The series started Thursday night.
About 72 hours later, it was complete.
It was over in the blink of an eye.
The Tigers were swept right out of the American League playoffs by the Orioles, a superior team, albeit one with far less name recognition when it comes to star players.
But why did things go south so quickly?
Here are five reasons the Tigers got eliminated in such abrupt fashion.
It Was A 3-Man Batting Attack
For much of the year, the Tigers looked to the Cabrera-Martinez-Martinez trio for clutch hitting and consistent run production. More often than not, they were up to the task. In this very brief playoff series, they were outstanding.
But there was no other threat to speak of. Baseball isn’t basketball, where two or three guys can take all the shots and carry a team to a championship.
In baseball, each of the nine players must take their turn at bat. This proved to be the Tigers undoing. There was always the feeling during the year that once you got past the five-hole hitter in the Detroit lineup, the threat of danger was no longer lurking.
It’s part of what made the 2006 AL Champion Tigers so tough. And what made the 2014 edition so very beatable.
Dave Clark and the Game Two Debacle
Be frustrated all you want about Sunday’s tough-luck 2-1 defeat; for all intents and purposes, this series ended Friday afternoon in Baltimore.
The Tigers players were going to win that game. They were out-pitching and out-hitting their Baltimore counterparts. Then the 8th inning happened.
It began in the top half of the frame with oblivious Tigers’ 3rd base coach Dave Clark waving Miguel Cabrera home despite the fact that were no outs in the inning. As a base coach, be it in the big leagues or in your Sunday morning B’nai B’rith softball league, all you really need to be aware of is how many outs there currently are in the inning.
The strength of the arms in the outfield...the score of the game...where the ball is hit in relation to where the base runner is approaching third. For the most part, it’s white noise. All you need to know is the number of outs.
If there’s two out, you roll the dice and try to steal an extra run. If there’s one out, you show a little aggressiveness, but still fear making a bad out at the plate. With NOBODY out, you hold up the stop sign. It’s that simple.
In extreme circumstances, such as having a speed demon like Cool Papa Bell rounding third and a noodle-armed outfielder holding the ball on the warning track, then you safely send your man home.
But this was Miguel Cabrera, one of the three or four slowest men in baseball. The next batter up was J.D. Martinez, one of the best Detroit hitters all summer (and into October). And again, there was yet to be an out recorded in the inning.
Dave Clark took none of this into account.
The relay came in, the Clark windmill was in full effect, and Cabrera was dead meat at the dish.
The Tigers would not score another run until the final inning of Game 3.
Brad Ausmus and the Game Two Debacle
Thinking back on the second game of this series, I’m reminded of Tom Hanks’s character in A League of their Own. He’s a heavy drinker and often is found sleeping, hungover, at the end of the bench.
The reason this comes to mind is because I truly believe that had Brad Ausmus simply curled up and taken a nap around 2:30 Friday afternoon, with the game entering the late innings, the Tigers would have evened the series.
After all, the heavy lifting was already done.
The offense had completed its mission, hanging an impressive six on the scoreboard despite the aforementioned shenanigans by Clark.
The starting pitching of Justin Verlander was semi-serviceable, battling through five and surrendering three. But the hero of the game was going to be Anibal Sanchez.
He entered in the 6th and immediately went to work; a weak grounder to the right side, a foul pop to Cabrera, and a backwards K to finish the inning.
The bottom of the 7th was similarly uneventful; a swinging strikeout, an infield popup, and a grounder to short.
Six batters up, six batters down, and the ball never touched an outfielder’s glove.
With a comfortable lead, it was almost impossible to imagine how the Orioles were going to tally multiple runs off the locked-in, fully rested Sanchez.
There was just one problem. Brad Ausmus was not sleeping. He was wide awake. And ready to fix something that wasn’t at all broken.
Since managing in the big leagues now requires that most skippers also double as robots, Ausmus played the part perfectly. He ignored the on-field proceedings, disregarded the flow of the game, and simply thought, in pure robot voice, “Eighth inning of game. Must remove current pitcher. Must insert Chamberlain. Must not let logic or common sense impact decision.”
And we all know what happened next. Sanchez was senselessly pulled, Chamberlain came on, and all hell broke loose. Ten or fifteen minutes later, the three-run lead had evaporated, Delmon Young was an October hero again, and the Tigers were pushed to the brink of elimination.
I’ve long contended that American League managers do certain things late in the game simply because they are bored. Once the DH rule was adopted in 1973, creativity on the part of the AL manager was no longer needed. They could now just sit back, watch the game, and hope their team scored more runs than that of the opponent.
But sometimes these former players-turned-managers get tired of just sitting around. They like to put their stamp on the game.
In this case, it led to disaster.
If only the Tigers had Tom Hanks. We might still be watching baseball right now.
Sending Bad Vibes From Across the Street
When all else fails, lay blame on the Detroit Lions.
The football game at Ford Field might have had nothing to do with the baseball game taking place later in the day at Comerica Park, but many of the fans did a double-viewing, and likely brought some of that negative energy from the gridiron to the diamond.
The Lions were playing at home, taking on a Buffalo team coming off consecutive losses, with the journiest of journeymen, Kyle Orton, playing quarterback. You’d have to get creative to figure out how to drop this game.
But no loss is ever out of the Lions’ immense reach.
They were shut out in the second half of the game, missed three long field goals, and proved once again (going back to last year in Green Bay) that if Calvin Johnson goes down, the offense grinds to a screeching halt.
The city of Detroit was ready for a victory-filled afternoon.
The Lions were first out of the gate. They got close to the finish line with the lead, but ultimately dropped he baton. The Tigers could have used some of that positive citywide momentum entering their contest.
They received nothing of the sort, and proceeded to make October 5, 2014 a Sunday many in Michigan will soon try to forget.
Division Winner Does Not Equal Greatness
Let’s call a spade a spade. The Detroit Tigers were a slightly better than average club in 2014.
They won 90 games, a solid total, but not one that would have earned many playoff berths from 1901-1993 when excellence instead of mere respectability was required to earn an October invitation.
Winning 90 out of 162 ballgames comes out to a .556 winning percentage. In an NBA season, that amounts to about 45-46 victories. In an NFL campaign, it’s a shade below nine wins.
Winning the Central was great, squeaking past the Royals on the final weekend was gratifying, but looking at things objectively and without hometown bias, it’s impossible to pretend that this was a special Tigers team.
The Orioles were stronger, more balanced, and far more consistent throughout the summer. The Tigers were up, down, in the middle, and ultimately, mismanaged at their most important junctures.
The result was a punishing three game sweep in the playoffs opening round.
It was a disappointing and sudden conclusion to the season, but really not all that surprising.
Being decent can be good enough to capture a weak division.
It’s not usually sufficient to go all the way.
Such was the case in an underwhelming, and again, unsatisfying ending to another Detroit baseball summer.