NEW YORK — That music you hear from the Big Apple isn’t “New York, New York” anymore.
Pennant races may not be over until they’re over, but if Saturday’s 9-4 Tigers loss didn’t decide the fate of the American League East, it surely summed it up: The Red Sox won again in Boston, the Yankees exploded their napalm offense, and the Tigers, defeated, went gently into that very bad night.
“Do you find yourself talking more or less to the team as this goes along?” someone asked manager Sparky Anderson after Detroit’s 16th loss in its last 19 games.
“I think they can see this on their own,” he said, with a sarcastic grin.
“It aint too hard to figure out.”
No, it ain’t: this is no slump, it’s a habit. The Tigers, now 3 1/2 behind Boston, have lost far more than they’ve won since the All-Star break, and when this is all over, their current woes may be etched indelibly into their 1988 tapestry.
Here’s the way it goes: good pitch, no hit. Good hit, no pitch. Walt Terrell gave up two hits all game and lost Friday night; the Tigers got two home runs Saturday and Jack Morris couldn’t hold the Yankees down. Forget who plays who in September. Forget the slip-through-the-back-door theories.
“We have to win 15 more games to win this thing,” Anderson said. “Anything less and we’re kidding ourselves. We need to win 15.”
They have 20 left.
You figure it out. Good plays not enough
Good pitching is supposed to beat good hitting. Unless, of course, good hitting beats good pitching. That’s about as useful as that philosophy really is. Morris pitched well for six innings Saturday. Time and again he snuffed out brushfires — striking out Dave Winfield and Jack Clark with two men on; striking out Winfield again with the bases loaded; making a great fielding play on a bunt by Rafael Santana and whirling to nail Willie Randolph at third base.
And it was not enough. The Yankees got to Morris in the seventh. And from there it was one sad parade of pitchers walking back to the dugout. Mark Huismann came in wounded from an intentional walk and a single; Paul Gibson came in bloody from an RBI sacrifice and an RBI single. Six runs scored for New York in that seventh inning. Six runs? Tigers fans salivate at six runs.
Good news: Fred Lynn hit a home run for Detroit. Bad news: Nobody was on base. Darrell Evans twice came to bat with men in scoring position. He struck out and grounded into a double play.
And all this took place while the Red Sox’s 6-0 victory over Cleveland hung on the right field scoreboard like a noose from a tree.
“All you have to do to see what’s happened here is look in the mirror,” Morris said after the defeat. “And it isn’t pretty.”
He has a point. Let’s be painfully honest here: the Tigers seem outmatched. Their collection of now-and-then hitters can’t keep pace with the Hendersons, Winfields, Boggses and Greenwells of the opposition. The Tigers’ pitching, minus Jeff Robinson and with the sudden decay of Doyle Alexander and Willie Hernandez, is now only good, not great — and it would have to be marvelous to counter the lack of pop in the Tigers’ offense.
“We need somebody to throw a shutout real fast,” Anderson said. “We need a few games like that to slow things down.”
“You mean you can’t just turn this around with one big game?” someone observed. “You have to come out of it gradually?”
“Yeah. And sometimes you don’t come out of it, either.” A right to be cranky
After Saturday’s defeat it was somber in the Detroit clubhouse. The mark of this Tigers team was always that victory washed off and defeat never stained. “But you lose 16 of 19,” Anderson admitted, “and you’re bound to get a little bit cranky. God, I hope so, anyhow.”
All right. Fans are always hesitant to write off the Tigers because they have shown a knack for survival these last two seasons. But let’s face facts: they are four games behind Boston in the loss column. That means Boston can lose four more times than Detroit in these final weeks. And while the optimistic will tell you Detroit was 3 1/2 back of Toronto in the last week of last season, there is a big difference:
(1) The Tigers don’t play Boston anymore.
(2) I doubt the Toronto final-week collapse will repeat itself. That was an illness that, like Legionnaires’ disease, can be fatal, but is awfully rare.
“They say if you stick around this game long enough you see it all,” Anderson said, reaching for his pipe. “Well, I ain’t never seen anything like this losing streak. So maybe they’ve got a point.”
Day is done. Gone the sun. On Saturday, Scott Lusader hit his first home run of the year with Jim Walewander on base, and there was a laugh among Detroit journalists that, hey, it was last year all over again. The truth is, the Tigers right now are on their deathbeds. And last year was a very long time ago.