CLEVELAND — I don’t know whether to call it the year or the week, because the 1986 baseball season can be referred to as either one today. But so far this year, or this week, the home run ball is taking a big chunk out of Jack Morris.

It happened again Saturday. Morris surrendered a two-run homer in the first inning, pitched masterfully the next six, then gave up another two-run shot and exited. The game was soon lost, 6-2, to the Indians. The Indians? And this time, Morris’ name went next to the sad result.

It was a nicer finish last Monday, Opening Day, when, despite giving up four homers and five runs, Morris got the win, 6-5. “At this rate,” he said, laughing after that game, “I’ll give up 160 home runs and win 36 games.”

The equation has changed. Morris isn’t laughing.

Remember, the season is only a week old, or the week a season old, or, you know, whatever. That said, the idea of Morris faltering is enough to take the stripes off a Tigers fan. It’ll downright strip your confidence naked.

Morris, as everyone knows, is the ace of the Tigers’ pitching staff, the guy on the front horse who yells, “Charge!” He is the type of pitcher whose guts on the mound spread across the field like good fertilizer.

Six homers? Ten earned runs? In two games?

“The mistakes I’ve made, they’ve hit pretty good,” he said in the clubhouse after Saturday’s fizzle. He ran a fist through his hair. He shook his head.
“And I made six pretty good mistakes.” Looking for silver linings

OK. Let’s be optimistic here. Optimists can explain everything positively. Optimists call a rainstorm on the weekend “good for the plants.”

So let’s explain this. Let’s be optimistic. In Saturday’s loss, Morris gave up the home run to Joe Carter in the first inning. Hey. First innings are traditionally when Morris struggles — especially in a foreign park. New mound. All that. He walked four batters and threw a wild pitch that first inning, too. Obvious trouble.

“It’s a constant adjustment until I find the strike zone,” he said.

See? OK. The next six innings Morris pitched well. Scattered four hits. Gave up no walks. Scalped a handful of Indians.

The Tigers were trailing only 3-2 going into their eighth inning. And then, plop. Their most dismal offensive performance of this infant season. They loaded the bases, nobody out, and Lance Parrish came to bat. Come on. Could you construct a better situation?

But Parrish popped up. So did Darrell Evans, the next batter. And Alan Trammell followed with a groundout that left orange and blue skeletons all over the base paths.

And Morris watched the whole thing.

Now, pitching is nine parts concentration. And Morris is fierce in that department. But when you watch your team blow a chocolate-covered opportunity to give you a lead, and you’re pretty much out of innings, and you’re still losing, it is possible your concentration slips ever so slighty.

So maybe that forkball that hung up there for Cleveland’s Brook Jacoby to smack into the outfield seats was partly attributable to that. Maybe?

“No question the eighth inning was the turning point of the ball game,” Morris said. “We load them up and can’t score a single point. I go out after that and make two poor pitches. I don’t think I can relate the two. I don’t know. I didn’t intend to leave the ball in (Jacoby’s) face.” Artillery still loaded

Well, all right. The point is to avoid panic. To avoid the thought that the biggest gun in the Tigers’ armed forces is in any trouble.

Catcher Parrish, one of few men who sees Morris’ pitches from the ground up, says relax. The ace is throwing as hard as ever. His position just isn’t perfect. Yet.

“His pitches are getting up in the strike zone more than he wants them to,” Parrish said. “That happens sometimes with power pitchers.

“He’s just not consistent enough right now with his strikes. If a hitter is sitting back on a pitch and it hangs up there, he’s gonna get it.”

They’ve gotten Morris six times in 14 1/3 innings so far. And fortunately, if you can use the word fortunately, none has been any worse than a two-run shot. Imagine the same problem with two or even three base runners. Ooooooh. It says here Morris is too tough for that. The guy is a tank of a pitcher. A force. He will get it under control. For now, concentrate on those innings in between, when Morris threw hard and well. Figure all these homers were, what? April weirdness? If you’re a Tigers fan, you’ll sleep better that way.

And it’ll be good for the plants.

Besides, there’s plenty of baseball left. Hey. The year is only a week old. Or, the week is a season old, too, as of now. I think. Well. You know what I mean.

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