By: Eric Thomas
Joe Nathan pitched angry in the fourth game against the Royals. It’s what fans have been waiting for; a glimmer of hope in an otherwise cloudy month of Tigers baseball. He’s going to need a lot more of these appearances before the fog is lifted, but Nathan’s sudden mechanical adjustment was a good sign. He reminded fans everywhere that they need to wait before calling the coroner on his arm.
Anibal Sanchez, Joe Nathan and J.D. Martinez (seriously, where did this guy come from?) lifted the spirits in downtown Detroit on Thursday afternoon. All of them turned in an excellent performance against the new leaders in the American League Central. Fans and players needed this desperately. The players have faced the media with shell shocked looks, wondering if those darn Zubaz were actually cursed, stammering in apocope statements as the losses mounted. The fans stared at the mirror like Ritchie Tenenbaum, radically reconsidering their appearance, wondering if they’ve been wrong all along, trying to reconcile cheering for a team that seemed so sure to win 100 with the team they saw on the field in May.
It’s one game, but water stands out in a drought. The Tigers have spent the last several weeks in permanent decline. They’ve suffered through bad starts, awful starts, abysmal starts, anemic offense, bad luck, bullpen collapse and a gaffe that apparently made ESPN writer Keith Law’s head explode. If it wasn’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all.
The Ausmus gaffe will apparently go quietly. The MLB will seek no action against Ausmus because he apologized quickly, and no one in their right mind would think that the Tigers’ skipper was being serious. It was a joke, it landed flat, and everyone with an IQ above room temperature understands the circumstances. Bad jokes have the same basic intention as good jokes, and that’s all that matters. Only the truly deluded seek to strip context from comments. Everything is context. If one were to say, “The Pistons got killed last night,” would anyone call the police? Of course not, and that’s the end of the conversation. Kudos to the MLB for understanding that, and maybe this will start a wave where we think about context before charging forward with pitchforks and torches clutched in each hand.
Nathan’s pitching performance is a good start for the beleaguered Tigers. It’s been a long time since they’ve been second place in the AL Central. They’ve dug themselves quite a hole and they need to climb out of it—Ausmus needs to be the man who points the way. Yes, managers get too much blame when losing streaks wane on, but when you’re paid to be the boss, the credit comes with the criticism.
Now for the misanthropy: we’ve seen cracks in the sinking ship before. We’ve wiped our brow in written blogs many times so far this season, over-examining single games, building them up to make them bright, only to have the good feeling crushed by the weight of many losses. While we want to focus on the positive, and that’s understandable, it’s hard to gather a lot of enthusiasm when the results have been so bad. We need to remember that the Tigers have looked like a team that can go deep in the post season and that starts when they re-take first place. To quote Leo Marvin, it’s baby steps now, and that’s the road to recovery. Baby step stop collapsing; baby step fix the former Cy Young winners; baby step return to the top of the division.
Maybe Nathan’s performance against one of the hottest teams in baseball will finally break the fever. Maybe they needed a chip installed on their shoulder. Perhaps they needed to dangle their toes over the precipice. The Tigers can’t roll their eyes at criticism and remind us all that they’re a first place team anymore. They’re not. If they want first place back they’re going to have to earn it. The nerdy SABR numbers prove it’s likely. The team is projected to climb out of this darkest timeline, but they need a string of wins to do it.