pay, his top deputy, Azzam Elder, and lead attorney Marianne Talon. Ficano also fired former Human Resources Director Tim Taylor, who retired in April but who had been doing consulting work since.
In the past, that might have been enough to quell the rancor and get everybody back to their busy days. It might have been the equivalent of the cops yelling, “Nothing to see here!”
Not this time.
Severance-Gate is taking on a life of its own. The newspapers, usually very kind to the County Executive, are suddenly chewing on Ficano like a dog on a rawhide. Now even the residents are getting into the act.
On Monday, several dozen of them protested outside the Guardian Building downtown, which houses County headquarters. They held signs and demanded Ficano’s resignation.
It’s not enough, this time, for Ficano to blame others for his misdeeds. The rug he is trying to sweep this under is tacked down.
Why, even the “K” word has been bandied about.
“We went through the whole sage of corruption with Kwame Kilpatrick and now we’re thrust into a whole new saga of corruption with Ficano,” Sandra Hines, 57, of Detroit, who led the protest, told the Detroit Free Press. “He needs to step down.”
Yes, that “K” word—or words, rather.
It’s going to get worse for the Little Italian General before it gets better.
This is because the FBI is set to get their inquisitive mitts on Severance-Gate.
The Attorney General’s office announced on Tuesday afternoon that the FBI (no less) will take over the investigation of the curiously generous ways Ficano’s appointees are compensated in Wayne County.
Severance-Gate’s tentacles have even reached Lansing.
The decision to have the FBI investigate came after a hearing before the House Oversight, Reform and Ethics committee, which delayed a vote on a request from state Rep. John Olumba, D-Detroit, to have the AG’s office directly investigate Wayne County.
Olumba told reporters that his zeal was challenged by Ficano crony Michael Grundy, who functions as a sort of county whip.
Grundy, according to Olumba, told the legislator that he was “in over his head,” and that Olumba ought to consider dropping the entire matter. Grundy denies all that.
Again, in the past, that might have worked.
Ficano trying to explain himself at a recent press conference
But why this, and why now? Why has this particular incident drawn so much ire—from the press to the general public, to certain state lawmakers?
Back to the “K” word, for one explanation.
This town was Kwame weary for quite some time. And because of that, it was also not in the mood to hear of malfeasance from any elected official. There was an unspoken moratorium, it seemed, on going after the political crooks.
That moratorium has been lifted, and in grandiose fashion.
Folks want Ficano’s blood—mainly because they feel strongly that Elder, Talon and Taylor are small fish. Or, worse for the Little Italian General, they feel that Ficano is solely responsible for Mullin’s ostentatious payout to begin with.
And they would be right.
Does anyone really think that Ficano was betrayed by Elder, Talon and Taylor, as County Commissioner Ilona Varga intimated recently?
It’s funny how our leaders always seem to get detached from their duties when it’s most convenient.
Ficano is pretending that he was just a clueless boss whose underlings pulled off twisted feats of derring do behind his back.
Then he stuck their heads on sticks and tried to declare Severance-Gate dead.
Not this time.
Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers’ 15-5 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 6 of the ALCS:
OK, you’ve had a couple days to chew on this. Thoughts?
I’d actually rather talk about the burning questions this spawns for the off-season in general, rather than re-hash Game 6. How much can you say about a 15-5 shellacking?
Fair enough. First, how about an overview of the ALCS overall?
The Tigers, in the end, were simply outgunned and too hurt to compete with a team as deep and robust as the Rangers. The Tigers would have needed almost perfect pitching performances from Max Scherzer and Doug Fister to have a shot. But Scherzer was just blown out.
The other thing that strikes me is how old and mediocre the Tigers looked against Texas. In fact, I can’t believe our boys got by the Yankees in the ALDS.
Too many guys from Detroit failed to show up: Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Victor Martinez to a degree, and the starters beyond Verlander and Fister were so-so.
Also, the Rangers drove runners in, while the Tigers didn’t, so much. Too many wasted opportunities. Game 2, early, in Texas against Derek Holland stands out.
Let’s face it: the Rangers were the better team, by far.
Was series MVP Nelson Cruz the only reason the Rangers won?
Of course not. Cruz was amazing, but the Rangers’ attack was more diverse and more guys got into the act than did on Detroit’s side.
