Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Note From The Desk Of Beyond Boxscores

To: Rod Marinelli, Head Coach
Detroit Lions

Mike Babock, Head Coach
Detroit Red Wings

Flip Saunders, Head Coach
Detroit Pistons

From: Brian, Beyond Boxcores


I have some good news and some bad news. First, the good news. Now that the Detroit Tigers incredible season has concluded, the sports fans of Detroit will now focus their attention on your teams. The bad news? Now that the Detroit Tigers incredible season has concluded, the sports fans of Detroit will now focus their attention on your teams.

Good luck.


Closing The Book On The 2006 Tigers

Disappointing. That seems to be the best word to describe the feelings of those around Tigertown. It's disappointing to see the Tigers lose the World Series. It's disappointing to see them play so poorly on the sport's biggest stage. It's disappointing to see this incredible, wondrous season of Detroit baseball come to a close.

There is simply no denying what a great season the Detroit Tigers had. 95 wins. A playoff berth. The dismissal of the New York Yankees in the ALDS. The sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. The American League Championship and their first World Series appearance since 1984.

For the first time in a forever, it seems, the Tigers had nearly everything go right in 2006. Their veteran leaders -- Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen -- all had good, if not great, years. Their two big free agent signings, Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones, both did exactly what was expected, if not a bit more. The Tigers young players, guys like Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Curtis Granderson and Fernando Rodney, all made strides to reaching their potential. They also got huge contributions from rookies, specifically Justin Verlander and Joel Zuyama. It's the sort of combination we've seen other teams have for years and a recipe that eluded the Tigers since their last World Series.

We can't leave out Jim Leyland and his coaching staff. Many wondered if Leyland was really ready to get back into managing when he took the Tigers job almost one year ago. No one wonders now. Leyland (and his staff) did precisely what one would expect a veteran, winning manager to do -- he helped his players take the next step in their progress both individually and collectively.

The Tigers on-field success -- so sudden, so unimaginable, so dominant at times -- thrilled Detroit's long suffering baseball fandom, awakened emotion from those fans who had turned their backs on the Olde English D and, one hopes, built an entirely new generation of Tiger fans. Is it any wonder why this year will be so hard to let go of?

Certainly each of us will carry memories of this season. Four moments immediately spring to my mind. There will be Craig Monroe's homer at Yankee Stadium. I was on the phone with Ian. As the ball leaves Monroe's bat, both of us go into audible disbelief. It will be the day I got free tickets to watch the Tigers take on Cleveland only to see Pudge hit a walk-off homer before yet another sell-out crowd at Comerica Park. It will be the celebration after beating the Yankees. Over-the-top for a ALDS triumph? Probably, but it just seemed so spontaneous. It was like the players and fans had shared in a winning lottery ticket.

Finally, there is the one we probably will all share together -- Ordonez' shot to win the American League. As that ball soared into the night, it took the years of frustration with it. The jokes about the Tigers had finally ended. The guys and gals that sat in their empty corner of the ballpark game after game, year after year, with no one but their very own hotdog vendor to share the game with were rewarded for their patience. That 119 loss season finally had a counter balance. Ordonez' homer was a unique, emotional moment shared by anyone and everyone that cares about baseball in Detroit.

The baseball surprise party that began with Chris Shelton's redhot April and peaked with Ordonez' winning the American League pennant for the Tigers is unfortunately over. It's disappointing to have to let it go. We may not see another quite so remarkable again.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Before Game Four

When we saw Jeremy Bonderman display flashes of potential in his rookie year, isn't tonight's contest the kind of game we all envisioned him pitching in someday? We probably all dreamed about a day when the hard throwing Bonderman would take the hill with a World Series in the balance. I doubt any of us thought this day would arrive so suddenly.

In our silly dreams of just a few years ago, Bonderman would have been the Tigers number one starter in a World Series. However, Bonderman's role on this Tigers squad isn't what we would have guessed. A combination of Bonderman's second half struggles, the emergence of Justin Verlander and the arrival (and success) of veteran Kenny Rogers have pushed Bonderman further down the pecking order. Nate Robertson's bulldog approach and lefthanded slants allow him to take his turn on the bump in this post-season before Bonderman does, as well. Bonderman a number four starter? I don't think many of us dreamed that scenario.

Yet, that's where the still young righthander finds himself this evening -- a number four starter. Sure, some of that is match-up driven, but the Tigers had a week off before the World Series and Jim Leyland opted to leave Bonderman the fourth starter. There is a reason for that decision. Much of it comes from Bonderman's post-July fade. 2006 isn't exactly the first time August and September have been unkind to the Tigers hurler. While his overall numbers continue to improve each season -- a great trend -- his inability to find a consistent third pitch and trouble holding big leads in the closing months have raised a few questions about his ceiling. It's even led to what was unimaginable as recently as the beginning of this year -- trade rumors.

