When it came time to sing "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch at Rangers Ballpark during Game 6 of the ALCS, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was despondently walking down the Tigers' tunnel, on his way to the clubhouse.
Not a good sign.
At that point, the Rangers were handily leading the Tigers by the lopsided sum of 12-4. And the Rangers weren't even done. The Rangers won the pennant by a full 10-spot, 15-5.
The Tigers got off to a fast start, with home runs by first baseman Miguel Cabrera and shortstop Jhonny Peralta in the first two innings. Starter Max Scherzer was on the mound and pitching a two-inning shutout.
If you're a Tigers fan, you'd like to think that's where it ends. Tigers win Game 6, we're coming back tomorrow night for a deciding seventh game.
Not so fast.
With one out in the bottom of the third, Scherzer issued his second walk of the game to Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus, followed by a soft fly ball single to outfielder Josh Hamilton.
Then came the RBI, one by Michael Young and another by Adrian Beltre. Mike Napoli walked and Nelson Cruz faced a 2-2 count. The ensuing shoulder-high fastball was met with a Cruz checked swing that had Detroit applauding a clutch second out.
Not so fast.
With the entire Tigers bench appealing, first-base umpire and crew chief Tim Welke ruled no swing, and the at-bat continued. Cruz walked on the very next pitch.
Looking for a quick scapegoat, the FOX broadcasters blamed the umpire: "He clearly went," whined Tim McCarver. Replays disagreed with McCarver's analysis, showing the correct call had been made. Strike one, FOX.
An increasingly uncomfortable Jim Leyland went out to the mound for a quick pitching change in the form of Daniel Schlereth. If you're keeping score at home, that would be the same Daniel Schlereth who appeared twice during the ALDS, pitching 1.2 innings and recording a 10.80 ERA.
Two-run single, David Murphy.
Well, at least Schlereth wouldn't have to worry about recording a double-digit ERA in the ALCS. If you're keeping score at home, please record Schlereth's ALCS ERA as "infinity."
A now-flustered Leyland immediately yanked Schlereth and replaced him with regular-season starter Rick Porcello. Working with a 5-2 deficit in an elimination game, it was crunch time and Leyland was firing all cannons.
As Rangers pinch hitter Craig Gentry hit a weak ground ball to the right side, Tigers second baseman Ramon Santiago inexplicably threw to shortstop Peralta rushing to cover second base.
Murphy, hustling from first base, made it into second prior to the catch for a busted fielder's choice, bases loaded, still one out.
Looking for another quick scapegoat, Joe Buck and McCarver blamed second-base umpire Larry Vanover: "Wow, he beat him, he was out," quipped McCarver. Unfortunately for Buck and McCarver, replays again proved the umpire made the correct call. Strike two, FOX.
Porcello was knocked out of the game two batters later, and before the third out of the bottom of the third inning had been recorded, the Rangers were leading 9-2. For Texas, it was a franchise record for most runs scored in an postseason inning.
Buck and McCarver referred back to the alleged blown check swing call for the next few innings, showing replay after replay that conclusively showed the umpire had gotten the call correct. McCarver claimed that the phantom blown call was to blame for four of Texas' nine runs.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, however, the FOX crew knew that the Tigers, and only the Tigers, were to blame for their Game 6 performance.
Rangers batter Ian Kinsler lofted a fly ball to deep right center field. Tigers right fielder Ryan Rayburn camped under it and—crash. Center fielder Austin Jackson and Rayburn collided, resulting in a dropped can of corn and the Rangers' eventual 10th run.
In what could easily be considered a taunt if only it wasn't glaringly obvious that it was an accident, the Rangers experienced a similar collision in deep right-center field in the seventh inning.
But unlike the Jackson-Rayburn episode, the Rangers' Cruz held onto the fly ball for an out. If it wasn't such a coincidence, you'd think the Rangers were showing the Tigers how to play baseball.
In the end, the Tigers struck out eight times, committed two scoring errors and several additional mental mistakes, threw two wild pitches, and got both benches warned by the home plate umpire when pitcher Al Alburquerque threw his first pitch of the game at Ian Kinsler's head.
Oh, that's right. Alburquerque was just wild, there is no way he was trying to hit Kinsler.
But that's what makes it so much worse!
The Tigers had no shot of winning this ballgame. From the third inning on, they made mistake after mistake after mistake. The combination of Detroit's poor play and Texas' desire to end the ALCS resulted in the massacre of a game we saw Saturday night.
Having said that, Detroit had a wonderful 2011. As Leyland was interviewed following his team's embarrassing defeat, he reflected on the 2011 season and thanked Tigers fans for their support.
Detroit has plenty to be proud of. The Tigers are 2011 AL Central champs, knocked off the New York Yankees to get to the Championship Series, and have a solid group of guys in the clubhouse going forward into 2012.
The Tigers simply had a bad game. It happens to every team, almost every year, but usually during the regular season. There are usually around five or six 10-run victories around the major leagues every week. It happens and it doesn't reflect poorly on a team or on a team's ability.
That's why baseball plays a 162-game season, a seven-game Championship and World Series. Teams are allowed to have bad days. Had the Tigers been a little better during the ALCS, this Game 6 meltdown would have been meaningless. Put it in your pocket and come back again tomorrow.
Unfortunately for Detroit, the Texas Rangers were the better team. The defending American League champions won another pennant and will be back in the World Series for the second consecutive year.
To put it in perspective, which team would you rather be?
No. 1: The Detroit Tigers, ALCS contenders, who just endured a terrible game and lost 15-5 to the best team in the American League, if not in all of baseball. A team with a great group of ballplayers, a great manager and GM who will be back next year to try it again, knowing that their team is capable of postseason success.
No. 2: The Boston Red Sox, a team given a 99.6% probability of getting to the postseason as of the beginning of September, a team that suffered the most monumental collapse in recent MLB history, culminating in a terribly embarrassing blown save loss and elimination on the final day of the regular season. A team with a talented group of ballplayers, no manager and no GM, an ownership group whose application of scorched-earth policy has drawn the wrath of their valuable DH, who just hasn't been the same since his friend Manny Ramirez left.
That's what I thought.
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