TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR TIGER TURNAROUND

Watching Joel Zumaya put more runners on base in the 10th inning than Nate Robertson had allowed in 8 2/3 , I was reminded of that moment in “The Ten Commandments” when Edward G. Robinson sneers, “Where’s your messiah now, Moses?”

Zumaya’s return was so hyped, you’d have thought he was bringing a couple of holy tablets down from a mountain. That myth was quickly exploded in the hot hours Thursday afternoon, when Zumaya couldn’t finish the little masterpiece Robertson started.

Nate had gone nearly nine innings, surrendering zero runs. Zumaya lasted one inning, gave up three runs, three hits, two walks (one intentional) and, oh yes, the game.

But know this: On a day of wasted chances, his was not the worst, just the last.

Consider how the following innings ended if you were scoring at home:

The third: two runners on, Ordonez grounds out.

Sixth: two runners on, Thames grounds out.

Eighth: two runners on, Guillen grounds out.

Ninth: two runners on, Granderson strikes out.

The 10th: two runners on – tying run at second – Rodriguez flies out.

Game over.

Look, the gods are not just going to hand a division to Detroit. The Tigers have to rise up and grab it. The Indians came to Detroit 1 1/2 games ahead in the Central. They leave 2 1/2 games ahead.

That wasn’t the blueprint.

More missed chances

“A crying shame,” Jim Leyland said of the wasted performance by Robertson. And he’s right. How often these days do you see any starting pitcher – let alone a Tiger – taking a shutout into the ninth inning? Robertson, who later said, “I went through four shirts” in the heat and humidity, was one out away from nine complete frames when he gave up a double to Grady Sizemore, only the fourth hit he allowed.

Out went Nate. In came Zoom. That would have been fine had the Tigers been leading, or been able to win in their half of the ninth.

But missed chances are like flu bugs. They spread and infect. The Tigers blew another offensive chance in the ninth, then Zumaya couldn’t hold the Indians, and the Tigers lost the series. They have not won any of their past 10 series.

“I’m just disappointed we couldn’t come up with the big hit,” Leyland said, then added “or a sacrifice fly.”

But that’s the way it’s going for the Tigers now. When they get runs, they don’t get pitching, and vice versa. And if anyone thought Zumaya, who usually works one inning, was going to turn that around himself, forget it.

“You don’t pick up a ball for three months, it’s tough, man” he said. “I know a lot of people are expecting to see those triple digits up there, but it’s just not gonna happen right now. I gotta work with the 95 or 96 m.p.h. I have.”

Time not on Tigers’ side

As he spoke, Kenny Rogers was dressing by his locker, pulling on jeans and a T-shirt after another day of inactivation. He spoke about wanting to get back to pitching and contribute something. The frustration was clear.

A few feet away, Zach Miner threw his belongings in a duffel bag. He had just been told he was headed to the minors. It’s a numbers game – the Tigers wanted to make room for Andrew Miller – but for Miner, a former starter and lately a reliever, it was a jolt.

“Shocked, that’s pretty much all I can say,” Miner said. “I’m upset and disappointed, and I don’t agree with it … even though I’m gonna respect it.”

He looked somewhere between teary and furious. But here he was, a guy who started 16 games last year, packing for the minors, and here was Rogers, maybe the story of last year, in street clothes, and here was Zumaya, last year’s rock star, trying to find his speed, and here were the Tigers, the same team as last year but in a whole different place. After three games of this most crucial week, they have won just one, and Roger Clemens is on the mound today as the Yankees invade.

“The hardest thing,” Miner said before leaving, “is having to pack your bags and take off.”

The Tigers better be careful. Or come the end of September, they’ll be saying the same thing.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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