Hello. I am back.
And so apparently, are the Tigers. What’s this? Five games out of first? And charging?
OK. So it’s not news to you. But I’ve been away. How long? Well, I was hoping to share my traveling stories with Tigers pitcher Dave LaPoint. Only he now plays for San Diego. That’s how long.
Things can change fast in baseball. So when I took my seat in the Tiger Stadium press box Tuesday night, I was looking for familiar angles. And there were darn few.
The what’s-the-matter-with-the-pitching angle was useless. The pitching has been mostly amazing. The where’s-the-leadership angle was useless. Whoever’s leading, he’s going in the right direction.
“Is Gibson still in a slump?” I asked.
“He’s hitting .338 in his last 19 games,” came the answer.
So much for that.
And then Darrell Evans came up.
It was the first inning of the first game of the doubleheader vs. Cleveland. There was one man on. I had been away for a while, but this much I remembered: When Darrell Evans came up in important situations, he rarely delivered a big hit. Not the home run kind he gets paid for. Not this year.
“Watch this,” I said to a colleague.
“Betcha he blows it,” he said.
And Evans fouled out meekly. Here comes a column A few innings later, up came Evans again. This time there were two men on. I leaned over. Evans flied out to center field.
“Look at that,” I said, shaking my head.
“Does it every time,” said my colleague.
By now the thoughts were forming. The keys on the computer were calling. You need your big guns if you want to win a pennant, right? The Tigers were losing this game, and Evans alone had left three men on base. And it wasn’t even halfway over.
“How long since he’s hit a home run?” I asked.
“Four weeks,” said my colleague.
Four weeks? The defending home run king? What was this? Come on now.
And then Evans came up again, with a man on.
And he struck out.
Oooh. My fingers were twitching. I began to flip through the statistics. How long since he had hit a game-winner? How many of his home runs had decided
the ball games? The answers were discouraging. For Evans. Not for the story.
“You know, he’s really not delivering the way he should,” I said.
“You’re right,” said my colleague, nodding. “You should write that.”
Which is what I began to do. And then Evans came up again. And there were two men on. And there it goes By now, it was the seventh inning. The Tigers were losing, 5-3, and looking lethargic. A classic fiasco, I figured. Evans would again leave men stranded. As he had been doing all year. Far too often. I didn’t want to be unnecessarily negative. But facts are facts.
“Watch him come up here and hit one over the fence,” my colleague said, grinning.
“Watch me grow wings and fly to the moon,” I said.
Be still, fingers. Four weeks? Did Evans really go four weeks without a home run? How sad. How terribly sad. Poor Evans. But the facts were the facts.
And here came the first pitch . . .
. . . and there it went. Smack. Home run. Not one of those feather jobs. I mean a rope to right-center field. It bounced off the second deck. The second deck?
“And you were going to rip him,” my colleague said.
“No, I wasn’t,” I said.
I turned off the computer. I went for a Coke. The Tigers wound up winning the game, 6-5, thanks to Evans’ homer. There was joy in the clubhouse. I saw Evans smiling as he talked into microphones. All the other stuff about his not delivering in the past was still true. But I felt a twinge of guilt, anyhow.
And so here I sit, the computer staring me in the face. Every time you think you have the Tigers figured, they throw you a fastball. Or they hit one out.
So what have I learned from my travels? Here is what I have learned: The more things stay the same, the more things change.
That is my new philosophy. It took me awhile to come up with it. And I am hoping to discuss it with a fellow philosopher, Dave LaPoint.
As soon as I get his number in San Diego.