BOSTON — We have seen this before. And it doesn’t look any better the second time around.
Big series with Boston, big first game, big loss. Last week. Wasn’t it last week? The Tigers were hepped up, within shouting distance of first place, and then, plop.
Last week, we blamed the choice of starters. Randy O’Neal against Tom Seaver? A mismatch, we said. Especially in such a big game.
No excuse this Friday night. Walt Terrell on the mound against Roger Clemens. No excuse. Only this time it was the entire Tigers team that looked overmatched.
For one inning. One lousy inning.
And it was enough.
Forget the pennant race. Not when the Tigers play this way. They scratch and claw for a single run in the top of the fifth — Lou Whitaker stretching a single into a double, then stealing third, and finally scoring — only to follow it up with their worst pitching/defensive inning of the year, allowing eight runs to Boston and slamming the lid closed on this critical game.
The Tigers are long past the point where they can afford to make mistakes and still dream in championship colors. But Walt Terrell walked the No. 9 batter to lead off the fifth (mistake No. 1), and Kirk Gibson threw to the wrong base on a Wade Boggs hit (mistake No. 2) and Terrell failed to cover first fast enough on a ground ball (mistake No. 3), then threw a wild pitch to give up a run (mistake No. 4) and Bill Campbell was brought in and gave up a home run to Ed Romero — Ed Romero? — the guy who had walked to start the whole inning in the first place and who hadn’t hit a home run in two years
(mistakes No. 5, 6, 7, etc.).
And you turn around and it was 8-1.
And the big game was over.
Sound familiar? Tigers just can’t score them
The facts are obvious. The facts are ugly. The Red Sox are simply playing better than the Tigers. Especially against the Tigers. When they put men on, they bring them around, while the Tigers leave them standing on base. When their pitchers need to be effective, they have been, while the Tigers’ — with the exception of Jack Morris — have been erratic.
Yes, the Tigers came back to score four more runs and get more hits off of Roger Clemens than any other team this year. But it makes no difference how many runs you score when you give up more. And the final score was 8-5, Red Sox.
Say what you will about desire, belief, confidence — and all the other qualities the Tigers say they have re-discovered in their climb out of mediocrity. There comes a time when you have to prove it, and now is the time, and the Tigers are stumbling.
They are not losing 2-1. They are losing 8-5 and 8-2 and 9-6 and 8-7. Pitching is letting them down, and pitching is what brought them back in the first place.
This series is the Tigers’ last this season with the Red Sox, who lead them by seven games. That means if they ever hope to catch Boston it will have to be by some other team’s efforts. And that is not the way to win a division.
The Red Sox must lose nine times more then the Tigers in their remaining 47 games for Detroit to have a chance at celebration.
There may be a great history of Red Sox collapses, but they certainly didn’t look that traditional Friday night. Playing from behind again
So what does it all mean? That there is no point anymore? Of course not. If this season has proven anything, it’s that you better not count anyone completely out.
But when baseball seasons end, you usually find certain old expressions ringing true, and one of them is that you win pennants only by winning the games you have to win. In the last five efforts against the Red Sox — all games that fit that description — the Tigers are 1-4.
There are only two games left between the two.
A sweep here would have done a lot more than change the numbers. It would have convinced the Tigers that they could beat the best — something they’ve only been saying up till now — and that confidence would surely have sprinkled itself onto the rest of their menu this season.
Instead, they again dropped game No. 1, big game, opening game. The Detroit players can take solace in their almost- comeback. They can remind themselves that one bad inning is just one bad inning. They can dig down and win the next two, which will move them up one game on Boston, from where they started Friday afternoon.
But one game is not enough. Not at this point. And the truth of that echoes like a cannon shot as this critical weekend continues.