TIGERS PERFORMING LIKECHEAP IMITATION OF CHAMPS

Pretty soon, I expect to find the American League East title selling at a garage sale for $1.39.

Does anybody want this thing? Detroit loses. Toronto loses. Detroit wins. Toronto loses. Detroit loses. Toronto loses. Are we sure this is the homestretch? Geez. When the going gets tough, the tough wait for the weekend.

Let’s be honest here. No excuses. The Tigers can talk all they want about fatigue, off-nights, a hot opposing pitcher; if you want to win a pennant, you overcome those things. And so far this week — this critical, final week — they’ve gone flat twice in three tries against a team that is 28 games behind them.

What was the score Wednesday night? Baltimore 7, Detroit 3? Ugh. Never mind that the Blue Jays also lost, and the Tigers remain just 1 1/2 games back. That’s like a boxer who returns to his corner, bleeding from both eyes, and says: “I think I’m tiring him out.”

No excuses. If the Tigers ultimately win this AL East title, it will be largely back door, an unexpected collapse by Toronto. And if they lose it? Well, you can find shreds of the white flag right here, Tiger Stadium, on this playground-turned- battleground by these (gulp) Batlimore Orioles.

Ooh, it hurts to say that. Thanks to the Brewers Before Monday’s game, Sparky Anderson was musing on the ultimate AL East winner. With pipe in mouth, he leaned back and said:
“It’s very simple. It’s not which team puts men on base. It’s the one who brings them in.”

How true. And Wednesday, the Orioles listened to Sparky better than his own team. The O’s brought six of their seven runners in on home runs. Earl Weaver would have loved it.

And the Tigers? They rubbed out base runner after base runner with double plays — in the second, third and fifth innings. In the sixth, Kirk Gibson batted with two men on, one out. He grounded into a fielder’s choice. Alan Trammell followed. He flied to left.

Now before you say, “Hey, this is baseball. It happens,” let us say, “Hey. This is Baltimore. It’s not supposed to happen.” Are these the sixth-place Orioles? The same Orioles whom the Blue Jays defeated six straight times this month, by an average score of, what? Eighty-five to zero?

Tigers fans thought they’d seen the worst of it Monday. After a heart-stopping series in Toronto, the Tigers came home dead. Jack Morris, their ace, struggled and allowed three runs. And the Detroit batters made a guy named John Habyan look like Roger Clemens. A 3-0 shutout? Detroit’s first shutout in a month and a half? That hurt. You could see it in the Tigers’ clubhouse afterward. Yet they got a reprieve; Toronto lost — not only Monday but Tuesday as well.

“We’ve learned our lesson,” the Tigers seemed to say Tuesday night, after a 10-1 win. “We won’t bite the hand that feeds us again.”

No. This time they chomped it off. How much more do we want from the Milwaukee Brewers? A sweep of the Jays? They should get a key to the city from Coleman Young. “If we win this thing, maybe we should vote them a share,” Anderson said with a grim chuckle.

If they win it. The biggest letdown And that is the sad part. Sure, the title is still up for grabs. But taking three games from Toronto is not what I would call an ice skate. How much nicer a one-game lead come Friday — which could have been achieved had the Tigers swept the O’s. “Forget that now,” Bill Madlock said.
“We have to play another game against them.”

Remember when that was considered a plus?

A word in Detroit’s defense. Wednesday was the game they worried about — the game started by Dan Petry. You can understand why he allowed five runs in 2 1/3 innings. For whatever reason, Petry, a super guy, can no longer pitch within 10 minutes of the national anthem. From the bullpen he did fine. Wednesday night, as a starter, he got bombed. And — as on Monday — the Tigers’ bats were ice picks. Who did they lose to? Jose Mesa? Come on. The guy didn’t have a win all season. The guy’s been in the majors three weeks. Hadn’t won a game. His ERA was a football score.

Look. It’s very simple. These are the Orioles. They are out of it. The Tigers, who are in it, should have taken at least three of four. Now the best they can hope for is a split. “If we can’t beat them, we don’t deserve to be here,” Chet Lemon said.

These are not easy words to write. Almost everyone in Detroit — journalists included — would like to see the Tigers complete this most unlikely season with a division title. It would be a terrific story, one of guts, struggle, hole-plugging. But good stories do not guarantee happy endings. Sometimes they just wind up good stories.

“Any suggestions?” Sparky was asked.

“I suggest we start winning,” he said.

Well put.

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