In just a few minutes, if the rain allows, Jeremy Bonderman will indeed pitch in the World Series for the Detroit Tigers. I don't want to over-hype or be terribly melodramatic about this thought, but this start could not only alter the direction of the World Series, but may decide Bonderman's future in the Olde English D.

If Bonderman comes out an dominates the Cardinals and ties the Series at 2-2, one could argue that Bonderman can indeed pitch in clutch situations and his previous issues were just part of the maturation process. His supporters will point to better numbers each season and a strong World Series performance as reasons to continue to have faith in him.

A Cardinals win, particularly a decisive one, might lead some to wonder if Bonderman has reached his limit and, with other prospects waiting in the wings, if he's an expendable piece of the puzzle. The critics will point to a series of second half disappointments and an uneven, at best, performance in big game situations as reasons to wonder if Bonderman will be any better than he is today.

Yeah, it's a big game. Both for the Detroit Tigers and for Jeremy Bonderman, as well. Here's hoping for a Bonderman win and a long, successful stay in Detroit.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Dirt

Yeah, I think it was pine tar. Do I think it was an accident? Of course, not. Do I think it was an attempt to cheat? Yep. Here's the rub, though, what can be done about it?

The umpires didn't catch Kenny Rogers in the act. Neither did the St. Louis Cardinals. By the time either party investigated, Rogers had removed the substance. In a technical sense, we have evidence, but we can't prove a crime was committed.

I have to believe this is the reason Tony LaRussa didn't complain. What can he complain about? He heard Rogers had something on his hand an inning ago? Why bother arguing a point when you can't prove anything? I feel LaRussa opted for common sense over an emotional response that wouldn't have yielded any better result.

To the St. Louis faithful, let me assure you of two things. First, this situation doesn't make anyone in Detroit feel good. We want our team to win fair and square and the last thing we need is to have even a single World Series victory tainted. It's been a long dry spell for baseball in Detroit and we would rather enjoy our first World Series since 1984 then spend our time defending Rogers or feeling cheated in victory.

Second, if Rogers is on the hill in Game Six (assuming it goes that far), you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that Rogers will be checked like a potential drug smuggler at a border crossing come Saturday night. No pine tar, mud or chocolate cake will be found. The perceived substance abuse stopped after the first inning last night.

Like his run-in with a cameraman a year ago, this is going to follow Rogers around the rest of his life. I just hope that the rest of the series can rise above one inning of perceived pine tar aided pitching.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

World Series Bound

Everybody's crying. Jim Leyland. Andy Van Slyke. Dave Dombrowski. Mike Ilitch. Billfer and his son. Me. Everybody. Why have we all gone off the emotional deep end? Because not a single one of us, no, not even you, thought that we would see the Detroit Tigers advance to the 2006 World Series.

For the Tigers to merely be in the post-season constitutes a surprise. After thirteen straight losing seasons, the worst spell in the 105 year history of the franchise, to suddenly appear in the playoffs is quite unexpected. To see them emerge from the depths of this despair to appear in their first World Series since 1984 -- after having spent more time, money, energy and emotion than any of us would care to consider -- is bound to make even the most hardened Tigers fan (or Tigers executive) shed a tear. Or two.

While none of us could have anticipated their regular season performance, their post-season ride as been nothing less than unbelievable. Leyland's gut decisions paying off: Alexis Gomez' homer and four RBI game. Jason Grilli and Wilfredo Ledezma in relief in the late innings of a pennant clinching game. Moving ALCS MVP Placido Polanco into the three hole after Sean Casey was injured. His handling of the starting rotation.

That's to take nothing away from Kenny Rogers' dominance. Polanco's redhot bat. Curtis Granderson's ability to ignite the offense and, of course, there's Magglio Ordonez' walk-off, pennant winning homer which will now live along side Kirk Gibson's homer in Tiger lore. Amazing, amazing stuff.

If the Tigers can win four more games and make the turnaround complete, I suspect that more than a few of us will be looking for Kleenex, again.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

We Don't Care About No Stinkin' Rainout

By the time I joined the ALDS Game Two broadcast, Detroit Tigers radio broadcasters Dan Dickerson and Jim Price were explaining the many reasons why the playoff contest could not be rained out. Or trying to convince themselves it wouldn't. The players (and broadcasters) were packed -- ready to return to Detroit. They had no hotel reservations. They had no extra clothes for another night's stay in New York. They were scheduled to get on a plane that night. In short, they couldn't call the game because no one was prepared to spend another night in NYC. Of course, the game got called without a single pitch getting thrown.

