Sunday, November 23, 2014

Almost a Dynasty: 2000's Tigers

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a teem needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can of course be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the perameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a 5-10 year period.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.  It will be a series of near misses and what could have beens.

Don't miss the other almost dynasty articles: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's, The Chicago White Sox of the 1910'sthe Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1920's, the Boston Red Sox of the 1940s ,Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s the Milwaukee Braves of the 1950sthe Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1970's, the Oakland A's of the 1980'sthe Atlanta Braves of the 1990s Part 1. and The Atlanta Braves of the 1990's Part 2.   Now let's get started with the final team in the series, the Detroit Tigers of the 2000s

Rock Bottom:
The Tigers are a proud organization that have played a gigantic part in the history of the league.  Like the Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals and Giants (among others) this organization is one of the most respected and successful the game has seen hisorically.

That is what made the 1990's and early 2000's so painful.  In the mid 1980's The Tigers had a great foundation for a team that could compete for years to come.  As that group aged and deteriorated through free agency the team struggled to recover.  A team that won their division and were favored to reach the World Series in 1987 was in dead last by 1989.  As Lance Parrish, Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris moved on their replacements of Matt Nokes, Fred Lynn, Rob Deer and Mike Hennemen failed to get the job done.  In the early 1990's the Tigers farm system started to produce some strong players like Travis Fryman, Bobby Higginson and Jeff Weaver.  Still, the identity of the team was still there.  Trammell and Whitaker still held down the middle infield and Sparky Anderson still patroled the dug out.

As the league moved to the three division format the Tigers were stuck with strong teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles.  They seemingly caught a break when Tampa Bay joined the AL in 1998 and they were shifted to the AL Central.  Sure the Indians were a strong team but no one took the White Sox, Twins or Royals seriously.  Sparky Anderson retired.  He was replaced by Buddy Bell for a few bad years.  He was replaced by Larry Parrish for a few more bad years.  Phil Garner led to some excitement and anticipation but even "scrap iron" (or sometimes known as Yosemite Sam) could not turn the ship around.  He was fired after an 0-6 start in his third year and was replaced by Luis Pujols (his former Astros teammate) who went 55-100 for the year.

Often they say you can't start to climb until you have hit rock bottom.  Tigers fans never thought rock bottom would be this excruciating and humiliating.  The one symbol that was still pure from their 1984 World Series was Allen Trammell.  He had represented the Tigers organization his entire career.  He was Tony Gwynn to Padres fans.  Cal Ripken to Orioles fans.  Kirby Puckett to Twins fans.  For the last 20+ years Trammell was the Tigers.  So when Trammell was named manager there were mixed emotions.  On one hand it would be great to see Tram turn this thing around and be the legend in the dugout that he had been at short stop.  On the other hand they could see this team was not very good.

It was a very young and inexperienced team but no one was prepared for them to be as bad as they were. Mike Maroth was the opening day starter.  He lost the first game of the season to the Twins, 3-1. The team lost their next 9 before breaking into the win column.  They lost their next 8.  At the end of April they were 3-21.  They did not hit double digit wins until May 22.  It was not just bad it was an embarassment.  By the end of the year Tigers fans were not praying to avoid last place they were praying to avoid finishing with the worst record in history.  Only the 1962 Mets lost more games (120 to the Tigers 119).  Their best pitcher that year?  Mike Maroth.  He won 9 games.  No one won double digits.  The worst part of Maroth?  He lost 21.

The team improved (how could they not?) and Trammell kept his job for two more poor seasons.  When he was let go there were again mixed emotions.  He had done what he could and improved as much as he could.  This was just not a good team.  Trammell, after the 2005 season, was not asked back.

Pudge and Leyland:
You can see things one way when they are happening and view them dramatically differently a few months later.  The Tigers had a young Catcher named Brandon Inge behind the plate with a young pitching staff during the worst of the dark years.  In 2004 the Tigers signed the best Catcher in baseball, Ivan Rodriguez.  The jokes started immediately.  Poor Rodriguez.  He had no idea what he was getting into. In reality it was one of the best moves the Tigers would make.  After the 2005 season, when Trammell was cut loose the Tigers signed Jim Leyland to manage the team.

