Series win over Yankees could spark encore for ailing TigersWritten by Matt Sussman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The month of August doesn’t play nice with the Detroit Tigers. It never has, to be honest. Prior to 2006, it marked the time when, by all reasonable logic, the Tigers were done competing and in full rebuilding mode. Even last year Detroit had a 13-16 record in August. This year, it’s no different. Another losing month.
But August wasn’t a total downer for Detroit in its pennant-winning season. Mired in similar slumps, one particular game stood out, and to this day is still infernally stuck in my head, much like an Ace of Base song. In both cases, sharing this thought with another sane human being will cause the person to look down upon me, which might explain why my dates don’t go well.
“Matt, dear, what are you thinking about?”
“Oh, just the game the Tigers played on Aug. 30, 2006, at Yankee Stadium, where they won 5-3. With two outs in the ninth inning, Craig Monroe hit a three-run home run to beat the Yankees. Jason Grilli got the win, and I remember that detail because of how rarely it occurs. Detroit was able to prove to itself that it can beat a championship-caliber team late in the season.”
(FYI: Paying for a meal that you know will lead nowhere is rather unsatisfying.)
We can only speculate how 2007 will unfold, but if the Tigers can pull themselves out of this August quicksand, the turning point might have been Aug. 26, also against the Yankees.
The Tigers entered the day having lost 22 of 32 games. Jeremy Bonderman was confusing the first inning with batting practice. Nagging injuries were mounting up, and at one point, about five guys on the team had the flu. Three nights prior, Joel Zumaya — whose return was supposed to solve the bullpen woes — lost a crucial game in extra innings to their main competition, the Cleveland Indians.
General Manager Dave Dombrowski was juggling pitchers from Detroit to Toledo in hopes of finding some combination that could retain a late lead. And he found a young kid in Erie named Jair Jurrjens — a man whose name is so absolutely fun to say, I’m saying it right now as I’m typing, and likely muttering it to myself as you read this line. Jurrjens started this pivotal game on Aug. 26.
In the second inning, Jurrjens felt a tweak in his shoulder after he heaved a pitch to Jason Giambi, who knocked the ball out of the park for a solo home run. He had to exit the game, putting a burden on the bullpen to keep a two-run lead over a seven-inning span. For a brief moment, Tiger Nation felt the baseball gods were against them and that, given the luck, this was not their year. But then the bullpen did something so out of the ordinary, it warranted this column: They won the game.
With 7-2/3 innings of work split between four pitchers, only one mistake (a three-run homer) was enough to propel the Tigers to a 5-4 victory. The next day, a 16-0 throwdown of the Yankees gave Detroit its first series win since the All-Star break.
Work still needs to be done, and questions need to be answered. Can the Tigers get healthy? Can they find a solid No. 3 hitter until Gary Sheffield feels better? Can they stop losing games to the Royals in the second half? These are questions I always pose a girl before I ask her out.
Visit Matt Sussman’s sports blog at www.futonreport.net.