The Tigers played a baseball game Tuesday that we won’t forget, to end a season we certainly will never forget. For all the wrong reasons.
For nearly the entire summer, fans of the Tigers wrung their hands and squirmed in their seats, looking at their first-place team and just not seeing, well, a first-place team.
This morning, they’re seeing a second-place team. At the worst possible time of the season—the end of it.
The Detroit Tigers, leaders of the Central Division since May 10, played hare to the Minnesota Twins’ tortoise and came from ahead in a gut-wrenching, drip-drip water torture manner, finally overtaken by the Twins two days after the regular season finale, in a baseball game that they’ll be talking about for decades, all around the country.
In a way, you could see this one coming for miles. It was like watching one of those horror movies where the heroine “kills” the monster and drops her weapon in relief, her back to the play as we see him rise again behind her.
“LOOK OUT!! BEHIND YOU!” we want to scream. And do.
The Twins were seven games behind on Labor Day. They weren’t even above .500. And the Tigers, who wobbled and swayed all summer long thanks to a boat that was unevenly loaded with decent pitching and defense on one side and a popgun offense on the other, sank to their knees in relief, the Twins’ carcass behind them.
A seven-game lead with 26 games to play. The Twins then lost slugger Justin Morneau due to injury. The Morneau injury was to be the stake in the Twins’ heart. And the Tigers dropped that stake, their backs to the Twins’ carcass.
We screamed. Boy, did we scream.
“THE TWINS!! They’re getting up!! Look!! Behind you!!”
The Morneau-less Twins did one of those chilling climbs out of the grave, and started approaching the Tigers, steadily and surely.
The seven-game lead was five, then it was four. The Tigers went into the Metrodome the weekend of September 18 and lost two of three. The lead was three games with 13 to play.
The Tigers won two of the first three games with the Twins in Detroit last week. The lead was three games with four to play.
Yet still the Twins approached them, zombies now, unable to be killed.
It’s official. The Tigers have now been added to the list of MLB teams who will live in infamy.
Yo, 1978 Red Sox—can you move down a tad? Same with you, 2007 Mets. Thanks.
2009 Tigers—take a seat.
You can’t erase this. Time doesn’t heal this one. There haven’t been a lot of monumental collapses in Detroit sports history; usually our teams are feast or famine: they either close the deal or aren’t even in the room.
But this—this won’t be forgotten. Nor should it.
A three game lead with four to play—and all four of those at home, where the Tigers finished 51-30. They needed at first to just beat the Twins last Thursday and the division would be theirs. They failed, but then only needed to win two of three from the White Sox, or else get some help from the Royals in Minnesota.
The Royals, who played Twins’ hero in 2006, sweeping the Tigers on the final weekend in Detroit, rode into Minnesota and helped the Tigers like the guy who shaves your legs before you get put into the electric chair.
The Tigers would have to earn it, like Smith-Barney.
The one-game playoff on Tuesday in the Metrodome was one of the greatest baseball games I’ve ever seen. And ever will see.
At least there’s that. At least the Tigers can say they participated in a classic. Yes, it was more thrilling to the Detroiters, but any baseball fan, anywhere, had to like that game. I don’t even think you had to like baseball to like that game.
So there’s that.
But the game, in a microcosm, was just like the divisional race itself in September. The Tigers sprint off to a 3-0 lead, only to see the Twins slowly whittle it away, giving the Tigers some more of that water torture.
Drip, drip. Twins scratch out a run to make it 3-1. Drip, drip. The Tigers’ bats go cold. Drip, drip. The Twins make it 3-2. Drip, drip.
The Twins go ahead, 4-3. Water gushes down over the Tigers’ faces.
But then Magglio Ordonez, who tried like mad in September to almost single-handedly shove his team over the finish line first, smacked a laser into the left field seats in the 8th inning to tie the game.
But the Twins are the better baseball team, because they play baseball better.
The Twins don’t put runners on first and third with no outs and come away empty thanks to a base running blunder, as the Tigers did in the ninth inning. The Twins don’t try for shoe string catches and turn singles into triples, as Ryan Raburn did in the 10th inning. The Twins don’t load the bases with one out and come away empty, as the Tigers did in the 12th inning.
It took 163 games, but the better team finally won the Central Division. The Tigers’ season-long inability to drive runners in from third base with less than two outs—that bellwether of baseball efficiency—finally got them in the you-know-what.
Don’t blame this one on the Metrodome. The dome didn’t cause Curtis Granderson to commit one of the most egregious base running mistakes you can make—as a Little Leaguer.
I remember being told by the first base coach when I was 11 years old: make sure line drives get through!
Grandy didn’t, and got doubled off first base, killing the Tigers’ rally in the ninth.
While it’s true that Raburn made up for his faux pas by gunning down the potential winning run at the plate in the 10th, he never should have had to do that.
This loss in Game 163 doesn’t have the Metrodome’s fingerprints all over it, unless you’re going to get all Boston Garden/leprechauns on me and speak of little Twin ghosts occupying the place, causing bad things to happen to the Tigers.
Yes, bad things DID happen to the Tigers on Tuesday. But, just as their September Swoon—and why can’t the Tigers be like most teams and have their swoons in June?—the Tigers were their own enemies, thank you very much.
The 2009 Tigers are now in some very select company. And it stinks in there.