I didn't hear much of the conspiracy theories on how the Yankees forced MLB to cancel the game this morning, either. As the story goes, NY didn't want to waste Mike Mussina by starting him in the game, only to have him sit through various rain delays. That would cut short is outing and force the Yankees perceived "only" weakness to get exposed -- their bullpen (sans Mariano Rivera). As the paranoid speculation suggests, the Yankees told MLB cancel the game and we'll force these young, inexperienced Tigers to spend an extra night awaiting their fate in the Big Apple while the Yanks get a full game out of their number two starter.

Interesting concept. Perhaps, even plausible, as screwed up as the world is. However, the thought I had was the opposite. Let the Tigers worry about where they are going to stay, what they are going to wear, what they are going to eat, when the plane is going to leave on Friday. I figured let them think about anything, but the big, bad Yankees.

I expect the media to fawn all over the Yankees. What I didn't expect was the absolute deference this team was given by everyone. When Jim Leyland tells the media prior to Game One that he's going to have to do some aggressive managing just to keep the Tigers in the game, I was a bit taken aback. When Leyland called for the hit and run with Pudge "I Swing And Miss A Lot" Rodriguez at the plate and Magglio "I Had To Go To Austria To Get Some Kind Of Experimental Surgery On My Knee" Ordonez heading for thirdbase, I was completely frustrated.

Look, Leyland knows more about baseball than I know about darn near anything, but since when can a 95 win team not compete with the Bronx Bombers? I'm sorry, but did Joe Torre's squad win all 162? Did the Tigers lose all 162? Did they even lose 100? I realize they have a dynamic lineup, but Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig are long since gone. These Yankees are good, but they ain't all that good.

I felt by his "aggressive" maneuvering, Leyland capitulated. He fed the notion the Yankees could not be beat by normal means -- like pitching and hitting better than they do. Nope, these meek Tigers were going to have to "steal" games, no chance they can just compete.

That's why I embraced the rain out and all the problems that ensued. I figured it might get the Tigers mind off the six hundred pound gorilla in the room. Give these playoff newbies a night to get over the Game One jitters and think about something other than the incredible, unbeatable opposition.

I'm not saying that my notion was proven correct nor am I saying that it even played a tiny part in today's 4-3 victory, but I do find it interesting (and a bit humorous) that the Tigers just played a bit better than the Yankees today. Somehow, in spite of the conspiracy, all the problems the rain out caused and the guys in the pinstripes, the Tigers did exactly what they had done all year long this afternoon. They got a balanced offensive attack, solid pitching and lo and behold, they got themselves a win. And, yes, the Yankees did show up. They just lost. Like the 65 times they did during the regular season.

I think the Tigers proved something to themselves today. They proved they can, indeed, hang with the big boys. Hopefully, this means the Tigers have gotten past their nervous, past their fears and realize they can beat the team in the other dugout. The Tigers might not have the Yankees mystique, tradition, experience or lineup, but they do have one thing the New Yorkers have -- one win.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Missing Posts

I'm a moron. I say this quite often, mostly because I prove that statement to be accurate. Here's the most recent exhibit of that. Yesterday, I added two new posts here. In the first, I suggested that Michigan State's loss to Illinois all but seals John "Lansing" Smith's fate. He's toast. Yes, he can beat Michigan Saturday and keep those who want him fired at bay, but it's only going to delay the inevitable.

The Illini loss on the heels of the collapse against Notre Dame would have been enough. To add gasoline to the fire by admitting he didn't have the kids ready to play gives the Fire Smith crowd more than just emotion to stake their claim on. Smith's tenure ends when the season does assuming a monumental rebound isn't in the offing.

In post number two, I went all Drew Sharp on the Detroit Tigers. I was plenty annoyed with our baseball club yesterday and said as much. I cranked out a handful of paragraphs detailing the Tigers disgusting weekend play and hit the old "publish" button. Only one thing wrong. I posted both at my college baseball blog. See, it's the latest example of why I'm a moron.

Anyway, today is a new today, and I'm ready for the Tigers vs. Yankees. Yes, I'm plenty sick of the NY hype already. Normally, it doesn't bother me much. It's the media capital of the world. Everything that happens there is inflated from housing costs to lunch to the coverage of their sports teams--good or bad. So, tons o' media? No problem.

Except, right now, I'm thinking the spanking the Tigers took against KC has me a little more sensitive. Look, the Tigers may have indeed choked away the American League Central crown the last five days of the regular season, but this ain't the regular season anymore. However, it should be noted that the Tigers did finish with a rather large number of wins during that regular season. Better than all but three teams in the A.L. They deserve to be in the post-season, with or without that depressing KC series.

I want so much for the Tigers to prove that to a nation ready for Subway Series II (or XXVIXLMK, if we include the Willie, Mickey and Duke era) that the guys from Detroit can play a bit of baseball, as well. A trip to the ALCS would really help take away the sting suffered by Tigertown last week.

Go get 'em, Tigers. (Hopefully, I'm posting at the right place this time.)