Not this again.
It was five years ago that the Detroit Tigers squandered a lead in the final days of the regular season and ended up having to play an extra tilt (Infamous Game #163) to decide the division title. Depending on what happens this afternoon at Comerica Park, we may be looking at another Game 163.
That debacle five years ago also involved the Minnesota Twins, except back in ’09 (can we start saying “Aught-Nine” yet or do we need to wear a tweed vest and drive a Model T to do that?) the Twins were the team who scraped past the Tigers to capture the AL Central title. This time, the Royals are the chasers and the Twins are the spoilers.
What is it with this team and the final week of the season? As a pointed out in a recent article in which I was trying to be WRONG, the Tigers have had a history of stumbling down the stretch, Last year they were no-hit on the last day of the season. What will happen later today? Who knows?
Anything can happen in one game in baseball. One bad pitch, one fateful error, one slip on the base paths, that’s all it takes. The better team doesn’t always win and there’s no magic formula, some days the other team just beats you. The Twins have bonked the Bengals on the head the last two nights, putting the champagne celebrations on hold. Now, with a one-game lead entering the last day of the season, Detroit doesn’t have to win, but it feels like it. A loss and a KC win and the Tigers will host the Royals in Game 163 tomorrow. What can Detroit do to avoid that fate?
Don’t look to Brad Ausmus. As Yogi Berra once said about being a manager in big games, “This isn’t football — you can’t draw up trick plays.”
A Hail Mary or Hidden Ball Trick won’t help the Tigers. They’ve put themselves in this situation and now they have to dig their way out. It’s on the players.
The first man who has to step up is David Price, who has been hot-cold so far in his Detroit tenure. He was hot last time, on Tuesday when he shut out the White Sox for 8 1/3 innings before some bloop hits off his tired left arm tied a game the Tigers eventually won in walkoff fashion. Price needs to pitch better this afternoon.
The man who won Price’s last start with a single was Miguel Cabrera, and he also needs to have a big game. Miggy is having a great September — Detroit wouldn’t even be in the wild card hunt without his efforts this month.
The Tigers can lose the division and still play more baseball, of course. They’ve clinched at least a wild card spot. That’s what happened in 2006, they backed into the wild card slot and then proceeded to roll their way to the World Series. But this doesn’t feel the same. That “Aught-Six” team was young and a surprising and we all sort of felt happy that they were back in the postseason after a 19-year drought. But the current Tigers are a star-studded veteran team who should have lapped the field. Game 162 is what they deserve.
Want worst case scenario? (I know there are a bunch of you who do.) The Tigers lose today, lose Game 163 on Monday (well, just because this could happen), and then have to play a one-game wild-card game on Tuesday. That’s three tension-filled games in succession. Maybe that helps a team stay focused? Maybe it wears them down. Maybe it gives all of us fans grey hairs.
It’ll be all hands on deck for Game 162, because the Tigers don’t want a Game 163 (it would be Justin Verlander on the hill, by the way).
If you think today’s Game 162 will be tense, just wait to see how you feel if the Royals and Tigers have to square of in a one-game battle for first place on Monday. The baseball season is 162 games long for a reason. Because 163 just seems wrong.