Rain on everything. The players, the fans, the parade, everything. What had started Friday afternoon as a crisp new dream had, by Sunday night, been left soggy and limp.
The Red Sox came here in first place. Now they are more in first place. The Tigers were 4 1/2 back. Now they are 7 1/2 back.
Rain on everything.
Sunday was the worst. Sunday was the nailer. Sunday was the game that had to be won, the point that had to be made. The Tigers could beat the Red Sox. They could beat Roger Clemens. All afternoon they struggled to prove so in a steady summer shower, twisting the ignition key and praying for the engine to turn over.
One swing away. It was always one swing away. Kirk Gibson fouled out with the bases loaded, ending the third, and Chet Lemon grounded out with two on,
ending the fourth, and Lou Whitaker struck out with two on, ending the sixth. One swing away.
And then, finally, Darrell Evans delivered that one swing — a grand slam that made it 6-4 in the seventh — and wouldn’t you know it? The very next inning Willie Hernandez served up a grand slam to Boston pinch hitter Rich Gedman, and Detroit was back in the water, neck high. The Red Sox were better “What can you say after a game like this?” someone asked Tigers manager Sparky Anderson after Boston defeated Detroit, 9-6.
“It’s over, it’s gone, that’s all,” Sparky said, his voice low. “If I had my druthers, it’d be a different outcome. But you don’t get your druthers.”
And the Tigers don’t get the win they wanted most. The reason is simple: The good teams win, and the best teams win the ones that matter.
Right now, the Tigers are good.
And the Red Sox are better.
Rain on everything.
Where had the Friday spirit gone? On Friday, all you had to do is wish. Boston was struggling. And Boston was coming to town. First place was a scared calf, waiting to be lassoed.
But then Tom Seaver finessed the Tigers to shreds Friday night — a night the Tigers went with their shakiest starting pitcher. And on Saturday the Red Sox’s bats stayed one run ahead of the Tigers’. Chances were missed. Runs were surrendered. Too many runs. Every step by Detroit was met a half-step wider by Boston.
Where was the excellence that had taken the Tigers from 14 back to 4 1/2 back? It was as if the rising soprano had reached Carnegie Hall and suddenly caught laryngitis.
They needed the magic more than ever on this soggy Sunday afternoon. And finally, when Evans hit that crucial home run, it resurfaced, briefly, and the umbrellas bobbed up and down in a wet Wave. Clemens had been knocked out. The Tigers led. They gathered in a celebration huddle.
And it did not last.
“That homer must have felt good at the time,” someone said to Evans afterward.
“Yeah,” he said softly. “A very short time.”
It came crashing down with the arc of Gedman’s grand slam to right field. The Detroit dugout went silent. The fans went silent. As the Boston runners circled the bases, Hernandez dropped his head, slapped himself, and stared at the drops gathering on the muddy mound.
Rain on everything. A lost weekend “What now?” someone asked shortstop Alan Trammell in the eerily quiet Tigers’ clubhouse.
“Well, Boston still has to win a lot more games,” he said. Then he paused.
“And we have to win a heck of a lot more games.”
“What now?” someone asked Walt Terrell, who had started the game and pitched six good innings and one lousy one.
“Come back and try again,” he said. “We’ve had our chances. They played better.”
There will be more games. There will be more chances. The Tigers are in fourth place. But there is tonight, with Jack Morris on the mound. There is next weekend in Boston, three more games. There is the rest of the season, which is still long enough mathematically.
There is all that. And there is the thought that Boston may never be so vulnerable again. This was the weekend to win.
But the weekend is lost.
When Sunday’s game ended, the Tigers were quiet, their uniforms soaked. The fans kicked the seats on their way out and water splashed back. The organ man had played “Summertime,” but it didn’t feel that way. Not at all.
Rain on the parade. Rain on the dream. Rain on everything, and a while before it dries.