‘WHEN ALREADY?’ IS THE NEW TIGERS CRY

In the fifth inning, with no outs, a victory still thinkable and Magglio Ordoñez on first base, Miguel Cabrera swung, grounded to short and was thrown out for a double play. He stood there, staring, hands on his hips, as if to say, “What do we have to do to get some runs in this thing?”

Good question. A few innings later, another Cabrera, Orlando, smacked a liner to the right-centerfield wall, clearing the loaded bases, and officially turning the game into a Minnesota rout. Tigers fans rose from their seats, and under a perfect October sun, a day tailor-made for a happy baseball finish, they walked out incomplete.

Still waiting. The herky-jerky Tigers, who have navigated this season like a driving student pumping the brakes, have reached the final weekend on the schedule wavering between two possible extremes: playing for a championship or clearing out their lockers.

Thursday would have been an ideal ending. But it was hardly an ideal game. Marred by errors, hit batsmen, stranded runners and a bench-clearing staredown late in the game, the Tigers’ 8-3 defeat was less a final page than a chapter ending, less a cymbal crash than a drum fill between verses.

The Tigers and Twins may be done with each other.

But their fates are not. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good

Here’s how you knew it wasn’t meant be easy for the Tigers: The Twins – who aren’t big on walking opposing batters – walked six Tigers on Thursday afternoon. They also had four errors – their highest total all season. And Detroit STILL struggled putting runs on the board. It’s like shoving milkshakes down your throat and still losing weight.

The Tigers left 12 men on base, or an average of man and a third an inning. That inexact number is a perfect symbol of their year, somewhere between here and there. You look at the pitching staff and you say, “Hmm, a short playoff series, Verlander, Jackson, Porcello, why not?”

Then you look at the regular season, the way the bats sometimes go cold at the worst times, and you ask, “Why?” The Tigers had great chances on Thursday. They didn’t have great pitching. They fell victim to the latter and couldn’t handle the former.

After the game, Minnesota outfielder Denard Span told the media “we just didn’t want to see them celebrating,” but the odds still favor the Tigers whooping it up. They would have to lose all three remaining games – at home, against the White Sox – to blow this thing. And the Twins would need to sweep the Royals in the Metrodome.

That’s pretty unlikely. A weird way to end it

Still, you do regret this thing couldn’t have ended more decisively Thursday. The Twins and Tigers have chased each other from afar for a while, and in their final scheduled meeting, the Tigers digging in the last dagger would have been sweet for the Comerica Park crowd.

But while the Twins slapped hands confidently after the game, it was more macho than math. The math says something pretty strange would have to happen for the Tigers to lose this (or at least reach a one-game tiebreaker).

Then again, strange was the name of the game Thursday. You want to know how strange? The Twins’ Delmon Young got hit by a pitch, fell writhing on the ground, then rose and wagged an angry finger – at his own teammate! Young blamed Twins pitcher Jose Mijares for earlier throwing at a Tiger, which caused Young to get a retaliatory beaning by Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman.

In other words, Young was saying, “Thanks a lot, teammate! Thanks to your stupid move, they’re coming after ME!”

I don’t get it. If they all know it’s coming, why do they bother to do it?

Then again, I guess you could say the same thing about this pennant race. If it seems so over, how come they just don’t finish it?

Mitch Albom will sign copies of “Have a Little Faith” at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Barnes & Noble in East Lansing. Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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