The hard part now will be staying calm. The hard part now will be sleeping without a bat and ball. The hard part now will be making up excuses as to why you are sitting on the front porch in your pajamas at 5 a.m.
“Oh, hi!” you will say as the newspaper boy arrives on his bike. “I was just, uh, watering the driveway. Can I have my sports section, please?”
The hard part now will be reminding yourself that the Tigers have a lot of games left, that first place in the American League East is not a given, that losing is still in the realm of possibility — even though it’s in a corner now, with a sheet over its head.
“Calm,” says the voice of reason.
“HOT DOG!” says the other voice. “I MUST HAVE A HOT DOG!”
Can we tell you what what it’s like to play the Tigers these days? Four easy steps: 1) Put on a uniform. 2) Listen to the national anthem. 3) Get your brains beat out. 4) Shower.
What was the score against the Twins Thursday? 8-0? And the day before? 7-1? And the day before? 11-2? We are talking base hits before you find your seat. Home runs before the beer gets warm. Well. OK. The beer starts out warm. Home runs before the beer gets hot.
On a roll? How’s this? A sweep of the Twins, three out of four from the Royals, two of three from the White Sox, three of four from the Yankees. Hitting? Scoring early? The Tigers are doing a twist on that old NBA complaint: The only important part of their games are the first five minutes.
“Calm down,” says the voice of reason. “There is a long way to go. All this can change. Teams cool off.”
“TICKETS!” says the other voice. “WHERE DO I GET THE BLEEPING WORLD SERIES TICKETS!”
This is not going to be easy.
“DO YOU PREFER defending first place rather than chasing it?” someone asked Darrell Evans after Thursday’s victory, which kept the Tigers a half-game ahead of Toronto.
“Well,” he said, grinning, “it’s been pretty good so far.”
Pretty good? If things got any better, the Tigers would be printing their own money. Everything is clockwork. Every move is somehow perfect. Take Thursday. Here is Lou Whitaker, scratched from the lineup with an injury. Here is Pat Sheridan, playing in his place. Here is Pat Sheridan smacking a double. Here is Pat Sheridan stealing a base. Here is Pat Sheridan hitting a home run. Thank you, Pat. You can sit down now.
And look. Out on the mound. A new Tigers pitcher. Doyle Alexander. He needs a street map to find the stadium. Does he care? Is he nervous? Does he throw eight shutout innings?
No. No. And yes.
“I’ve been through the wars,” Alexander said Thursday after beating the Twins’ ex-scuffball pitcher Joe Niekro (who proved that a man without an emery board is just half a man.)
“Every day will not be as easy as this one. But I’ll keep going out and trying again. That’s why I’m here.”
Is that perfect? That is perfect. That is the typical attitude of these new and improved Tigers. Quiet calm. Steady confidence. Veteran savvy.
And that was the fans.
DID YOU SEE that crowd on Thursday? Over 45,000? On an workday afternoon?
We are talking hysterics. We are talking Waves. We are talking the latest chant: “Dig, Dig, Dig — Ice Cold Coke!” (Don’t ask. I have no idea. I do not want to know.)
We are talking the pent-up desires of Tigers fans who waited through mediocre 1985 and mediocre 1986 and plain old lousy early 1987. At one point in May, Detroit was 11-19. People were starting to watch polo.
But now? Now the Tigers seem like Rocky and the rest of the league a slab of cow. “We’re hammering a few folks,” admits Kirk Gibson. Yes. Forty-four runs in their last five games? One hundred and thirty-four since Aug. 1?
Can that be correct? It is correct. The motto should not be “Go Tigers!” The motto should be “Next?”
And this is the hard part. How do we think about anything else the next six weeks? Raking leaves? Very tough. Back to school? Impossible. Football? Football is going to be very hard to think about. If the Lions are smart, they will do all their losing in September. No one will notice.
The hard part will be perspective. The hard part will be to not dye your hair white and smoke a pipe. The hard part will be convincing yourself that
“Mad Dog” is not a term of endearment, that Jack Morris and Frank Tanana are not actually Hercules and Samson.
The hard part will be believing the “smack!” you just heard was a bat hitting a ball, and not the lips of destiny, planting a fat juicy one on Motown’s favorite boys of summer.
“Stay calm,” urges the voice of reason. “Nothing is for sure. Please. Stay calm.”
Ooooh. Very hard. CUTLINE Tigers fan Heather Durand, 3, of Rochester, shows her colors.