It didn't appear to be much but by this time the Tigers had most of the core group of what would be the almost dynasty in place:
Ivan Rodriguez:  One of the first major signings for the Tigers that paid dividends.  Rodriguez was coming off a year in Florida where he led the Marlins to a World Series win.  His veteran presence helped settle a young shaky pitching staff.

Placido Polanco: Acquired from the Phillies at the 2005 trade deadline for Ugeth Urbina, Polanco was not considered to be even a starter for the Phillies.  As the Tigers would continue to fight for a crown Polanco's defense would play a big part.  His bat would be key as well.

Curtis Granderson:  A young exciting Center Fielder, Granderson would rise to stardom along with the Tigers.  He would be the man at the top of the lineup that got the Tigers offense going.

Magglio Ordonez:  Once a key player for the White Sox he lost favor with manager Ozzie Guillen when his numbers dropped due to injuries.  The White Sox gave up on the star and would immediately regret it.

Justin Verlander:  In the first rise of the Tigers Verlander was seen as a nice young pitcher.  By the end of the decade Verlander would be the best pitcher in baseball.

Jeremy Bonderman:  Along with Verlander, Bonderman was considered a potential ace.  Arm injuries would change that.

Miguel Cabrera:  Cabrera came to the Tigers in a blockbuster winter trade and immediately made an impact.

Doug Fister: A mid season acquisition from the Mariners Fister would be the under rated #2 pitcher behind Verlander.

Prince Fielder:  When the Tigers lost a key bat in Victor Martinez to injury following the 2011 season they signed Prince Fielder at the last minute.  With Cabrera and Fielder in the lineup it looked like no one could beat the Tigers.

"We Stunk":
Given the track record of Tigers baseball over the past 10 plus years you could forgive the Tigers for being excited.  5-0 was a hell of a lot better than the 0-9 a few years ago.  Even more impressive they were all wins on the road.  The elation faded as they lost the next 4.  They were still doing alright at 7-5 and feeling good about their performance.  The 13th game of the season was definitely not lucky. The Indians had made a strong run in 2005's closing weeks and were expected to push for the playoffs in 2006.  They exploded in the 3rd inning for six runs on seven hits against the Tigers.  It was as should be expected. At least for most.  Not for Leyland.  He was furious after the game.  Asked by a reporter about the game Leyland said "We stunk.  Next question."  Someone asked if this was the worst loss of the season. "Yeah.  We stunk and that's not good enough.  This stuff has been going on here before and it's not going to happen here. ..They were ready to get on a plane and go to Oakland.  If they won it was okay and if they lost it was okay. That's not good enough."

Accountability.  It was a new concept for the team.  Being the league doormat just because the "experts" had told you that was where you were expected to finish was not going to fly here.  That was the start of the change.  The attitude changed.  The atmosphere changed.  The intensity changed. No one would claim it was easy but winning never is.  The winning is made even more difficult when the recent culture is one of losing.  By July 4th the Tigers were in first place, a game and a half ahead.  On August 7th they were 10 games ahead of the defending World Champion White Sox.  Then the expected happened.  The losses started mounting and the young team showed signs of panic.  As they lost their lead shrank.  When they looked behind them it wasn't the White Sox coming up fast.  It wasn't even the Indians. It was the Twins.  From the time the Tigers' lead reached 10 games on August 7th the team went 19-31.  The Twins went 31-20 and won the division.  The Tigers were able to hold on for a wild card berth.

Their first opponent this year was the Yankees.  They were not the same dynasty that had dominated the Major Leagues for the past 10 years but they were still the mighty Yankees of Jeter, Posada, Rivera and Mussina.  They no longer had O'Neill and Bernie.  They had Johnny Damon, Matsui and Robinson Cano.  They no longer had Pettite and Clemens.  They had Randy Johnson and Chien-Ming Wang.  The Tigers' poor performance since August had basically closed the door to any expectations of winning.  The Tigers started Nate Robertson in the opener against Wang.  He held his own until the bottom of the third.  They Yankees scored 5 runs and went on to take the opener, as expected, 8-3.

The Tigers got on the board first in Game 2 with a run in the second.  The Yankees struck in the 4th with a two out Three run Home Run by Johnny Damon.  Detroit surprised everyone by fighting back.  They scored a run in the 5th and a run in the 6th to tie it up.  The Tigers came up in the 7th with the score tied.  Marcus Thames, a young outfielder who had played a big part in the Tigers' success, led off with a single.  He took second on a passed ball.  When Brandon Inge sacrificed Thames moved up to 3rd.  With one out and the go ahead run on third Curtis Granderson only needed a fly ball.  He more than delivered with a triple.  It was only a one run lead but the Tigers made it stand up and the Series was tied. Suddenly it wasn't quite so easy for the Yankees.  Suddenly the Tigers weren't "happy just to play in October."

Game 3 was crucial if the Tigers wanted to make a statement.  The Tigers exploded for three runs in the second.  The place was rocking in Detroit.  They hadn't been this excited since 1987.  Granderson capped off the scoring with a Home Run giving the Tigers a 6-0 win.  The Yankees were in a panic now.  There was talk of a major overhaul in the big apple if this ended the next day.  The Tigers on the other hand were on cloud nine.  They demolished the Yankees 8-3 in Game 4 advancing to the ALCS.

Their opponent in the ALCS was the A's in the middle of the "money ball" success.  The Tigers were again expected to be the underdogs but as they had all year long they found ways to pull it out.  It was key hits by Polanco, Granderson and Maglio Ordonez that gave the Tigers the victory.  They swept the A's and did it in spectacular dramatic fashion.

It was freezing in Detroit in Game 4 and as the sun went down so did the temperature.  In a tie game in the bottom of the 9th the A's got two quick outs. Monroe got a single and Polanco followed with a single of his own.  Then in a moment that Tigers fans will never forget Ordonez hit a walk off Home Run.  Polanco, circling the bases with a ski mask to protect against the cold, looked more like he was floating than running.

The World Series was a rematch of 1934 and 1968.  The Tigers and Cardinals were even in the historical matchup to this point, both series having gone 7.  The result was disappointing.  The Tigers were without relief pitcher Joel Zumaya who was suffering from tendonitis brought on by playing Guitar Hero in the clubhouse.  The Tigers managed to win Game 2 when Kenny Rogers beat former Tigers' phenom Jeff Weaver.  The rest of the series was marked by poor play, missed opportunities and fielding errors.  The magical season came to a hard ending.  Still the hope was there for the future.

A Fluke or A New Start?:
The Tigers season had been amazing but clearly there was room for improvement. In November of 2006 the Tigers surprised everyone when they traded three minor league prospects to the Yankees for Gary Sheffield.  Sheffield had gained a reputation for being divisive in the locker room.  Whether or not that reputation was deserved I can't say because I was obviously not in those locker rooms but the reputation seemed to follow him in Detroit.  The season was a disaster.  Verlander emerged as the ace of the staff with 18 wins.  Kenny Rogers was injured for most of the season.  Bonderman fell off to 11-9.  The team as a whole fell off and finished second, 8 games out of first and 6 games out of the Wild Card.

The offseason led to great excitement.  There were concerns whether Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones would be resigned.  There was a huge deal made that immediately put the Tigers in the talk for the World Series and some even felt it made them a lock to win everything.  The Tigers sent five players including top prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin to the Florida Marlins.  In return they received ace pitcher Dontrelle Willis and First Baseman Miguel Cabrera.  What happened was well beyond anyone's worst nightmare.  Verlander fell to 11-17.  Bonderman pitched in only 12 games going 3-4.  Dontrelle Willis, expected to be the ace of the staff, pitched in only 8 games, suffered from anxiety attacks and arm troubles.  It got so bad that in July the team traded Ivan Rodriguez, the face of the team's resurgence, to the Yankees for Relief Pitcher Kyle Farnsworth.  They not only did not make the playoffs they finished last.

