One last milestone to conquer

Defeat makes for short farewells. As midnight approached in the Tigers’ locker room, there were quick good-byes, strong handshakes and a whole lotta huggin’ going on.

Noticeably, many players came to hug Prince Fielder. They came to him, not the other way around. And while I don’t want to make too much of this observation, it suggests a leadership role, no?

Which is interesting, considering how low-keyed Fielder was about the whole Detroit collapse, a mostly lifeless, four-game sweep at the hands of the Giants.

“It is what it is,” Fielder said, over and over. That is true. But it is not fiery. Fielder is not a fiery guy. He dismissed pep talks as “Hoosiers” and concluded, “All you can do is go out there and keep swinging.”

A few feet away, Miguel Cabrera was surrounded by reporters. He, too, spoke softly, while admitting that his hitting in the World Series was not good. “We never found our game,” he said.

Across the room, Justin Verlander was dressed to go. He spoke calmly, professionally, like a guy wrapping a sales meeting with no deal closed. “There’s always gonna be that little bit of negativity at the end,” Verlander said. “But to get this far in and of itself is an amazing accomplishment.”

Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder are the three biggest stars on the Tigers. Whoever picked Detroit in this Series did it because of them. Yet you could argue they had the worst series of anyone on the Tigers’ roster, given their expectations.

Verlander was the least effective of the starting pitchers, lasting a mere four innings in Game 1.

Cabrera, the Triple Crown winner, had one extra-base hit.

Fielder was a ghost. He hit .071, had no RBIs and will be remembered for a failed slide at the plate that choked a potential early rally in Game 2.

So why, you might ask, weren’t they taking it a little more … emotionally? Down the hallway, the Giants were dancing, joking, slapping backs. Funny thing is, besides the champagne, you couldn’t tell the difference between that postgame celebration and their pregame ritual, where Hunter Pence riles them up like a Red Bull commercial.

Could that have had something to do with the outcome?

The fire next time. The Tigers tried hard to win this World Series, but, if you ask me, they could use a little sand in their toes, some grit, some agitation. Manager Jim Leyland has said numerous times this season that he wished his team were a little more vocal. He said it again over the telephone Monday.

“I don’t think there was any question they were pumped up and ready to play,” he said. “But… a lot of our guys really don’t talk a lot. Some of our guys are a little bashful and it’s the case (with) some of our stars, to be honest with you….

“I don’t think that has anything to do with their motivation…. But that’s kind of what I meant when I talked earlier in the season about (getting) a couple of dirtballs.”

Leyland said it in June, after a typically bumpy Detroit stretch. He observed that his clubhouse was perhaps a bit too mellow.

“They are a bunch of great guys…. But I wish they had a little meaner streak in them from 7 to 10,” he told the media back then.

When asked why he meant by a dirtball, he responded, “They know how to win games. That type of guy can hit .240 and be just as important as the guy hitting .310 because he got the guy over on a consistent basis, he got the squeeze down, he broke up a double play, he tagged up from first on a long fly to left-center, those are the dirtbags I’m talking about.”

Sound like the Giants?

I think it sounds like them over and over.

Now, don’t misunderstand. Rah-rah doesn’t win games by itself. As Leyland pointed out, “Sometimes the cheerleader stuff plays well with people and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Detroit’s talent is good enough to log plenty of victories even if every player comes to work as a monk.

But when things aren’t going so well – as happened during the regular-season slumps and, of course, in the World Series – would it not help to have some sort of internal combustion? The way Pence or Marco Scutaro seemed to ignite the Giants?

“Truth be told,” Leyland said, “Pence didn’t have a good series. But at the same time, he seemed to be a guy who said something and got them pumped up.”

How the stars align

But OK. You can’t be what you can’t be. Fielder is a mega-talent, but part of what makes him great is his easygoing approach. He is not suddenly going to pick up a bayonet and scream, “Follow me, men!”

“Did the (losing) just snowball in this Series?” he was asked Sunday night.

“It is what it is, you know?” he said, with a smile and a shrug. “We don’t get to put a GPS on it.”

Cabrera seems too boyish to be the leader of the clubhouse. He’s a great audience, a great joker, teammates are in awe of his talent. But he’s not a fire starter.

“I was not able to do my job,” he said glumly Sunday night. “Nothing happened. They pitched great. They worked both sides of the plate, off-speed, catch you off balance. I think that was the key….

“We feel bad, we feel sorry, because we couldn’t get it done in the last series…. You don’t want to feel this, to feel like everything you did in the season is like, four games, it goes down like you don’t do nothing.”

As for Verlander? Well. He’s a thoroughbred, an intense competitor when he is on the mound. But it’s hard for a starting pitcher to be the catalyst for the team. You can only do so much from the dugout four out of five games.

“There’s definitely a burning fire to win it now, to win it all,” he said. “And the only thing to put that out is to win one. If anything, ’06 and this year just stoke it all the more. It’s a raging fire now.”

They can use that fire – and not just when Verlander is on the mound. Perhaps the return of Victor Martinez will help. He is considered that kind of a force. Perhaps they will acquire someone in the off-season, a complimentary player who brings that certain intangible.

Or perhaps they’ll simply get better timing next year, and have no long layoffs between playoff rounds. It could be that simple. The fact is, the Tigers had a heck of a season that ended too soon. There were handshakes and hugs and the players are now as scattered as the rain on the autumn wind. The fire next time. Maybe it’s a little agitation that stirs the pot. Or maybe the three biggest stars play like it. Either way, the prospects look pretty good.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.

