They truly aren’t just happy to be here. That’s so 2006. Mike Ilitch, who before hitting it rich signed a $3,000 (U.S.) contract to play minor-league baseball with the Detroit Tigers in 1952, has told local newspapers that his life won’t be complete without a World Series ring, so the gauntlet has been tossed at the feet of the 2012 Tigers.
For the sake of their 83-year-old owner, it is to be hoped that this version of the Tigers will come out of their period of postseason inactivity more sure-handed than that 2006 team. You remember the 2006 Tigers’ World Series, right? The team with a .199 batting average that made eight errors in a five-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals that remains one of the dullest, least-memorable wrap-ups to a major-league season.
Those Tigers had six days off, after sweeping their American League Championship Series against the Oakland Athletics, while the Cardinals were taken to seven games by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. Tigers pitchers committed a World Series-record five errors against the Cardinals. Third baseman Brandon Inge, a part of the spiritual core of that team, made three errors. Curtis Granderson slipped and fell on a fly ball off the bat of David Eckstein, turning a fly ball into a double – but it was the pitchers faux pas that turned PFP (pitchers fielding practice) at Lakeland, Fla., the next spring into a national media event.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters recently that things will be different during this six-day layoff, which will end Wednesday when the World Series begins in the NL city. This time, he said, the team’s emotions will not go from “a high to just a blah.” This time, he said, his team won’t just stare at each other for six days.
Saturday, Tigers hitters took their cuts against Tigers pitchers. Sunday, the Tigers played their first of two scrimmages against minor leaguers brought up from the club’s spring training and minor-league complex in Lakeland, where the Tigers prospects have just finished Instructional League.
They’ll play again on Monday before travelling for a workout Tuesday in the NL city. As was the case in 2006, the Tigers considered chartering a flight and taking their team to Florida to prepare, but with a favourable weather forecast, Leyland decided it made more sense to allow the players time at home with their families.
Normally, the biggest concern facing a team with this type of layoff would be keeping its starting pitchers and relievers in something approximating a competitive routine. The Tigers are built on offence and a starting pitching staff that posted a remarkable 1.02 earned-run average against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, but with starter Max Scherzer nursing a sore arm and closer Jose Valverde trying to exorcise some mechanical gremlins, this break is probably a tonic for the Tigers arms.
A bigger concern for Leyland is wondering how the layoff will affect his team defensively. They cannot afford to be flat-footed.
Because the designated hitter will not be used in Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-seven series, Delmon Young’s bat will start in left field, meaning Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry and Avisail Garcia will vie for at-bats in right unless the Tigers have a big lead that needs protecting late.
Miguel Cabrera is at third base and for all his Triple Crown achievements, the sight of him taking Hunter Pence’s bouncing ball off the face in Grapefruit League play still springs to the front of the mind whenever a ball is chopped down third.
Toss in the usual unknowns with October weather – the long-range forecast for Detroit next weekend, when Games 3, 4 and 5 will be played, is for cool and wet weather – and Tigers fans can be excused for thinking Game 1 can’t come soon enough. One in particular.