After the disappointments of the last few years no one quite knew what to expect for the 2009.  The excitement of that 2006 season was still there but the failure made it look less likely that it would be repeated.  Still, with the money poured into this team and the talent on the roster there was a lot expected from the owners.  The team was nearly as good as advertised.  They led the AL Central by 7 games on September 6.  By September 29th it was down to 2 games with a four game series against second place Minnesota.  Win the series and the division was theirs.  Lose the series and the Twins got the momentum.  They split.  The Tigers had three games left against the White Sox.  The Twins had the lowly Royals.  What was worse, and angered Tigers fans, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told the world that he was going to make Detroit earn it.  That part was fine,  They expected to earn it.  What was frustrating was that Guillen said he was going to alter his rotation so that his best starters were rested to face the Tigers.  The White Sox won the Friday series opener 8-0. The lead was down to 1.  The White Sox won the saturday game 5-1 and the top of the division was tied.  What happened next was crazy.  As the players arrived at the stadium for the season finale the rumors started to spread.  Cabrera had gone 0-4 on Saturday but it was Saturday morning that had been ugly.  According to the reports, after the Friday night loss Cabrera went out with players from the White Sox (makes you wonder if Guillen told his players to take the opposition out to help drown their sorrows), came home at 6:30 and was arrested for a domestic dispute.  A divided Tigers team won the last day of the season behind Verlander and forced a one game playoff with the Twins.

It was honestly one of the best games ever.  It had everything.  Lead changes.  Disputed calls.  Errors.  Clutch hitting.  And escalated tension. Everything was on the line.  Win and go back to the playoffs.  Lose and go home.  The Tigers struck first in the third inning.  They scored three on a Maglio Ordonez RBI single and a two run Home Run by Cabrera.  The Twins scored one in the third and one in the 6th.  The Twins took the lead in the 7th on a two run Home Run by Orlando Cabrera.  The Tigers immediately tied it up with a solo shot from Ordonez in the 8th.  The Twins left two men on in the 9th.  The Tigers scored in the Top of the 10th and the Twins scored one to tie it up in the 10th. It looked bleak for the Tigers in the 10th.  The Twins had runners on first and third with only one out.  Nick Punto hit a line drive to left field.  Ryan Rayburn caught the ball in left and immediately fired the ball home.  Alexi Casilla tagged at third and took off for home.  Rayburn's throw and Casilla arrived at about the same time but Casilla was out.  On to the 11th.  Neither team scored.  On to the 12th.  The Tigers loaded the bases with only one out.  A ground ball led to a force out at home on a great defensive play and Gerald Laird struck out swinging (or did he).  In the bottom of the 12th the Twins finally put it away.  The Tigers went home for the winter to reflect on again being so close and coming up short.

2010 was again a disappointment.  A third place finish.  A missed playoffs opportunity and frustration in Detroit.  Of course it wouldn't have been a Tiger's offseason without a blockbuster deal.  The Tigers sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. In return the Tigers received Outfielder Austin Jackon, pitching prospect Daniel Schlereth and Pitcher Max Scherzer.  Still, the Tigers fans felt they had lost out.  Getting prospects was fine but losing Granderson was a blow.  They said I told you so when the Tigers finished third.

The True Tigers:
2011 was the year of Verlander.  He was almost unhittable.  24-5. No-hitter (almost another one or two).  He would win the MVP and Cy Young.  He was without question the best pitcher on the planet.  He needed help.  Brad Penney was not the veteran presence that was expected so the Tigers made a trade at the deadline.  They sent minor leaguers to the Mariners and received Doug Fister.  All Fister did was go 8-1.  They also sent two minor leaguers to the Twins for Delmon Young.  All Young would do was to catch fire the last few weeks of the season and carry the offense.

The ALDS opponent was remeniscient of the 2006 season. It was the Yankees.  They split the first four games forcing a final showdown in Game 5.  On the mound was Fister.  With the power of Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ordonez in the lineup it was Don Kelley that struck first.  Just six pitches into the game Kelley took starter Ivan Nova out of the park for a one run lead.  On the next pitch Delmon Young repeated the feat.  Victor Martinez added and RBI single in the 5th and the Tigers were cruising behind Fister.  He left in the 6th leading 3-1.  Joaquin Benoit allowed another run in the 7th but saved the day when he struck out Nick Swisher with the bases loaded.  The Tigers pen held out getting the big bats of the Yankees with little more trouble.

