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Column: No doubt late Saturday night, Tigers' season is a failure

Published October 20, 2013 3:21 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Boston • Time may look a little more favorably on the entirety of a season that Jim Leyland said on a number of occasions since the first day in Lakeland was "set up for them to fail" because of the extraordinary expectations. Three straight division championships deserve acknowledgment because winning three straight titles of anything isn't easy.

But the immediate reaction after Game 6 should be one of great disappointment.

It was World Series or bust.

And the Tigers are going home without the pennant.

The season is a failure.

That doesn't warrant a thorough housecleaning simply for sake of accountability. Impulsively serving up sacrificial heads to appease the masses doesn't offer a solution. It's strictly a reaction.

But this ache will linger through what should be a long, cold winter.

The new Tiger who did nothing but smile all year long couldn't muster one in the aftermath of a 5-2 Game 6 elimination to Boston in the American League Championship Series.

"The window's getting smaller," said Torii Hunter, 38 years old and still with one void on his impressive career resume - no World Series appearances. He came to Detroit last winter for one reason. He thought this team provided him the best opportunity to fulfill that elusive dream.

"It's the same old song for me," he said. "It's another year where it comes up short. This year, we really thought that we had an excellent shot at it. But that's baseball.

"Even if you wanted to, you could never completely figure it all out."

For the second time in the Tigers' last two games at Fenway Park, the bullpen surrendered a late-inning grand slam.

Shane Victorino's one-out blast in the bottom of the seventh Saturday night effectively drove the last nail in a Tigers' postseason that left followers scratching their heads in disbelief or worse, clutching their midsections in nausea at an offense that never got untracked.

There will be sufficient blame doled out in the aftermath of the Tigers' six-game elimination.

Leyland will take some heat for some of the decisions made. President and general manager Dave Dombrowski will absorb some arrows as well for never fully addressing the season-long bullpen issues. Prince Fielder probably will don the biggest set of goat horns, failing to record a single RBI in the 11 playoff games while extending his streak of playoff RBI futility to 18 consecutive games.

But it was a collective breakdown, the failure of making the right play at the right time - the undeniable trait of the champion.

The normally smooth rookie shortstop Jose Iglesias bobbled a ground ball desperately attempting a double play that was probably futile, setting up Victorino's grand slam.

"Every mistake means more when you're in this situation," Iglesias said.

The Tigers loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the sixth. It was one of those occasions when you thought to yourself that if they couldn't score anybody with this opportunity than they were truly destined to fall.

Victor Martinez launched a shot that would have been a grand slam in every other stadium in the majors - but not at Fenway. The Green Monster devoured it and spat it back as nothing more than a single - a two-run single.

Still, the opportunity was there for a huge inning with Fielder on third and Martinez at first with nobody out. But then came more Detroit hilarity on the basepaths.

Jhonny Peralta hit a grounder to second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Martinez ran into the play. Pedroia went to tag Martinez and Martinez did his best to occupy Pedroia for a second, potentially giving Fielder the chance to score.

But Fielder didn't run on contact. He only ran halfway down the third-base line. Fielder then got nailed in a rundown.

Not having speed doesn't offer an excuse for poor fundamental baserunning. Fielder's follies only provided more ammunition to his ever increasing legion of critics.

"It hurts knowing that there's not going to be another game tomorrow," he said, sitting at his clubhouse cubicle. While every other player was showered and dressed, Fielder was the last Tiger still in uniform.

The Tigers know they blew a chance here. It certainly didn't help those chances that Miguel Cabrera wasn't even remotely close to full health. But they were an offensive team that didn't live true to their personality. If they couldn't hit, if they couldn't collect the extra-base hit, then they required near perfection from their pitching and defense.

Leyland took the bullet for everybody else.

"Start with me," he said. "The coaches, the players, we just didn't do quite enough."

Guaranteed, there will come the customary, reflexive public cries that Leyland should go after three straight years and still no World Series rings. Leyland should bare the brunt of the criticism primarily because he's the man calling the shots. But there are some things that are simply beyond the manager's control. One of them is that championship window that just shrunk little more for the Tigers.


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