It should have been better for Dan Petry. He should have had a five-run lead, and the crowd roaring, and some batter twirling his stick until Petry blew a fastball by him and marched triumphantly off the mound. His Tigers teammates would grab his hand and say, “Welcome back, buddy.” And Petry would smile and do a few interviews and meet his wife and baby by the station wagon and drive off into the moonlight.

It should have been that way. But it was not. Not at all. At the end of Petry’s return to action Tuesday evening, he was slumped in front of his locker, talking softly, looking weary.

“It wasn’t what you hoped for, was it?” someone asked him after the Tigers

lost, 5-2, to the Angels in Petry’s first start in 2 1/2 months.

“No,” he said, glumly. “A win would have been sweeter. Much sweeter. This way, it doesn’t matter that I threw five innings or that I threw some sliders or I did this and that. . . . Who cares? You want to win. The team wants to win.”

There was a small mob in front of him. He shifted uncomfortably. He hadn’t been in this situation since June, when he underwent surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow. He had been in the hospital, he had been home, he had been down in Lakeland, pitching for the Class A team, trying to work the arm back into shape.

He had been all over. But he had not been here. Now he was here. But it was not what he wanted.

“Doesn’t your good performance tonight mean something down the road?” someone asked.

“No,” he said, “that’s not what I’m here for — down the road, or next year. I’m here for now. Here to help the team.”

Here to win. But the Tigers lost. A good-neighbor guy Now what makes you feel doubly bad about this is that, in addition to being a crucial part of the Tigers’ rotation, and a winning pitcher in all seven of his seasons here, Petry is the rare kind of guy absolutely everybody likes — a guy who is unassuming and even-tempered with an easy laugh and, well . . . you know. How do you describe it?

I remember sitting in the press box one night, with fellow writer Tommy George, talking about Petry, and I said he was a good-guy, next-door-neighbor type, a fellow you’d wave to as he was mowing his lawn. And Tommy said,
“Yeah, and when he reached the point between your lawn and his lawn, he’d come on over and mow a little bit of yours, too.”

That’s about the best Dan Petry description I can think of.

So you were pulling for him to win Tuesday, and so were his teammates. But they let him down several times, stranding runners and botching plays. Petry threw fairly well in his five innings and 102 pitches — especially considering his time away — but a loss is a loss, and time is no longer a friend to Petry and the Tigers.

“I feel like I haven’t really been a part of the team this year,” Petry said before the game. “It’s like I’ve just been called up from Lakeland. Like I’m the rookie.”

“What will it take to make this season worthwhile for you?” he was asked.

“I’d like to get six more wins,” he said, noting his 4-5 record, “so I could have at least 10. That would make it some kind of year, anyhow.”

What kind of year has it been so far? Petry has yet to win at Tiger Stadium. That kind of year. Moment wasn’t magic While he was in Lakeland, Petry listened to the Tigers’ games on radio. He said he could hear the voices in the dugout — not really hear them, but hear them in his head — whenever someone came running in after a score.

“I could hear Gibby’s scream, I could hear Sparky yelling something,” he said. “All of it.”

It dug at him that he was not with the club. All he could think about was getting back. He was impatient before Tuesday’s game.

The time passed, and so did the moment. Petry gave up only two earned runs, but on this night that would be one too many.

“Did you forget how much a loss hurt?” someone asked him afterward.

“Well, a little,” he said. “Here everything counts, every loss matters. You feel bad after a loss whether you were pitching or someone else.”

It should have been a storybook night. The nice guy comes back and wins one and ignites his team. But storybooks aren’t laced with base paths. And, given the Tigers’ season so far, Petry’s return went about as you’d figure.

It should have been better. But Petry was left — like the rest of the Tigers — hoping the next game will be the good game. Before all the next games run out.

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