There’s no talking to Doyle Alexander. There’s no disrupting Doyle Alexander. There may be no stopping Doyle Alexander. At least, no one has done it since he donned a Detroit uniform last month. He is the least likely of heroes, a craggy-faced, 37-year-old veteran with a personality — at least to reporters — that would compare nicely to a pit bull’s. And who cares? If he keeps pitching the way he has been pitching, the Tigers will give him a door for his locker and his own “DO NOT DISTURB” sign.
Did you see what he pulled off on network TV Saturday? Eight shutout innings of the Milwaukee Brewers (before two meaningless runs in the ninth). Another win. Another rung between the Tigers and the second-place Blue Jays. “That guy can throw a strike whenever he wants to,” said manager Sparky Anderson, after the 5-2 victory, Alexander’s seventh in eight Detroit starts. “Whenever he needs a strike, he’s got it.”
Now, bear in mind, this comes from Sparky, a man who earlier in the day shook hands with the pope at a rally in Hamtramck. He’s bound to be . . . inspired. But can you blame him? The way Alexander has been going?
These are a few things that happened to Milwaukee Saturday with two outs: second inning, bases loaded; Alexander gets Paul Molitor on a grounder. Fifth inning, men on first and second; Alexander strikes out Rob Deer. Eighth inning, men on first and third; Alexander strikes out Steve Stanicek.
You sure it was Sparky who shook hands with the pope?
This is what Doyle Alexander looks like in the clubhouse before he pitches. A solitary figure, sitting by his locker, elbows on his knees, eyes staring straight ahead. This is what Doyle Alexander looks like when he is not pitching. A solitary figure, sitting by his locker, elbows on his knees, eyes staring straight ahead. “He’s quiet all right,” said Anderson with a grin. “I like quiet players.”
Well, sure. What’s not to like? He sits. He pitches a victory. He sits. Before those two runs in the ninth Saturday (charged to Alexander but actually surrendered by reliever Mike Henneman), Alexander had 28 consecutive scoreless innings. His ERA (1.61) could slide under a file cabinet.
When he first arrived from Atlanta, the Tiger players viewed him as a welcome extra starter. Now, they take his field with the same glow of confidence usually reserved for Jack Morris. “You just don’t expect him to let down,” says Darrell Evans. “He knows how to throw strikes. He stays ahead of the hitters. And he’s been through this all before. You need guys like that to win it all.”
Here’s a name for you: John Smoltz. Do you recognize it? That’s who the Tigers gave up to get Alexander from Atlanta. Smoltz is a minor leaguer. He’s talented. He’s a prospect. A future. But Alexander is a present. This is his present: Seven wins. No losses.
Happy autumn, Detroit.
An interview with Doyle Alexander: REPORTER: Can I ask a couple questions? ALEXANDER: You can ask. REPORTER: In Atlanta you were 5-10 with an ERA over 4.00. Are you surprised at your success here in Detroit? ALEXANDER: I’m not surprised. Are you? REPORTER: Well . . . um . . . was there something, you know, special about coming to Detroit that made your pitching more inspired? ALEXANDER: I had no control over coming here. REPORTER: Well, what are your impressions of this Tiger team? ALEXANDER: They all pull for everybody else. There’s no jealousy. If a guy doesn’t play, he pulls for the guy that does. REPORTER: That’s good, huh? ALEXANDER: (No response.) REPORTER: Uh . . . can you explain why you seem to do well in big pressure games? ALEXANDER: There’s no pressure. The media creates the pressure. REPORTER: You mean to say, if you pitched next week against Toronto, a game that could determine the division title, it would be no different than pitching the first week of the season? ALEXANDER: No different. REPORTER: Really? ALEXANDER: (No response.) REPORTER: I notice you prefer to keep your answers brief. Is there any rea– ALEXANDER: You said a couple questions. You’ve gone way past that.
End of interview with Doyle Alexander.
So, OK. He’s no Gary Carter. He calls himself “a bottom line pitcher.” Did you win or did you lose? In the end, that’s all that matters. True, it is hard to find a media type with a kind word for him. (“You got Alexander, huh?” a Toronto reporter recently remarked to a Detroit colleague. “Have fun.”)
And yet his past suggests that he is more than just a simple grouch. This is a guy who has pitched all over (Baltimore, New York, Texas, Atlanta, San Francisco, Toronto, Detroit), and has beaten every team in baseball at least once. He serves as his own agent. Do players do that? In 1982, he offered to forgo a month’s salary to the Yankees after he injured his hand in a rare show of emotion (he slammed it into the dugout wall). Give money back? Do players do that? Last year he gave a Toronto writer a handwritten list of
“Reasons For Leaving Toronto” upon his trade to Atlanta. A handwritten list? Do players do that?
“You need to get to know him,” Evans said. “He doesn’t show much.”
“Is he better with his teammates than with the media?” Evans was asked.
“Oh yeah, he’s laughing with us. . . . Or, no, not really laughing . . . to get him to laugh you might have to bring Johnny Carson into the clubhouse. But he’s smiling . . . uh, yeah. I’ve seen him smile. Once or twice.”
Well. Whatever. A smile. A half-smile. A raise of his mustache. No one ever said you had to be lovable to pitch. If a radio announcer were documenting Alexander’s time here in Detroit, he might sum up each frame with: “No runs, no hits, no comments.”
Who cares? The Tigers are after a title. Alexander, the long, lean loner, can help them get it. He’ll pitch against Boston Wednesday and against Toronto next weekend and against Toronto again in the season’s final series.
“I approach every game the same,” he says. Fine by the Tigers. Approach them the way he has been approaching them, and even Sparky Anderson may have to line up to shake his hand when this season is over.
And Sparky doesn’t shake with just anybody, you know.