After Tuesday’s victory, Jim Leyland made a prediction for Wednesday’s game:
“If we pitch better than they do tomorrow night, we’ll have a chance to win.”
And before I left for the ballpark Wednesday, my pal and radio cohort Kenny Brown made his own prediction.
“You going to see Zach Miner pitch? Better get there early.”
Both men, as it turned out, were prescient, which is a fancy word for accurate, which is a fancy word for right. The Tigers will go as far as their pitching can take them, as Leyland said, and Miner – after a terrific run of six straight victories earlier this summer – has been having, as Kenny suggested, a rough patch. He’d lost his previous two outings. And on Wednesday, in barely more than an inning, he faced 10 Chicago batters, got four outs, surrendered six earned runs, four hits, two walks and two home runs.
He was done before 8 o’clock.
“I had my mind made up before the game I wasn’t going to wait,” Leyland said of the quick yank after the eventual 7-5 defeat. “This is not a time experiment.”
Leyland faulted Miner’s first inning, where retired the first two batters, had two strikes on Jim Thome “then pitched him like if the guy hit a bleeping home run the game’s over.” He wound up walking Thome, giving up a single to Paul Konerko and a blast of a home run to Jermaine Dye.
“That cost him his outing,” Leyland said.
You have to feel for Miner, who was 7-2 at one point this year and is now 7-5. He’s only 24, a humble kid, and he’s still green enough to be grateful for things like big hotel rooms and baggage handlers. He is also always deferring to Justin Verlander, his fellow rookie, who sits next to him in the clubhouse. Miner tells people Verlander has “the best stuff in the major leagues.” That’s either a good friend or a really loyal teammate.
Or maybe it’s the truth.
The cover boy
Speaking of Verlander, the 23-year-old is now on the cover of Sports Illustrated, this week’s edition, with a headline that reads “Bring It.”
“How did you find out?” I asked him after the game.
“Someone in the media told me yesterday. He thought I knew. I said, Whoa, whoa, whoa, I’m on the cover of Sports Illustrated?’ “
He immediately went online to check it out, on the computer that he keeps in his locker (old timers, don’t ask) and he saw the cover shot, which he said he likes. He now has 10 actual copies, which “are already spoken for.”
“Yeah,” quipped Jason Grilli, a few feet away, “but did they give you a sweatshirt and a free subscription?”
Verlander laughed. You watch these kids – and they are kids – and you know it can’t be easy for them, not the big successes like a magazine cover and not the embarrassing performances, like the 10-batter night Miner had endured. They are so young, it seems, yet they are being asked to know the answers before reading the entire book.
And nobody is going to feel sorry for them if they don’t.
Another game today
So the Tigers have won two and dropped one against the Sox in this series, and today we see if they merely break even or pick up ground. One of the trappings of a hot baseball team is that you tend to make too much out of any given night. A win, and the pennant is within reach. A loss, and the boogey men are sneaking up to steal your playoff spot.
Neither is true of course. You can’t go up and down. To prove it, we will close the way we opened, with a clever Leyland anecdote. This came Tuesday night, when he was sitting with his socked feet up on the desk. Someone asked about the victories a positive attitude could produce.
“You know,” he said, “I always got a kick out of those guys who worked with the players to see success, those vision guys?”
“Yeah, visualization. I used to love that. Because at 2 o’clock, they’d be in my clubhouse talking to somebody, and at 4 o’clock they’d be in the other team’s clubhouse talking to somebody.
“And when the bleeping game started, usually the best guy won.”
Pretty smart, huh? I’ll see what Kenny Brown has to top that. Probably just “Told ya.”