Looking ahead to the off-season: what do the Tigers need to take the next step toward a World Series title?
I’m not going to tell you anything you don’t already know, most likely. But I’ll say it an yway!
The Tigers need a second baseman and probably even a third baseman. Too much revolving door stuff going on at those positions. It’s amazing that a team in the ALCS didn’t have a regular starter at the so-called “keystone position.”
The third base situation isn’t much better. You can win the whole thing with a revolving door at one infield position (read: the 1984 Tigers at 3B), but not two.
It’s also time someone took Austin Jackson aside and made him a reclamation project. AJ regressed from his rookie year, and not insignificantly, either. His average dropped over 40 points, and his strikeouts didn’t go down at all.
Defensively he was brilliant in the regular season but pedestrian in the playoffs.
The Tigers can’t put Jackson at lead-off; he should be batting ninth—at least for now.
Ideally, the Tigers will acquire a second baseman who can also bat lead-off.
This may sound crazy, but the Tigers might want to consider Brennan Boesch to bat lead-off. The California Angels, in the mid-to-late 1980s and into the 1990s, used DH Brian Downing at the lead-off spot quite a bit. Downing was certainly not a “traditional” lead-off hitter, but it worked for the Angels.
The Tigers just need someone to get on base, and if it’s someone with some power, all the better. Boesch isn’t a great OBA guy, but I have greater confidence in him starting a game off on the right foot than I do with Jackson.
How deflating is it to constantly see Jackson start games by trudging to the dugout, a strikeout victim?
How about the pitching?
I’d like to see a lefty starter, as I’m sure everyone would, including manager Jim Leyland. Not sure if Andy Oliver, the youngster, is ready for that role, however.
The bullpen is a question mark, before Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. Al Alburquerque’s post-season meltdown, which actually began after he returned from his concussion, suddenly makes him an unknown entity again. Which Al-Al is he, anyway?
The rotation seems otherwise set, except for maybe Brad Penny’s slot. I wonder if he’ll be back in 2012.
Yeah. I don’t think we’ll see Magglio Ordonez or Carlos Guillen back, either. They make too much money and their bodies are too unreliable.
Brandon Inge comes back, but not sure about Wilson Betemit—which is ironic, since the Tigers acquired Betemit to essentially replace Inge!
It was a great year. By the end, the Tigers were put together with glue and bailing wire. I believe Justin Verlander tired out. Avila was broken. The Tigers didn’t have Boesch, Guillen and Ordonez by the end.
It’s a shame. Too bad the Tigers couldn’t field their best, playing at their best, against the deep Rangers lineup.
But the Tigers WILL be heard from again in 2012. This team is young enough that it’s not going away anytime soon. This wasn’t a one-year wonder thing.
(thanks to everyone who faithfully read “Burning Questions” during the post-season and “Monday Morning Manager” during the regular season! You guys [and gals] rock!)
I’d like to be writing this after Game 7 of the ALCS, after the Tigers completed their comeback from a 1-3 deficit to oust the defending American League Champion Texas Rangers. But I do not have a crystal ball, so I write it now.
This is going to be either something you chuckle at and shake your head, filing it under another one of Eno’s silly rants, or it’s going to be wonderfully prophetic.
First, some background.
The 1968 World Series was becoming a St. Louis Cardinals field day. After four games, the Cards led the series 3-1 and twice they had vanquished the Tigers’ 30-game winner, Dennis McLain.
Then the Cardinals jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the very first inning of Game 5 at Tiger Stadium. The World Series was turning into a laugher.
But the Tigers had clawed to within 3-2 whenSt. Louis’s Lou Brock stood at second base in the fifth inning. What happened next is something any Tigers fan worth his salt knows of—and I don’t care how young you are.
Julian Javier singled to left field and Detroit’s own Willie Horton, who grew up playing baseball on the sandlots on the city’s west side, fielded the ball at his waist on one hop. Willie fired the baseball toward the plate, the speedy Brock tearing for home.
The ball and Brock arrived at almost the same time. Catcher Bill Freehan, who was one of the best at blocking the plate, stood his ground. Brock, perhaps with too much hubris, eschewed a slide. Freehan tagged Brock as Lou zipped by.
