Whole team to blame for Tigers' atrocious start
BY DREW SHARP • FREE PRESS COLUMNIST • April 7, 2008
The shock isn't that baseball history has already mathematically eliminated the Tigers from world championship contention before the new season turned one week old. What's alarming is that their fall from preseason grace has yet to find rock bottom.
It can get worse than Sunday night.
This isn't a good team.
Good teams lose. They hit extended lulls when nothing's going right for them. But those teams find a path through the darkness, relying on the fundamentals to seek that desperately needed glimpse of light.
The Tigers are running blind right now. They can't hit. They can't pitch. They can't smartly run the bases. They can't catch the ball. They can't shake a lethargy that makes them look more like pampered fat cats than the hungry top cats most envisioned.
The operative word in the Tigers' clubhouse following their 13-2 loss on Sunday was "embarrassed."
It's not a sentiment shared among those who excitedly gave their hearts and hard-earned money to a cause unavoidably earmarked for excellence.
The word they might use today is "betrayed."
Fans who looked upon this season with such fevered anticipation only one week earlier opted for sarcasm when the Tigers finally notched Chicago's final out in the top of the ninth inning, derisively cheering and giving themselves high-fives.
It was a change from just a couple of innings earlier when boos reverberated throughout Comerica Park.
They're mad, but they're also emotionally deflated.
They're not alone.
Nobody expected this.
The Tigers are 0-for-home this season.
That's inexcusable for a team that happily welcomed the pressures that came with ownership investing just under $140 million in payroll this season. They won't panic just six games into the season and nobody's suggesting they should.
But they don't grasp the distinction between panic and urgency.
They're finding safe refuge in baseball's delusional world of tomorrow. The next day provides a new opportunity and, with it, a fresh chance at redemption.
There are 156 "tomorrows" left in this baseball season, but you can't keep relying on tomorrow because, quicker than you think, today comes and you're left with no alternative but responding to the moment.
That moment came Sunday night before a national television audience.
This was a must-win game and they delivered their worst collective outing of the six losses.
But there were no eruptions from Mt. St. Leyland afterward. This is when a manager earns his reputation. Players don't need direction when things are running smoothly, the fans are supportive and the media keep their criticisms holstered.
Jim Leyland maintained an even keel in the face of a season crashing in flames before it has even begun.
"I'm not mad at anybody out there," he said. "I didn't rip the team. I'm not going to rip the team. I could rant and rave and everybody could think that's some miracle touch and it'll change things. But I don't really buy that with this team."
According to baseball history, no team that lost its first four games ever won the World Series. Only two teams have ever made the playoffs after losing their first five games.
What does 0-6 get you?
It probably gets the Tigers a seat under the hot glare of national media scrutiny. This was a must-win because it would have cooled the talk of what's wrong, but such a laughable national ESPN performance will likely make the Tigers' woes a primary topic among the network's talking heads today.
"It's definitely embarrassing," said Justin Verlander, one of many disappointments Sunday. "I think that maybe we've been too casual, thinking that things will just come around because we know that we're a good team, even though we're playing poorly right now. I know that probably sounds like a contradiction."
No more contradictory than being the team with the second-highest payroll in the majors yet being the last team to record its first 2008 victory.