Tigers eager to get back to work in '07
Priority for AL Champs in Spring Training: pitchers' defense
ST. LOUIS -- On the other side of Busch Stadium bedlam, the only sounds were of hearty back slaps as the Tigers fell into each other's consoling embraces. There were enough red eyes in the visitors' clubhouse to empty a pharmacy of Visine.And following Detroit's World Series-ending 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, everyone's thoughts were on 2007 Spring Training. It wasn't because these meteoric Tigers are eager to prove they weren't merely a band of Cinderellas, but because they already know what is in store for them: ample doses of PFP, which is not a food additive but an ingredient of success. It stands for Pitchers' Fielding Practice -- normally, a necessary evil. For the Tigers, it became a necessity, period, in the wake of the defensive meltdown that doomed them in this Classic. "Defensively, we didn't play too well," closer Todd Jones understated. "Guess we'll have our own station of PFP in Spring Training, that's for sure. We got outplayed, and you can't take anything away from the Cardinals. "They forced us to make plays, and we didn't. We got beat ... and we got beat pretty good." Detroit's pitchers got pretty mentally beat up, too, over their record-setting error-a-day Series. The staff's five comprised a majority of the total of eight errors the Tigers committed for a total yield of eight unearned runs. When your comparably struggling offense scores a total of only 11 runs itself in the five games, the math can lead nowhere but the reality of four Series losses. "We will be working on [defense] beginning with the first day of Spring Training, without a doubt," said Kenny Rogers, one of the few Detroit pitchers who fielded flawlessly. "It's disappointing. They made us make plays and we didn't make them, so the credit is theirs and the disappointment is ours. But you live and learn." One thing the Tigers learned is that, despite recent trends that had given the American League a distinct air of superiority, the National League is undeniably better in one area: demanding fundamentals. Rookie right-hander Justin Verlander, who committed his team's last and most damaging error in the fourth inning Friday, had no excuses for the botch. But he did plead unfamiliarity. Verlander's wild throw past third on Jeff Weaver's sacrifice directly ushered home the tying run and set up the winning run. "It's something I have not had to do all season," Verlander said of fielding a bunt with men on first and second and trying to get the force at third. "It hasn't happened once to me.
"Right away, I reflected on Spring Training, when we work on that, and I probably threw away two and I fielded a thousand of them."Detroit manager Jim Leyland made the same connection to the lack of fielding experience in the swing-away AL, where teams rarely bunt with lineups' nine-holes occupied by position players and not pitchers. "It was my fault," Leyland said of the sloppy fielding by his hurlers. "We worked at it all spring, and we haven't worked on it since until we had that week off [between the ALCS and the World Series]. "We did a pretty good job all year long. But in the American League, you don't handle a lot of bunts and stuff." Prior to Verlander's huge error, quickly erasing the only lead he had on Sean Casey's two-run homer in the top of the inning, the litany of errors by Tigers pitchers included: Game 1, 6th inning: Verlander's wild pickoff attempt on Albert Pujols sends him to third, from where he scores on Jim Edmonds' single to trigger a three-run inning in St. Louis' 7-2 win. Game 2, 9th inning: Jones muffs Juan Encarnacion's two-out grounder, leading to a run on Edmonds' double, as the Tigers hold on for a 3-1 win. Game 3, 7th inning: With two men on and none out, reliever Joel Zumaya throws away Pujols' comebacker, directly allowing two runs to score and break open a tight game, as the Cardinals go on to a 5-0 victory. Game 4, 7th inning: With a man on second and none out, Fernando Rodney throws away So Taguchi's bunt, scoring the tying run and setting up the lead run, as the Cardinals go on to a 5-4 victory.
|"You've got to be in a World Series to lose it. But once you get here, you want to win. It just didn't work out. We didn't make the plays."|
|-- Todd Jones|
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.