Brock’s problem? He missed the plate, by a sliver of dirt.
Home plate umpire Doug Harvey got it right, as so many of them do, without the benefit of TV replay, like their football counterparts so often need.
The series, they say, turned on the Horton-to-Freehan erasure of Brock.
The Tigers went on to win Game 5, 5-3, and then returned toSt. Louisto complete the stunning comeback.
If the Tigers pull off the barely thinkable—swiping three straight games from the Rangers to advance to the World Series, I submit that a square, white hard pillow that sits in manager Jim Leyland’s office will be looked at as the turning point of the ALCS.
It was another Game 5, another series where the Tigers trailed, 3 games to 1.
Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers’ best hitter and maybe the best hitter in all of baseball, was at the plate in the sixth inning. There was a runner, the much maligned but vindicated Ryan Raburn, standing on first base.
Only due to a Houdini act by Tigers starter Justin Verlander in the top half of the inning, in which Verlander escaped a bases loaded, one-out jam with a double play, was the game still tied, 2-2.
So it was, that when Cabrera stood in the batter’s box, where just minutes earlierComericaParkhad turned library-esque as the Rangers threatened, the ballpark was rocking.
Cabrera swung and sent a hard grounder toward third base. Literally, as it turned out.
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, one of the slickest glove men in the game, awaited Cabrera’s worm killer. If you’d have been able to freeze the baseball and read it, next to Bud Selig’s signature you would see, “DOUBLE PLAY.”
But then the baseball hit third base. Not dead on, but enough to cause the ball to skip unnaturally over Beltre’s head. Beltre stood stunned, looking like someone out of the audience of a magic show whose shirt had just been removed.
The baseball bounded into the left field corner and caromed around long enough for Raburn to score easily, breaking the tie.
Cabrera’s shot off the third base bag was the domino that caused the Rangers to fall. After Cabrera’s double that was disguised as a double play ball, Victor Martinez tripled to right, his opposite field drive eluding Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz.
Martinezruns like a car on blocks, so to misplay a ball that enables Victor to steam into third base standing up isn’t an easy feat. But Cruz pulled it off. Cabrera scored, and it was 4-2,Detroit.
Delmon Young was next, and he tomahawked C.J. Wilson’s pitch over the left-center field wall for a 6-2 lead. The Tigers went single, double, triple, home run—in that order—and turned a tenseComericaParkinto a carnival.
Of course, the Rangers and their ferocious offense made a game of it, falling by the uncomfortably close score of 7-5, leaving two men on base in the ninth inning.
Leyland, after the game, made no bones about the part third base played in the Tigers’ go-ahead rally.
“I have that bag in my office right now,”Leyland told reporters after the game about the base itself. “And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point.”
Could Cabrera’s ricochet off third base be the turning point of this year’s ALCS?
Could it join the Horton-to-Freehan play? Could it be in the same category as Nick Lidstrom’s goal from center ice againstVancouverthat jump-started the Red Wings in the first round of 2002?
Both the ’68 Tigers and the ’02 Red Wings won championships in their respective sports.
It’s too early to tell, of course, whether Cabrera’s baggie will mean a hill of beans in this series. It could just be an isolated incident in a series whose breaks have gone mostlyTexas’ way.
But if the Tigers come back and steal this series, it would be derelict to look at the sixth inning of Game 5 as a whole—and Cabrera’s groundball specifically—and say that it had nothing to do with sparking the comeback.
It’s part of the magic and mystique of playoff baseball—when in a flash moments can occur that have an impact on a series in ridiculously inverse proportions.
It may sound nuts to say that a ground ball off the third base bag in Game 5 will determine who wins the 2011 ALCS.
But this is baseball, and that kind of play is just crazy enough to turn a series upside down.
We’ll see, won’t we?
Well, we really haven’t seen that Verlander in several starts now. The lights out, will-he-throw-a-no-hitter Verlander hasn’t been present in quite some time. That Verlander has been replaced by a gutsy, grind-it-out version.
Which is fine; it’s all about giving your team a chance to win. And that’s what JV did in Game 5, despite some anxious moments. The final pitching line wasn’t magnificent, but it was good enough.
He threw too many pitches on a night when Jim Leyland’s bullpen was taxed, but if anyone can exceed his normal pitch count and thrive, it’s Verlander.