They advanced to face the Rangers in the ALCS.  They were expected to sweep through with little trouble.  With the Tigers staff of Scherzer, Schlereth, Fister and Verlander facing off against Colby Lewis, C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland it was expected to be a pitcher's duel in the Tigers' favor.  Instead Nelson Cruz demolished Tigers pitching. In the six game series he had 8 hits (2 doubles and 6 Home Runs), 13 RBI and 7 runs scored.  It wouldn't be the last time Detroit would see him in the "almost dynasty".

Still, with Verlander at the top of his game, the emergence of Scherzer and Fister quietly dominating the opposition there were high expectations for the new season in 2012.  There were major concerns when Victor Martinez injured himself in off season work outs and was out for the season.  The Tigers replaced Martinez with the top free agent of the year, Prince Fielder.  This moved Cabrera to third and immediate concerns came up about the chemistry.  For whatever reason the Tigers could not seem to separate themselves from the White Sox.  In fact with two weeks left in the season it looked like they might not even reach the post season.  They won 8 of their last 10 games, won their division by 3 and Cabrera became the first Triple Crown winner since 1967.  The Tigers were on a roll and it looked like they would keep rolling.

The Tigers won the first two games of the ALDS but struggled in the next two.  There were fears in Detroit.  This felt like other years, especially because Jose Valverde began to blow saves at the worst possible time.  They advanced.  They faced the Yankees in the ALCS and they not only took out the Yankees they humiliated them.  Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano were booed by the Yankee fans, as was former Tiger Granderson, and Derek Jeter injured his ankle so badly that it was feared he would never play again.

Without Valverde closing games the Tigers had some major questions but they still felt they could beat the Giants.  No one questioned the Tigers' starting pitching.  That, everyone thought, was solid.  Pablo Sandoval did to them what Nelson Cruz had done the year before.  8 hits, three home runs (all in the first game) and the Kung Fu Panda combined with Buster Posey and a surprisingly effective Barry Zito to sweep the Tigers.  It was another disappointing year.

2013 would certainly be the year. Not only was their pitching staff the strongest, they had Victor Martinez back and signed Torii Hunter.  With Austin Jackson and Hunter at the top of the lineup followed by Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez and not to mention Jhonny Peralta it didn't seem possible for them to stumble.  Still they couldn't quite separate themselves from Cleveland who seemed to hang around.  They dealt with distractions all year including Peralta's PED suspension and fans demanding Leyland be fired.

They again faced the A's in the ALDS but found themselves on the brink of elimination  after losing two of the first three games.  Down 3-0 and near desparation it was the bat of the disgraced Peralta that saved the season with a three run game tying Home Run.  The A's took a 4-3 lead in the 7th but the Tigers again fought for their life and fought back for two with a Victor Martinez solo Home Run and an RBI single by Austin Jackson.  They added three more in the 8th and they needed them.  The A's scored two in the 9th and had a runner on second when Joaquin Benoit struck out Seth Smith to end the game and force the deciding 5th game.  Of course if you have a deciding game to be played Verlander is the choice and he did not disappoint. He pitched 8 innings of scoreless ball, walked only 1 and allowed only two hits.  The Tigers scored three runs thanks to a Miguel Cabrera three run Home Run and an RBI ground out by Omar Infante.  But there was trouble brewing as they prepared to face the Red Sox.  Cabrera had pulled a muscle in his side and was not healthy.  There was concern over the Tigers' bullpen and Fister had not been sharp in the post season.  Fielder had also not performed well and started to hear the frustration of the fans.

They faced a new opponent in the ALCS, the Red Sox, a team that had torn itself apart just a year before.  Game 1 was in Fenway and the Tigers were still considered the favorite.  A win in Game 1, especially with Anibal Sanchez starting and Scherzer and Verlander to follow could be a major boost.  Cabrera scored the only Tiger run but he was clearly hurting.  Sanchez pitched 6 innings without allowing a hit or a run but walked 6 and was inconsistent.  Fortunately for the Tigers four relievers continued Sanchez's shutout giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead.  With Scherzer dealing in Game 2 the Tigers erupted.  They took a 5-0 lead knocking ClayBucholz from the game.  A solo Home Run from Cabrera was a good sign as was an RBI Martinez double and an Alex Avila Two Run Home Run.  It was a quiet Fenway.  The Red Sox cut the lead to 5-1 in the 6th but Scherzer was cruisingg.

