Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Braves Fans Take Heart

The Atlanta Braves lost a 3-2 heart breaker Tuesday night. As most readers will know, they lost their first nine of the year. Then they won four straight before dropping another eight in a row. Their Tuesday loss was their fifth straight. But the club can take solace from the fact that they could be worse. They could be a lot worse. They could be the 2003 Tigers.

After selling out their home opener with rookie manager Alan Trammel at the helm the Bengals lost it and their next eight as well. This year's Braves were outscored 55-24 in their first nine. The 2003 Tigers were outscored 50-14!

The club's woes had begun during the cruel Detroit winter. Their new GM, David Dombrowski, who had begun work by trading away Jeff Weaver the previous July, watched in horror as the Tigers' closer Juan Acevedo signed with the Yankees, second baseman Damion Easley signed with the Devil Rays, right fielder Robert Flick left for Atlanta, and DH Randall Simon penned a deal with the Pirates. Dombrowski must have been tempted to borrow a line from Everett - George Clooney's character in O Brother, Where Art Thou? - "We're in a tight spot."

The Tigers' staff had a pretty rough year in 2003, reminding a lot of baseball fans of the '62 Mets' hurlers. After being fired by the Yankees for turning sixty (he said he'd never make that mistake again) Casey Stengel didn't have Whitey Ford to tap on the shoulder anymore. Instead, Ole Case trotted out Roger Craig (10-24), Al Jackson (8-20), Jay Hook (8-19), Craig Anderson (3-17), and Bob Miller (1-12).

Tiger ace? Mike Maroth (9-21)
The 2003 Tigers featured Mike Maroth (9 -21, 5.73), Nate Cornejo (6 -17, 4.67), Jeremy Bonderman (6 -19, 5.56), Adam Bernero (1-12), and Matt Roney (1-9). Remarkably, the staff finished second-last in E.R.A. ahead of the woeful Texas pitchers. Detroit did manage to finish last in runs scored, hits, errors, OPS, and strikeouts both batted and pitched, however. "Good job!" as my grandson Wyatt, a.k.a. Spud would say.

Side Note: One article I read about the 2003 Tigers stated that "their former top prospect Eric Munson was one of the worst defensive third basemen the game has ever seen over a full season." Really? Munson committed nineteen errors. Granted that Billy Shindle's glove was a lot smaller, but the ball was nowhere near as lively back in the late 1880's and early 1890's when Billy racked up the following numbers of misplays at the hot corner.
1888 Orioles - 47; '89 Orioles - 88; '90 Quakers - 119; '91 Phillies - 58; '92 Orioles - 78
(I guess the Orioles had been fooled by his great '91 season.)

Really, Alan? It's the umps' fault? 
The 2003 Tigers finished 47 games back and 52 games out of the Wild Card. They were a depressing twenty games behind second worst Tampa. With six games left on their schedule things looked bleak for the Bengals. They had already lost 118 games. The modern record for losses belonged to the aforementioned '62 Mets - 120. The Tigers could reasonably be expected to lose four, or five, or perhaps all six of those games. Worse, after having lost 12-6 in the opener of their second last series with the Royals against whom they were now 3-14 they would finish the year with four at home to the Twins. Their record versus Minnesota was a chilling 1-14.

But on Tuesday, September 23 at Kauffman Stadium Detroit pummeled the Royals 15-6. The next night they scored four in the first and then miraculously held on for a 4-3 win. Still 118 losses but for more against the Twins.

More than 9,000 fans poured into Comerica Park on Thursday night for the final series opener. They watched in amazement as Nate Robertson held the Twins to one run over six innings. They were even more shocked when the Tigers scored three in the bottom of the seventh. But, when Minnesota answered with three of their own in the top of the eighth the universe seemed to have returned to its rightful order. Then Craig Munroe homered to tie things up. "What's our record in extra-inning games?" one Tiger fan asked another nervously. "One and ten," came the answer. "What d'ya expect?"

Super Shane Halter
But no one had taken into account the brilliant strategy of Alan Trammell, who had quietly inserted Shane Halter into the lineup in the eighth. Halter was batting only .212, but he had one home run in his last twelve games. With two out in the bottom of the eleventh Halter smacked another one.

Friday night. Almost twice as big a crowd. The Tigers rocket to a 2-0 lead. The Twins tie it. Detroit jumps ahead 3-2. The Twins tie it again. Extra innings! Minnesota scores a run in the top of the tenth. Now MVP candidate Shane Halter singles in a run and the Bengals tie it again! Trammell calls for Franklyn German, 2-4 with an E.R.A. under 6.00 (5.98). Micheal Cuddyer puts one in the seats and the Twins win. Two left, 119 losses.

Saturday afternoon. A smaller crowd was on the edge of their seats after four and a half. Many of the fans were on the edge of their seats at McDonald's. They'd left - the Twins led 8-0. "There's number 120," a broken-hearted rooter groaned as he joined the throng heading for the exits.

No one looked back as the Tigers scored once in the bottom of the fifth. Faint hope at best. Then Detroit added three in the seventh. Then another four in the eighth. In a comeback for the ages they had tied the game.

In came 46-year old veteran Jesse Orosco to put an end to the insanity in the eleventh. He got Ramon Santiago to fly out and then walked Alex Sanchez. Sanchez stole second. Sanchez stole third. Orosco struck out Warren Morris. Groans from the Tiger faithful, but wait.

After Minnesota had piled up their 8-0 lead Ron Gardenhire, his thoughts on the upcoming playoffs, had pulled catcher A.J. Pierzynski and sent rookie Rob Bowen behind the plate. Strike three was in the dirt. It skipped by Bowen. Morris raced to first. Sanchez raced home for the win. The hundreds of fans still left were bloated with bliss. The Tigers had their fourth win in five games!

Sunday afternoon for all the marbles. Trammell sends his ace, Mike Maroth (8-21) to the hill. Remarkably, he shuts out the Twins for four innings and leads 1-0. Then the Twins get two. The Tigers fight back with one of their own in the bottom of the fifth. In the sixth, eight hits and seven runs. FOR THE TIGERS! They cruise to a 9-2 win and extend their record to 43-119. You just can't make this stuff up, folks.

Better still. With the second pick in the MLB Draft (the NL bottom feeders picked first that year) David Dombrowski selected 20-year old Justin Verlander. After two more years in which he master- minded ninety and then ninety-one losses Trammell was cut loose.

Dombrowski hired Jim Leyland. That worked out rather well. The Tigers, as you may remember, won the pennant in 2006. So Braves fans, take heart. You just never know.


No comments: