TUNE IS FAMILIAR, ANDJAYS’ PITCH IS PERFECT

TORONTO — There are certain lessons you learn as a kid that, try as you might, you can never forget: 1) An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 2) Don’t go out with wet hair. 3) Upon smashing your mother’s favorite antique vase while playing Masters Of Destruction with your kid brother, always blame the dog. 4) Good pitching beats good hitting.

The Tigers came up here two days ago, bats blazing. They were baseball’s answer to a Godzilla movie, all paws and claws, stepping on police cars, eating the tops off buildings. You can get pretty confident when half your starting lineup hits the ball out of the park on a regular basis. Almost confident enough to forget lesson No. 4.

Almost.

Good pitching beats good hitting. The Blue Jays are making this so clear, they might as well use a laser beam and etch it into the Tigers’ foreheads. In two nights in Toronto, Detroit has managed just three runs. Three runs? On a good night, the Tigers have that before the fans find their seats.

But on those nights, they are in the comfortable confines of Tiger Stadium and not here, in the SkyDome, facing the Blue Jays, whose pitching staff is considered the best in the American League and whose bullpen may be the best in baseball. It is fun to think your team can smack its way to the top. And on many a firework night, you can believe it.

But here was all you needed to see Wednesday: Top of the ninth, Toronto leading by three runs. Tony Phillips cracks a double. Cecil Fielder cracks a single. The tying run comes to the plate. Three times. And strikes out all three times.

This, of course, reminds us of the old childhood lessons: 1) Cheaters never prosper. 2) Don’t eat yellow snow. 3) When the teacher stops class to ask you “What’s so funny, young man?” never, ever say “The wart on the end of your nose.” 4) A bullpen ace is worth his weight in gold.

Tigers running out of magic

“Do I believe good pitching will beat good hitting?” asked Tom Henke, the whiz who struck out Mickey Tettleton, Travis Fryman and Dave Bergman (Bergman with a final whiff so powerful, I felt my hair blow back) to win Wednesday’s game, 5-2 and keep his streak of 25 consecutive saves alive. “Yes, I do believe that. I think over the long haul, pitching is going to win you more ball games.

“Hey, I was reading the newspaper yesterday and I saw where even Sparky Anderson said if he could pick 10 pitchers, he’d take his chances on winning just with them.”

Wait a minute.

I thought Sparky was on our side.

Well. Sparky doesn’t have the option of picking 10 pitchers. And the Tigers have little option but to dance with what brung ’em, which is an offense that most closely resembles the Stealth bomber. Wasn’t it just a few nights ago that every hit seemed to be a game-winning home run?

Yes. But as we said, that was not against Toronto. Against Toronto this season, Detroit has lost twice as many as it has won (3-6.) And let’s face it. If the Tigers are to have any hope of turning this season — which began with as much promise as a rabbit in a field of foxes — into something magical, they are going to have to surpass the Jays. Sooner or later.

“If they sweep us here, they’d be in an unbelievably good position,” Sparky said before the game. “Can you imagine if they’re ahead 7 1/2 games, with that pitching staff?”

Wait a minute.

I thought Sparky was on our side.

This reminds us of the childhood lessons: 1) A stitch in time saves nine. 2) Practice makes perfect. 3) Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Earl, Duke. . . . 4) A manager will contradict himself on just about everything, if you interview him enough.

Wait till next month

But OK. Let’s be optimistic for a moment:

1) The Blue Jays managed to have a losing record since the All-Star break before the Tigers arrived. Maybe, once the Tigers leave, the Jays can return to their losing ways.

2) Check the calendar. It reads August. And though I’m sure, if the Tigers had won these two games, fans would be chanting “Here we come, baby, here we come, baby, hummbaby, hummbaby, like a big tractor, outta our way, baby” — instead, they can now say “Come on. How much can a game count in August?”

“Remember, the Blue Jays have to play the West Coast teams in September,” Phillips said after the loss. “Anything can happen under those circumstances. Come on, it’s only August.”

See what I mean?

The weird part is, the Tigers, who now trail Toronto by 6 1/2, got two pretty fair pitching outings of their own. John Cerutti went the distance and surrendered two runs on Tuesday. And Frank Tanana was decent in allowing four runs in nearly seven innings Wednesday. Normally, with performances like that, the Tigers count on a win. Of course, normally, they don’t face Tom Henke, who has an ERA in the SkyDome of 0.56.

But, to quote another old expression, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick Tom Henke’s nose. The Tigers will try again tonight, try to get the bats swirling, try to get the offense snorting. Mostly, they will try to forget what they’ve been told all these years about pitching and hitting. That would be too depressing.

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