By: Bob Wojnowski
He’s the backup catcher, and he’s been hurt. But Gerald Laird has been around the bases a few times, now in his second stint with the Tigers. So his words aren’t empty, and they’re worth passing along — especially to his teammates.
Laird is battling a hamstring injury that has sidelined him sporadically, although he has lobbied Jim Leyland to let him play. Laird, 32, has been a pleasant surprise, hitting .300, but that’s not necessarily what gives his words weight.
Last season, Laird was the backup catcher for the Cardinals, who went from wholly disappointing to World Series champs in a short span. On Aug. 24, the Cardinals were 67-63, 10-and-a-half games behind Atlanta for the wildcard. They made up the ground methodically, snuck into the playoffs by a single game and eventually stunned Texas in the World Series.
The other day, Laird was asked to compare the Tigers’ current struggles as a high-expectation team with those of the Cardinals.
“The main thing is, we trusted one another, that’s the bottom line,” Laird said. “You can’t go up there leading off the inning trying to hit a four-run home run. You gotta take your walks, you gotta get on base and trust the guy behind you that he’s gonna drive you in.”
That’s a telling point. The Tigers (26-31) have ranked near the bottom of the league in walks, and for all their purported big hitters, haven’t scored with any consistency. Stars Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have done most of the heavy lifting, while others such as Brennan Boesch, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta and Delmon Young have struggled under the pressure to produce.
Laird has noticed, and like his manager, is calling for calm.
“We gotta play as a team, and when we have opportunities to score, we gotta get it done,” Laird said. “Leadoff doubles, we gotta get the guys over, play winning baseball. You’re definitely starting to feel the heat a little bit, because we’re not 40 games in, we’re almost 60 games in. There are a lot of games left, but I think we’re at point where we gotta look in the mirror and see what type of team we are. We need to stay in it, get to .500, and once we do that and get healthy, I think this team could definitely take off.”
As a player and a leader, Laird can’t remotely replace the injured Victor Martinez. But as a guy who has experienced plenty, including a situation similar to the Tigers’ current plight, he has things worth saying — and worth hearing.