Jose Veras started the 8th inning for the Tigers.  Stephen Drew started the inning with a ground out but Will Middlebrooks followed that with a double.  Veras was releived by Drew Smyly.  He faced one batter and walked him.  Al Albuquerque replaced Smyly and got Shane Victorino swinging.  With two down the Tigers still felt confident.  A Dustin Pedroia single loaded the bases and the fourth Tiger pitcher, Al Albuquerque, walked to the mound.  It took only one pitch to change the entire series.  David Ortiz drove a ball to right center.  Torii Hunter went back.  It was deep but he thought he had a chance. He went back farther.  He turned.  Turned again and then. Boom.  He hit the wall and flipped over it.  The ball was out of his reach and the Red Sox, amazingly, had tied the game.  Fenway erupted and the Red Sox won Game 2 on an infield single, throwing error, wild pitch and RBI walk off single.

Verlander was Verlander like in the third game but gave up only one run.  Cabrera was clearly hurting and Fielder had an unexplainable lack of power.  The rest of the Tigers were unable to manufacture runs and the Tigers lost 1-0.

The Tigers used a  5 run second inning in Game 3 to tie the series and with Scherzer and Verlander still due to pitch another time each the Tigers were still confident.  Anibal Sanchez was the opposite of his Game 1 dominance and gave up 9 hits and 4 runs.  After a 4-3 loss the Tigers were one loss from another missed opportunity.

The season came to a familiar end on Saturday, October 19.  The Tigers looked to force a seventh game but instead a Shane Victorino grand slam in the bottom of the 7th.  It was the final nail in the Tiger's season.

Their almost dynasty had started way back in 2006.  8 years later they had no World Series titles to show for it.

A new lease on life or a desperate last gasp?:
The Tigers had been just short of the World Series again.  It was a strong team without a doubt. The lineup had been solid at nearly every position.  The infield was great with Fielder, Omar Infante, Cabrera and a defensive sensation Jose Iglesias being picked up at the trade deadline.  The outfield was solid with Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson covering every inch of ground.  The starting rotation was amazing with Verlander, Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer (now challenging Verlander for the spot as ace).  O.K., the bullpen was an issue.

But really, this team had been in three straight ALCS and one World Series.  There should be no reason to make major changes.  Right?


Jim Leyland was not brought back and was replaced at the top by Brad Ausmus.  Changing managers  in the middle of a playoff run is always a tough decision to make.

Prince Fielder had a miserable 2013 post season and his frustration showed.  It led to boos by the fans and bitter feelings from Prince.

They certainly had decisions to make here.  Benoit, Infante, Peralta and Catcher Bryan Pena were free agents.  Scherzer was not a free agent but it was seen as imperative to sign him long term before that became a reality after the 2014 season.  But where would that money come from?

On November 20th the future of Omar Infante became clear. Prince Fielder was traded to the Rangers for All Star Second Baseman Ian Kinsler.  Infante would not be signed and Fielder's movement would free up money.

On December 2 the surprises started.  Doug Fister was traded.  What?  Fister traded.  Well they must have gotten an offer they couldn't refuse.  Not exactly.  They got Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi and Robbie Ray.  By the time the season started Lombardozzi, seemingly the best piece received in return, had been traded to the Orioles.

The movement wasn't the only concern.  The injuries were mounting as well.  Cabrera had finished 2013 with injuries that slowed his production.  Then news came that Verlander had injured a core muscle in post season workouts and needed surgery.  Jose Iglesias would miss much of the season  with shin splints in both shins.  It seemed ominous to say the least.

By mid May they appeared to be cruising.  They had a 7 game lead and were getting compared to the legendary 1984 team.  The media was adding to the old question in Tigers history:  Was the 1968 team better than 1984?  Suddenly 2014 was in the conversation as well.  It didn't last.  The Tigers fell apart thanks to yet more inuries and the old achillies heel of the bull pen.  By late June the Royals had caught and passed the Tigers.  Brad Ausmus came under fire for a "joke" he made about domestic violence and suddenly there was panic in Motown.

