Yesterday’s home opener was everything Detroit Tigers fans had both hoped for and feared. Our Boys of Summer returned from Lakeland as one of the most dynamic Tigers teams ever assembled. Except for its bullpen. The team’s one major weakness was on full display on Opening Day at Comerica Park.
Tigers ace Justin Verlander looked masterful in the first 5 innings. He was hitting the corners and making the opposing batters look silly as they were swinging at breaking balls half a foot from their bats.
Then reality set in.
A collective sigh overtook the ballpark as middle reliever Jason Grilli charged to the mound. Grilli allowed the tying run to score (charged to Verlander) in the 8 pitches he threw. Technically, Grilli’s ERA is still a perfect 0.00, but Tigers’ fans know better. Seay, Lopez, Jones and Bautista followed in relief but were unable to hold the Royals.
I believe that allowing Tigers starters to pitch complete games is going to be the key to winning it all in 2008. Unless Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski is able to put together a blockbuster midseason deal, the Tigers are going to experience their fair share of disappointing late inning losses. The only way around it is to allow our starting pitchers to pitch 9 innings and complete their own games.
Why has this become so unusual? Mickey Lolich pitched 190 complete games in his 12 years with the Tigers; Dizzy Trout has 156. Jack Morris (1977-90) pitched 154 complete games while playing for Sparky “Captain Hook” Anderson and with a solid bullpen backing him.
Go back a little further and the complete game stats are staggering: Tommy Bridges, 200; Hal Newhouser, 212; Wild Bill Donovan, 213; Hooks Dauss, 245; and George Mullin, 336.
In 2007, the only complete game pitched by a Detroit Tiger was Verlander when he threw a no-hitter. Just think if each starter were able to pitch 3 complete games in 2008. That would equal about one ever other month per pitcher. Is that asking too much?
The 1984 Tigers starters pitched 19 complete games (including 9 by Morris and 7 by Dan Petry); the 1968 Tigers starters pitched 59 complete games (including 28 by Denny McLain, 10 by Earl Wilson, and 8 by Lolich).
Yesterday was a good example of a game that could have — and should have — been completed by the starter. Avoiding 10 or 12 more losses like yesterday’s will be the difference between playing in the World Series — or watching it on television.
Mr. Leyland, with all due respect, please let your starters finish their games.