Still, 134 pitches was above and beyond, which true aces sometimes need to do, especially in the playoffs.
How about that sixth inning?
Finally the Tigers caught a couple breaks.
It started in the Rangers’ half, when they loaded the bases with one out in a tie game, 2-2. You could hear a pin drop in Comerica Park. It was as if the fans were seeing the Tigers’ season flash before their eyes.
Then, after walking no. 9 hitter Mitch Moreland on four pitches, Verlander, with one more pitch, got out of everything. Ian Kinsler slapped a ground ball to Brandon Inge, who stepped on third base—a bag that would play a big role minutes later—and threw to first to complete the inning-ending twin killing.
In the bottom half, Miguel Cabrera must have won a big stuffed teddy bear, for he skipped one off the third base bag, like it was a carnival midway game. It went for a run-scoring double. Victor Martinez tripled, when his drive to right eluded Nelson Cruz.
Then Delmon Young homered. In a flash, the game switched from looking like the Rangers might break it open, to the Tigers breaking it open with a natural cycle: single, double, triple, homer. Just like that, they led 6-2.
The game seemed over. Did you think so?
Not on your life. Even with Verlander on the mound. The Rangers’ lineup is relentless; frankly, it scares me more than that of the New York Yankees.
I was fully prepared for the game to come down to a hairy finish, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Leyland’s bullpen was spent. He said before the game that he hoped to go with Verlander and Phil Coke and that was it. But Brad Penny was warming up. Did you think Penny might get tabbed for an inning?
Actually, yes. Penny was warming in the Tigers half of the sixth. After they extended the lead to 6-2, I thought Leyland might sit Verlander down. You know, to perhaps make JV available for relief in a potential Game 7. Penny for the seventh, then Coke for the eighth and ninth.
But Leyland stuck with Verlander for 134 pitches and into the eighth inning. I guess he meant what he said before the game.
Delmon Young hit two homers. Not bad for a guy who Detroit News columnist Terry Foster said shouldn’t be playing at all due to his injured oblique, huh?
That’s what makes sports such great theater. Frankly, I really can’t blame Foster for writing that. Young did look like he was laboring in Game 4—both at the plate and in the field.
But Game 5 was another day. In Foster’s piece, he quoted Leyland as saying he was not about to remove Young from Game 4 because, “He’s my no. 3 hitter.”
Actually, Young has been Leyland’s no. 5 hitter lately, but we got the drift.
Young was back in the lineup for Game 5 and he delivered.
And how about Alex Avila, who had a home run?
I was actually tracking the game at that point on the Internet. When I saw the score change to 1-1, I immediately clicked on the play-by-play to see how the Tigers tied it. When I saw that Avila had slammed a homer, I was flabbergasted.
But I was also ecstatic. If anyone needed a pick-me-up, it was Avila. This may not be what catapults him out of his funk, but at least he got to feel good about himself after one at-bat.
Just another reason why this series has been unpredictable and kind of wacky.
Why is Nelson Cruz suddenly Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson rolled into one?
Sometimes this happens in the post-season—guys get inexplicably hot. Or, in Cruz’s case, nuclear meltdown kind of hot.
He has five homers in five games in this series. Clearly, he’s the ALCS MVP—maybe even if the Rangers lose it.
Again, as I pointed out before, Cruz had one hit in the four-game ALDS against Tampa Bay. Before the ALCS began, baseball people—and the Rangers—were openly concerned whether Cruz was going to find his stroke.
OK, let’s bottom line this. Can the Tigers pull this off?
You asked me that—sort of—after Game 4. I said a three-game winning streak was hard to fathom. Now, just because the Tigers won Game 5, doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind.
It will take two outstanding pitching performances from Max Scherzer and Doug Fister in order for the Tigers to complete the comeback. The Rangers lineup is deep, multi-faceted and filled with power. They won 96 games for a reason.
I’m inclined to say the Rangers will prevail. The Tigers are just too beat up, and the Rangers bullpen is the better of the two, by a smidge.
But just remember that I did say there would be a Game 6.
(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game to read me answer the “Burning Questions”)
Burning Questions in the wake of the Tigers’ 7-3 loss to the Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the ALCS:
This game was a second guesser’s dream. Let’s look at some decisions. First, how about Jim Leyland bringing in Al Alburquerque in the seventh inning?
