On the night of May 18, the Detroit Tigers, giddy with six wins in six games on their road trip and riding high atop the AL Central, get ready to board a plane from Boston to Cleveland. A lot of the players decide to wear their funny Zubaz pajamas on the flight. More and more Tigers have been showing up in photos on social media wearing the striped outfits. It’s becoming a team-wide craze.
That’s when the nightmare begins.
First, the plane doesn’t fly. So the Tigers have to return, after 3 AM, to the hotel. They fly to Cleveland the next day and still look tired at game time. But at this point they probably can beat the Indians in their sleep, right?
That day, my cohort on this blog publishes an article titled, “Tigers are rolling, should we be happy or worried?” At least it’s not on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
That night in Cleveland, Drew Smyly struggles, and so does the bullpen. In a tie game, with Joe Nathan in the pen because of the superstition that closers can only be used in save situations (something I’d expect someone as smart as Brad Ausmus to scoff at), Al Alburquerue dishes out a two-out, game-winning homer to Michael Brantley. Oh, well, you can’t win every game. And the Tigers still have Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer lined up to mow down the Indians.
But Verlander is roughed up, and the Tigers drop another.
The next day, there is a 12:30 PM start. They stake Scherzer to a 4-0 lead in the first inning. Money in the bank, right? But Max gives up seven runs! The Indians are knocking the ball all around the park, and Danny Worth loses a pop-up in the noonday sun.
It’s no wonder the frustrated Tigers get miffed when the home plate umpire punches out Ian Kinsler on a ridiculous (non-reviewable) call then, on the next pitch, tosses Miguel Cabrera out of the game in a hot second. Well, at least we get to see that calm, collected, cerebral Brad Ausmus has a very hot temper himself.
But we’re hardly getting started. The game gets weirder and weirder — like a bad dream: Cleveland’s infield throws the ball around, and Rajai Davis guns down a runner at the plate. But your closer blows the save by allowing a game-tying homer to…Lonnie Chisenhall? Really? Finally, in the thirteenth inning, Alex Avila, who was supposed to have the day off, launches a game-winning homer. Except it isn’t. Because, for some reason unknown to all Tiger fandom, Phil Coke emerges from the bullpen, apparently just to see if he can get his WHIP over 2.00. And he does! Then Al Al trots in and…with a wave of his hand, the spell continues.
If you were writing a short story about a baseball game as nightmare, how would you end it? If you were a decent writer, probably not with a bases-loaded, two-out balk — that would be ridiculously implausible. But truth is stranger than fiction.
So the Tigers straggle home for yet another day game — and they get to face Yu Darvish! They’re down 9-0 by the fourth inning.
The struggling Rangers blow them away in three out of four games. They finish the week with a 1-6 record and a starting rotation with an ERA north of 9.00 (only Anibal Sanchez doesn’t join in the carnage). And Miguel Cabrera tweaks his hamstring.
Also, during this week from hell, the Red Sox signed Stephen Drew. Detroit missed the boat. Stubbornly, mystifyingly, to pass for their shortstops they are sticking to a couple of .200 hitters: one is a good fielder and the other a good knuckleball pitcher. So now can the club finally release Coke Zero? Like most Tiger followers, I’d much rather see Worth on the mound.
On the plane to Oakland, how many Tigers wore their Zubaz? I would hope the answer is none.
Should we be sad or worried? Or will we wake up and realize it was all a very bad dream? Probably just a bump in the road, though it looks more like they drove into a ditch.