CERUTTI EARNS AN EFOR EFFORT, BUT NO W

TORONTO — Before we talk about the game, which the Tigers lost, or the ill-fated starting pitcher, John Cerutti, who used to hang out with the Prince of Monaco — I am not making this up — I must tell you about the GRAND OPENING.

Of the roof.

I have seen many things as a sports writer, having done this job since the Captain and Tennille were actually allowed out in public. But there is one thing I have never seen in all my years: I have never seen a retractable roof open.

Yes. I know. In the big picture of life, watching massive plastic panels across a stadium roof ranks just above picking your nose. But hey. My life is slow. And I must collect memories for my golden years.

Anyhow, on Tuesday, I get a call from John Lowe, our star baseball writer, who loves the game the way most of us love Milky Way bars. It is 4:30 p.m. John, naturally, is already at the ballpark, computing the team-by-team batting average for the entire Pacific Coast League. And I am in my hotel room, sleeping.

“Hmmmmph . . . ello?” I say.

“Good afternoon,” says John, sounding like he just popped out of La Costa Spa. “You might want to come over. They’ll be opening the roof soon.”

“Mmmphzzlyup . . . what time?”

“Be here within a half hour, you should see it.”

Now. It normally takes me a half hour to find my toothbrush. But I hustled out of bed because, hey, this a roof opening, damn it. Let’s get our priorities in order! I raced downstairs, found a cab, rode to the SkyDome, jumped in the elevator, curled through the tunnels and burst onto the field.

And the roof was already open.

My watch said 5:01 p.m.

“Hey, John,” I asked, when I saw him later. “How did I miss it?”

“Well, let’s see. It began to open at 4:37. It takes 20 minutes to completely open. You arrived at 5:01. So you missed it by four minutes, right?”

I looked at him the way I looked at my ninth-grade geometry teacher when she tried to explain the isosceles triangle. And I said the same thing I said then: “Um, I guess so.” This game was a royal pain

Which brings us to John Cerutti. I’ll bet John Cerutti never had a problem with the isosceles triangle, since he was a math and economics major at Amherst College, a place that produces at least one major-leaguer every 700 years. Cerutti is not your typical baseball personality. For one thing, he says “please.” Also, while at Amherst, he became friendly with Prince Albert of Monaco — Grace Kelly’s son, Princess Stephanie’s brother — who attended the same school. Sadly, this kept John from enjoying that most lofty of college traditions, calling up a drugstore and saying, “Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Would you let him out, please?”

But that’s the price of higher education.

“Actually,” Cerutti said before the game Tuesday, “the Prince was a pretty regular guy. We used to tease him a little. We’d ask, ‘So, what are you gonna do when you graduate? Got a job lined up?’

“He came to see me pitch once in Toronto. We went out afterwards. Had a few beers. It was nice.”

Too bad the Prince didn’t come Tuesday night. Cerutti, making his first start in two months, learned a royal lesson, not unlike the one I learned missing the roof by four minutes: Life is unfair, and then it laughs at you. The first bad sign was when the Blue Jays — for whom Cerutti played the last six years — misspelled his name on the lineup card.

Then came the first four Toronto batters. On only eight little pitches, Cerutti managed to: 1) give up a single; 2) hit a batter in the back; 3) give up another single, which scored a run; 4) watch the guy he hit in the back steal third base; 5) give up a sacrifice fly, which scored another run.

Even the Prince would be depressed. Tigers’ bats just went flat

The thing is, after that, Cerutti was terrific. He struck out batters. He pitched out of jams. He held the first-place Jays scoreless for the next seven innings. Pitched a complete game. Unfortunately, the Tigers lost, 2-1.

One run? Wait a minute. I thought the Tigers got three runs just for showing up, the way you get points for signing your name on your SATs. They had the bases loaded in the first. Nothing. Two men on in the sixth. Nothing. Two men on in the seventh. Nothing. Only five hits all night.

And Cerutti (1-4) took the loss. Bad timing? Tuesday was just the second game all year the Tigers failed to win when holding their opponent to two runs or less.

“I know we normally score more runs,” Cerutti said, refusing to point fingers. “But we were up against a pretty good pitching staff. I’m just disappointed in my first inning.”

Across the room, Tony Phillips looked on and shook his head. “Man pitches like that, complete game, gives up two runs,” he said, “we gotta win a game like that. He deserves it.”

Well, if there is any justice, Cerutti will get another start. Or at least a week on Prince Albert’s yacht. And the Tigers’ offense will bounce back quickly before Toronto runs away in the standings.

As for my roof opening? Today is another day. I know John will be at the ballpark hours before it happens. And I’ll probably be asleep in my room. Don’t worry. I won’t make the same mistake twice.

This time, I’ll take the phone off the hook.

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