Things started to turn around but as it became more and more clear that the team would not be able to resign Scherzer in the offseason, and the realization that Verlander was not the Verlander of 2011 led to a win now mentality.  The team was still struggling to separate from a tough Kansas City team.  The offense was being led by Victor Martinez, Cabrera and J.D. Martinez.  Kinsler was good but not spectacular.  Hunter was starting to show his age.  There was just something missing.  At the trade deadline the win now mentality screamed out.  The team pulled off the deal of the day in what was one of the best trade deadlines in years.  Austin Jackson went to Seattle and Pitcher Drew Smyly went to Tampa Bay (the most questionable part of the move) as part of a three team trade.  The Tigers got David Price in return.  This now gave Detroit the 2011, 2012 and 2013 Cy Young winners.  With Rick Porcello having a strong year the rotation was stronger than ever.  Now if Anibal Sanchez could come back from the DL they would be set.

If the Price trade was expected to launch the Tigers on a 1987 like run, it didn't work.  The Royals were not to be dismissed and although the Tigers won the division it went down to the last day of the season.

Still, they had made the post season and would not need to play in that new Wild Card game.  Their opponents?  The Orioles.  It was a joke.  Baltimore?  Against the Tigers?  The pitching match ups alone made people laugh at the O's chances.  Scherzer vs Chris Tillman.  Please.  Verlander vs Wei-Yin Chen.  Not a chance.  Price vs Bud Norris.  This should be over quickly.

It was.

The Orioles struck first in the 2nd Inning.  Nelson Cruz (yes the same one from that 2011 ALCS) hit a 2 run Home Run.  Detroit came right back with back to back Home Runs from Victor and J.D. Martinez.  An RBI single by Nick Markakis gave Baltimore the lead right back.  The Tigers loaded the bases in the 5th but Torii Hunter popped out.  The Orioles added a run on a surprising J.J. Hardy Home Run in the 7th.  Cabrera got the run back in the 8th.  The Tigers were not giving up.  Then it got bizarre.  Scherzer came out to start the 8th and after a lineout to 3rd by Markakis and a double by Alex DeAza, Scherzer was replaced by Joba Chamberlain.  Things went south very quickly.  In the time it takes a person (no one in particular) to check the score on his phone, call his wife on the phone, walk to his bus stop and turn on an XM radio, a person can get the immediate feeling of "What the hell did I just miss?"  With one out the Orioles' MVP Adam Jones stepped in.  This was his chance to make a name for himself in a clutch situation.  The first pitch was in the dirt and a nice block from Alex Avila saved De Aza from moving up a base.  Jones took a rip at the second pitch and fouled it back.  Jones took a walk around the plate thinking he had just missed his pitch.  The next pitch would frustrate him even more.  It was tapped in front of the plate. De Aza was moving to third on the ground ball.  It was to the right of Kevin Romine at short but it was routine.  Romine ranged over, got in front of the ball and set to field it.  Routine.  Except...he didn't field it.  The ball came up on him,  It hit the inside heel of the glove and as he moved right the ball bounced left between his legs.  Romine tried to stop but the grass gave way.  De Aza tore around third.  Romine recovered quickly, got to the ball and rifled a throw home but DeAa was easily safe. As Nelson Cruz stood in the batters box the anguish was clear on Romine's face.  On the 1-0 pitch Jones took off for second.  The ball was in the dirt and Avila hurried the throw.  Jones was safe. It would get worse.  Cruz singled Jones home.  Chamberlain was done.  2 singles, a double an intentional walk and an RBI ground out later so was Joakim Soria.  Phil Coke came in and after a wild pitch, intentional walk and a 2 run double it was finally over.  After 6 hits, 2 errors and 8 runs the Orioles had destroyed the Tigers confidence.

