Todd Hartley: Tigers, Tigers burning bright – sort of |

Todd Hartley: Tigers, Tigers burning bright – sort of

So what was the most inspiring story from the final week of baseball’s regular season?

Was it the Cubs’ inspired play as they held off the Astros to take the NL Central?

Or was it Barry Bonds and his pursuit of 660 home runs and a place alongside his godfather, Willie Mays, at No. 3 on the all-time home run list?

Or could it have been the second straight AL Central crown won by the Twins, a team once slated for contraction?


By far the most heroic deeds of the final week came courtesy of the Detroit Tigers, the second worst team in history.

Put yourself in the Tigers’ shoes for a second. You’ve endured a long, trying summer of constant losing. You are far and away the worst hitting team in the majors. Your ace pitcher, Mike Maroth, recently became the first hurler since 1982 to lose 20 games.

You’ve just recently broken the American League record of 117 loses set by the old Philadelphia Athletics, and you are a solid bet to break the modern futility mark of 120 losses set by the famously inept 1962 New York Mets.

And now you find yourself, with two games left to play, sitting on 119 loses despite having won three of your last four. It comes down to this: win both games and you’re off the hook, win one and you join the Mets, lose both and you are the worst team in history.

Talk about pressure.

In the first game, as is their wont, the Tigers fell behind early and trailed the Twins 8-0 in the fifth inning. It looked for sure as if they would lose No. 120.

They scraped out a run in the bottom of the fifth inning but still found themselves down 8-1 in the seventh, and that’s when the Tigers responded with the hearts of champions.

They scored three runs in the seventh inning to make it 8-4 and then plated four more runs in the eighth to tie the score.

Then, in the ninth, Detroit’s Alex Sanchez reached on a walk and stole two bases. The next batter, Warren Morris, struck out, but the last strike sailed over the head of the Twins’ catcher, allowing Sanchez to score the winning run on a wild pitch.

The 9-8 victory marked the largest comeback for Detroit since 1965 and staved off ignominy for another day.

In the final game of the season, also against the Twins, the Tigers and Maroth once again fell behind. But they scored seven runs in the sixth inning to cruise to a 9-4 victory. It was the first time all season Detroit scored more than five runs or had six hits in an inning.

But the heroics don’t end there. Earlier in the week, saddled with 118 loses, the Tigers won a game on an 11th-inning home run by Shane Halter. Even Maroth finished strong, winning three of his last four starts to finish 9-21 on the season.

With their inspired play the Tigers put together their best week of the year, winning five of their last six games just when they needed them most. They kept themselves below the 120-loss mark with two come-from-behind wins to end the season, and they will deservedly not bear the stain of being considered as bad as the ’62 Mets.

The question now becomes: Will this winning streak that kept the Tigers out of the record book carry over to next season?

Can Detroit manager Alan Trammell and his coaching staff, all of whom were re-signed for 2004 despite the Tigers’ awful season, take a 119-loss team and actually make it into a postseason contender?

Can Maroth do the impossible and go from 20 losses in a season to 20 wins?

It sure would be nice to think so, but once the hangover wears off and Trammell faces the reality of what kind of team he’s got coming back next year, I think even he’ll be forced to admit the answer.

Can Detroit keep up its winning ways next year and make a run at the playoffs?


[Six-time 19-game loser Todd Hartley was a staple in the starting rotation for the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. He writes this column on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at]

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