Defeat makes for short farewells. As midnight approached in the Tigers’ locker room, there were quick good-byes, strong handshakes and a whole lotta huggin’ going on.

Noticeably, many players came to hug Prince Fielder. They came to him, not the other way around. And while I don’t want to make too much of this observation, it suggests a leadership role, no?

Which is interesting, considering how low-keyed Fielder was about the whole Detroit collapse, a mostly lifeless, four-game sweep at the hands of the Giants.

“It is what it is,” Fielder said, over and over. That is true. But it is not fiery. Fielder is not a fiery guy. He dismissed pep talks as “Hoosiers” and concluded, “All you can do is go out there and keep swinging.”

A few feet away, Miguel Cabrera was surrounded by reporters. He, too, spoke softly, while admitting that his hitting in the World Series was not good. “We never found our game,” he said.

Across the room, Justin Verlander was dressed to go. He spoke calmly, professionally, like a guy wrapping a sales meeting with no deal closed. “There’s always gonna be that little bit of negativity at the end,” Verlander said. “But to get this far in and of itself is an amazing accomplishment.”

Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder are the three biggest stars on the Tigers. Whoever picked Detroit in this Series did it because of them. Yet you could argue they had the worst series of anyone on the Tigers’ roster, given their expectations.

Verlander was the least effective of the starting pitchers, lasting a mere four innings in Game 1.

Cabrera, the Triple Crown winner, had one extra-base hit.

Fielder was a ghost. He hit .071, had no RBIs and will be remembered for a failed slide at the plate that choked a potential early rally in Game 2.

So why, you might ask, weren’t they taking it a little more … emotionally? Down the hallway, the Giants were dancing, joking, slapping backs. Funny thing is, besides the champagne, you couldn’t tell the difference between that postgame celebration and their pregame ritual, where Hunter Pence riles them up like a Red Bull commercial.

Could that have had something to do with the outcome?

The fire next time. The Tigers tried hard to win this World Series, but, if you ask me, they could use a little sand in their toes, some grit, some agitation. Manager Jim Leyland has said numerous times this season that he wished his team were a little more vocal. He said it again over the telephone Monday.

“I don’t think there was any question they were pumped up and ready to play,” he said. “But… a lot of our guys really don’t talk a lot. Some of our guys are a little bashful and it’s the case (with) some of our stars, to be honest with you….

“I don’t think that has anything to do with their motivation…. But that’s kind of what I meant when I talked earlier in the season about (getting) a couple of dirtballs.”

Leyland said it in June, after a typically bumpy Detroit stretch. He observed that his clubhouse was perhaps a bit too mellow.

“They are a bunch of great guys…. But I wish they had a little meaner streak in them from 7 to 10,” he told the media back then.

When asked why he meant by a dirtball, he responded, “They know how to win games. That type of guy can hit .240 and be just as important as the guy hitting .310 because he got the guy over on a consistent basis, he got the squeeze down, he broke up a double play, he tagged up from first on a long fly to left-center, those are the dirtbags I’m talking about.”

Sound like the Giants?

I think it sounds like them over and over.

Now, don’t misunderstand. Rah-rah doesn’t win games by itself. As Leyland pointed out, “Sometimes the cheerleader stuff plays well with people and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Detroit’s talent is good enough to log plenty of victories even if every player comes to work as a monk.

But when things aren’t going so well – as happened during the regular-season slumps and, of course, in the World Series – would it not help to have some sort of internal combustion? The way Pence or Marco Scutaro seemed to ignite the Giants?

“Truth be told,” Leyland said, “Pence didn’t have a good series. But at the same time, he seemed to be a guy who said something and got them pumped up.”

How the stars align

But OK. You can’t be what you can’t be. Fielder is a mega-talent, but part of what makes him great is his easygoing approach. He is not suddenly going to pick up a bayonet and scream, “Follow me, men!”

“Did the (losing) just snowball in this Series?” he was asked Sunday night.

“It is what it is, you know?” he said, with a smile and a shrug. “We don’t get to put a GPS on it.”

Cabrera seems too boyish to be the leader of the clubhouse. He’s a great audience, a great joker, teammates are in awe of his talent. But he’s not a fire starter.

“I was not able to do my job,” he said glumly Sunday night. “Nothing happened. They pitched great. They worked both sides of the plate, off-speed, catch you off balance. I think that was the key….

“We feel bad, we feel sorry, because we couldn’t get it done in the last series…. You don’t want to feel this, to feel like everything you did in the season is like, four games, it goes down like you don’t do nothing.”

As for Verlander? Well. He’s a thoroughbred, an intense competitor when he is on the mound. But it’s hard for a starting pitcher to be the catalyst for the team. You can only do so much from the dugout four out of five games.

“There’s definitely a burning fire to win it now, to win it all,” he said. “And the only thing to put that out is to win one. If anything, ’06 and this year just stoke it all the more. It’s a raging fire now.”

They can use that fire – and not just when Verlander is on the mound. Perhaps the return of Victor Martinez will help. He is considered that kind of a force. Perhaps they will acquire someone in the off-season, a complimentary player who brings that certain intangible.

Or perhaps they’ll simply get better timing next year, and have no long layoffs between playoff rounds. It could be that simple. The fact is, the Tigers had a heck of a season that ended too soon. There were handshakes and hugs and the players are now as scattered as the rain on the autumn wind. The fire next time. Maybe it’s a little agitation that stirs the pot. Or maybe the three biggest stars play like it. Either way, the prospects look pretty good.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.

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