BOSTON — Wait’ll next year.
No. Just kidding. It wasn’t that bad, this 1990 Tigers opener. In fact, based on what I saw, I am ready to make the following predictions:
Cecil Fielder will catch everything except the ones that fall in his glove.
Lloyd Moseby will play deep. Real deep.
Jack Morris will request an automatic four-run lead next time he pitches and, through an act of mercy, he will be granted one.
Tony Phillips will be quoted a lot.
I make that last statement because, in the locker room after this 5-2 loss to the Red Sox — the first defeat in what many are predicting to be a long, long Tigers season — Phillips was about the only one who didn’t act as if he saw it coming.
In fact, Phillips was angry.
“I want some respect for this team,” he said. “The Red Sox didn’t treat us with respect. I saw Mike Greenwell on ESPN last night and he was saying the AL East will be between Boston and Toronto. He didn’t even mention us. Like we weren’t there. That didn’t sit too well.
“Then in the ninth inning, I look up and they got Rob Murphy pitching. It should have been Lee Smith or Jeff Reardon. I took that as a slap in the face. If I were still with the A’s, you can bet they’d have one of those two guys in there, trying to win it. Hey, they both make $2 million a year — and they’re sitting in the bullpen? That’s a slap in the face. We don’t get the respect we deserve.”
All right, Tony! Perhaps 1989 never ended Maybe he should spread some of that around. The fact is, the Tigers will need a little swagger, a little moxie, to rid themselves of the loser tag they so completely earned last year. I’m telling you, I walked into that postgame locker room Monday and it was as if time stood still. As if we picked up last August. Hitters in stony silence. Pitchers slumped against their lockers. It was as if the collective thought was, “Oh, no. Not six more months of this.”
Maybe it was just disappointment at dropping the opener. Or maybe it was the way they lost, mistakes, missed chances, including:
Fielder, who spent last year in Japan, dropping a foul pop that, even in a Tokyo schoolyard, would have been considered easy.
Moseby misplaying a Dwight Evans shot that went all the way to the centerfield wall and brought in three runs.
Edwin Nunez walking the No. 9 hitter to bring up Wade Boggs, who already had three hits.
Alan Trammell striking out on the last pitch of the game, with the bases loaded, against Smith, who relieved Murphy.
That’s enough to pop anyone’s bubble, even on an afternoon as glorious as Monday in Boston. Leaning by his locker, trying to shrug off the defeat, Morris (0-1) was asked if he had hoped for a better beginning.
“Hope? I don’t want to hope anymore. We can’t make little mistakes. Fundamentals are fundamentals. It’s those little things that end up costing you the games.”
Not to Phillips. Let’s not forget, this guy comes from a team that swept the World Series last year. He spent much of the game Monday screaming in the dugout, urging on his teammates. Maybe he was screaming for the next bus back to Oakland. Whatever. He managed to have the hottest bat in the Detroit lineup: two of the Tigers’ five hits, one run.
“He’s a little red a–,” marveled manager Sparky Anderson, nodding his approval. “He gets with it. Forget his stats. They won’t mean one iota to us. They’ll show nothing about what he does for this club. Oakland doesn’t just have ability. They have guys who come to win. He’s one of them.”
Maybe the team doctor could arrange a transfusion. On deck: Schembechler? If not, then at least hide the newspapers. One publication Monday listed the Tigers’ chances of winning the World Series at a whopping 1.5 million to one.
Geez. Grenada got better odds.
“They do act like we’re not even around,” Anderson admitted. “I mean, a million to one? Holy cow, no team could be that bad.”
Time has come to prove it. Let us recognize the fact that Monday was really just the fourth week of spring training, thanks to the lockout. Let us recognize that Morris — who pitched well after a shaky four-run start — still began the game with only seven innings of competition under his belt all year.
And then let us admit that the Red Sox had the same problems, and managed to do OK.
Before the game, Bo Schembechler, in his first opener as Tigers president, stood behind the batting cage and gazed out at Fenway Park’s legendary Green Monster wall in leftfield. He had never seen it in person before.
“God, it looks so close,” he gushed, feeling the stirrings of his youth,
“I really think I could hit that thing with the right pitch. I really do.”
Let’s hope the Tigers don’t get that desperate.
Play ball, Round 2.