He didn’t have much of a choice, unless Leyland wanted to run Brad Penny out there. It’s a tough call but I think Leyland was trying to find out if Al-Al could be counted on, once and for all. Because as you know, Al’s performances against the Yankees left a lot to be desired.
The four-ball walk to Ian Kinsler wasn’t good, and when Al fell behind 2-0 to Elvis Andrus you could hear the 37,000+ guts churning inside Comerica Park. A bases loaded walk looked imminent.
But Alburquerque recovered to get Andrus on a weak grounder.
OK, how about Rangers manager Ron Washington and his decision to walk Miguel Cabrera in the eighth with one out and nobody on base, in a tie game?
Yes, Cabrera is the Tigers’ best hitter, but why put the go-ahead runner on base if you don’t have to? If Cabrera gets a hit in that situation, more power to him. But you should always make the go-ahead (in this case, potential winning run) run earn his way on base.
The move almost backfired, as Victor Martinez followed with a base hit, putting runners on 1st and 3rd with one out.
Then Delmon Young hit a would-be sacrifice fly to Nelson Cruz in right field. Cabrera was out by six feet at home plate. Another second guessing opportunity here; actually, two of them: a) pinch-run for Cabrera; and b) hold him at third base?
OK, let’s take “a” first.
If Cabrera was on second base, I’d have considered the pinch runner. Why? Because a base hit likely scores a pinch-runner but not as likely Cabrera.
But with Cabrera on third, if you remove him for a runner, you’re essentially removing your best hitter for one shot: Young hitting a deep enough fly ball. Anything else, you don’t need a pinch-runner. A base hit scores him, an error scores him. So you’re basically taking Cabrera out just so Young can hit a fly ball. I don’t like that.
Now, as for sending Miggy, I don’t have a big problem with it, and I know I’m in the minority.
It has to do with who was up next: Alex Avila.
Avila is basically a pitcher at the plate right now—an automatic out. Holding Cabrera would have then necessitated Avila getting a clutch, two-out hit. That was as likely as Cabrera beating the throw.
By sending Cabrera, at least you force Cruz into making a good throw. Who knows? Maybe he throws it up the line or gets too anxious, seeing the slow-footed Cabrera on the run, and grips the ball too tight and he skips it home. Maybe catcher Mike Napoli fumbles the throw. Any number of things can happen. The ball was hit, in my mind, deep enough to take the chance.
The end result looked bad, but I have no problem sending him—mainly because Avila was up next.
OK, how about sending Austin Jackson to steal on the first pitch in the 10th inning?
I probably wouldn’t have done it, but that’s not a no-brainer. Plenty of base stealers run on the first pitch. As it was, Napoli had to make a perfect throw because of the location of the pitch. He did, and Jackson was out. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat, you know?
Finally, Leyland ordered Adrian Beltre walked in the 11th, with the score tied and first base open with one out, to face Napoli. Thoughts?
Well, clearly Jim was thinking double play. But anything shy of that and the red-hot Nelson Cruz would come to the plate. Beltre is banged up. Maybe going after Beltre and Napoli, straight up, would have been the better decision. That would have left Cruz in the on-deck circle.
That move couldn’t have backfired any worse, sadly; Napoli singled home Josh Hamilton, and Cruz crushed his fourth homer of the series to salt the game away.
So this series is over, right? How come?
Well, you know better than that; teams have overcome 1-3 deficits before. Witness our 1968 Tigers.
But frankly, the Tigers are simply outgunned right now. They are being decimated by injuries at the worst possible time. The team even admitted that Avila is battling a sore knee.
It’s too bad that the Tigers can’t be fielding a healthy lineup, because when they’re on all cylinders, they can compete with anyone.
But you look at who Leyland is running out there, and that half the guys are either slumping or hurt or out altogether, and he just doesn’t have the weapons.
Justin Verlander is good enough to pitch the team into a Game 6 in Texas, but it’s hard to fathom a three-game winning streak right now.
So I was right! It’s over!
I said “hard to fathom.” I didn’t say impossible.
In fact, see ya in Arlington on Saturday night.
(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game to read me answer the “Burning Questions”)