TORONTO — Before anyone gets upset over the Tigers’ dropping two of three to the Blue Jays — and needing five hours to knock in their first run Thursday night, in a game that was longer than a Russian novel and even less understandable — let me remind you: It is only August. And how important can a baseball game be in August? To prove this theory, I left the SkyDome during the action, went to Maple Leaf Gardens, saw a hockey game, then came back.

I am not making this up.

In fact, had I known the baseball was going to last beyond the David Letterman show, I might have stayed at the hockey a little longer.

Let me explain.

There I am at the Tigers-Jays game, first inning, and I watch Detroit load the bases with the biggest freebie I’ve seen in months, two walks and a strikeout/passed ball to Cecil Fielder — and if Cecil had enough time to run to first base, you know it was a really bad passed ball — and what happens? Travis Fryman comes to bat and swings at the first pitch, pops it up, and the inning is over.

No runs. Three runners stranded. Wait a minute. I already watched the Tigers do this Tuesday night, a game they ultimately lost, 2-1. One run? These

same Tigers who are supposed to be so powerful, they can blow the ball out of the park if they all breathe at the same time? And I figure, “Do I really need to see this? I’m getting depressed.”

Which brings us to the hockey game.

Did I mention it was August?

Hockey game is not a Great One

Well, believe it or not, up here, in August, a month whose official emblem is a giant can of bug spray, they are already practicing for the Canada Cup, a REALLY BIG CANADIAN SPORTING EVENT that gives every citizen goose bumps and which, naturally, the average American has never even heard of. Among the players trying to make the Canadian team: Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and everybody’s favorite teenager-who-has’t-played-a-game-yet-but-is-already-worth-the-gross-national-product-of-Franc

e, Eric Lindros.

Now, I’ve been hearing all this noise about the Red Wings’ maybe trading Yzerman for Lindros. And there’s this intrasquad game Thursday night at the Gardens, and someone tells me Lindros and Gretzky are on the same team. So I figure, what the heck, what are the Tigers gonna do in the next hour but strike out a couple dozen times? Let’s go see the kid.

I run this idea by John Lowe, our superb baseball writer, who feels that a day without batting practice is like a day without your kidneys. And this is all John says: “Bring me back a program.”

So I figure it’s OK.

I race out of the SkyDome, jump in a cab, say, “Maple Leaf Gardens,” and in eight minutes, I am there. Which is great. Until I realize, I have only American money. So I hand the driver an American $20 bill (worth 20 dollars) and he hands me back a Canadian $10 bill (worth 13 cents) and I go in and buy a ticket.

And next thing you know, there, on the ice, is Yzerman, skating in a white uniform, on the same squad as Paul Coffey and Joe Sakic. This is something. In August! I can’t wait to see Gretzky and Lindros.

“Where are Gretzky and Lindros?” I ask the Canadian fan sitting in the next seat. He glares as if I just asked him what planet we are on.

“Their squad lost in the scrimmage yesterday. This game is only for the winners. Didn’t you know that?”

Uh. Well. Sure. Of course.

And boom! Adam Oates scores a goal against Yzerman’s team. Adam Oates? Do I really need to see this? I’m getting depressed.

So I run back outside, catch a cab, and the driver says, “Been watching the hockey game? Too bad Gretzky and Lindros aren’t playing, huh?”

And I figure it’s time to leave this country. Back at SkyDome, a lot of whiffs

Meanwhile, back at the SkyDome, that was exactly what the Tigers were thinking, in between swinging madly at the knuckleballs of Tom Candiotti. By the time I returned, they had struck out 12 times. And it was only the seventh inning. The score was 0-0. And by the 11th inning, it was still 0-0.

And by the 13th, it was still 0-0.

Great. I come to Toronto to see the mighty Tigers, I get a soccer game.

But, because, unlike me, you had the good sense to go to sleep long before this game was over, let me cheerfully inform you that the Tigers finally won, 4-0, on home runs by Mark Salas and Mickey Tettleton in the 14th inning. Isn’t that great! OK, so they needed two calendar days to do it. We shouldn’t be surprised they had trouble. The Tigers are a terrible road team, and the Jays are one of the best at home. Besides, the Toronto pitchers are so tough, as Sparky Anderson says, “They could pitch in a phone booth.”

The funny thing is, if you’d just landed on Earth these past three days, and watched Detroit score seven runs in three games, while allowing only seven — you’d come away thinking, “Hmm. Those Tigers have pretty good pitching. If only they could hit.”

Then again, if you’d just landed on Earth, you’d probably expect to see Gretzky and Lindros at the Canada Cup scrimmage.

And what an idiot you’d be, eh?

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