If that inning hurt the Tigers they would have no time to lick their wounds before the Orioles poured salt on them.  Verlander left after 5 1/3 with a 5-3 lead.  Anibal Sanchez pitched two strong innings and the Tigers entered the bottom of the 8th with a 6-3 lead.  Joba Chamberlain came in again, looking to make up for his Game 1 performance.  De Aza made the first out of the inning.  Chambelain then hit Jones with a pitch.  In that situation Chamberlain is not trying to put a man on but he must have been hoping it at least stung Jones a little bit.  Nelson Cruz (that guy again) moved Jones to second with a single and Jones scored on a single by Steve Pearce.  That was it for Chamberlain.  Joakim Soria came in and walked J.J. Hardy to load the bases.  Stepping to the plate was Delmon Young.  The same Delmon Young who helped the almost dynasty to the 2011 ALCS.  Avila set the target down in the zone for the first pitch.  Soria released it and the offspeed pitch looped to the plate.  Young connected and pulled the ball to left field.  J.D. Martinez sprinted for the ball but it was clear he couldn't get it.  Cruz trotted home from third and calmly signaled for Steve Pearce to follow him home.  Not so calmly, J.J. Hardy was tearing around the bases.  From first to second.  As Martinez made his way to the wall to retrieve the ball. From second to third as Martinez fielded the ball off the wall in perfect position to make the throw .  Hardy hit third as Martinez turned to hit the cutoff.  The ball came in to Romine at short.  Avila stood at the plate. Watching it unfold.  Hardy coming towards him. Romine catching.  Now turning.  If Avila could hear anything over the crowd he heard Pearce and Cruz behind the plate coaching Hardy.  Screaming and waving.  "Down, Down.  Down"  Hardy is just outside the home plate circle as he prepares to slide.  The ball is in the air, just about even with the mound.  Everyone sees this will be close and it could decide the game.  Hardy hit the dirt, feet first to the outside of the plate, hands off the ground, knowing he had to touch the plate.  At the moment he hit the ground, the ball hit Avila's glove.  Avila spun, lunging to the place.  Hardy's hand reaching, trying desperately to hit the plate before Avila hit his hand.  The three objects, the plate, the glove and the hand collide almost simultaneously but not exactly simultaneously.  Hardy is safe.  The Orioles lead.  The Tigers go down 1-2-3 in the 9th.

David Price pitched Game 3 with the almost dynasty on the line.  He was spectacular.  Just what you expect from a Cy Young winner. 8 innings, only 5 hits and 2 walks, 6 k's and only 2 runs.  Those 2 runs came in the 6th off the bat of Nelson Cruz (again).  The Tigers offense scored once in the 9th when the Martinez boys made their final 2014 statement but that was it.

The year was over once more.

No ring.

Only questions for the offseason.

The Tigers were fortunate enough to have a father and son combination in their history.  Although not playing together, Cecil and Prince Fielder both made their mark in Detroit Tiger record books.  Both were known as power hitters.  How many Home Runs did they hit combined? Part 2, how many RBI did they combine for?

Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question:
Bobby Cox first managed the Braves from 1978 to 1981.  During that time he never finished higher than 4th.  Cox left to manage the Toronto Blue Jays starting in 1982.  The Blue Jays were an improving team and Cox took them from 6th place in 1982 to first place and the organizations first playoff birth in 1985.

When the Braves decided to make a change they turned to a man leaving the Mets as manager. From the end of the 1977 season through 1981 the man had guided the Mets but finished no higher than 4th.  Joe Torre took over the Braves in 1982 and led them to an NLCS appearance against the eventual World Series Champions the St. Louis Cardinals.  Torre led the Braves for three years before being replaced.  He would then go on to manage St. Louis from 1990-1995.  He was hired to manage the Yankees in 1996.  Although there was an interim manager in between, Torre's full time replacement in St. Louis was Tony LaRussa.

1 comment:

  1. i had forgotten that Fred Lynn played for the tigers.
    You are right, that outbreak by Jim Leyland started the turn around.
    I always thought Polanco was under rated when he was with the Tigers.
    Dave Dombrowski has made some fantastic trades in his tenure. It was awesome that he got Fister from Seattle.
    His worst trade is when he traded Fister to washington.
    Even though the tigers have had an almost dynasty I am not overly disappointed that they have not won a WS. Would i have liked them to win a few WS. Of course. But being a loyal tiger fan for 55 years I was use to making the playoffs once every twenty years. They are now in their golden age of baseball. Even more than the early 1900's. No WS in this current run but oh what a run it is. I cherish every year, every game.I don't know how long this run can last (maybe like the Braves) but I am enjoying it and very proud that I am a true tigers fan.

    I have no clue on the trivia question.



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