Tigers' Series title hopes on the ropes
Detroit must regroup quickly to stave off elimination
ST. LOUIS -- These two teams have been here before -- 38 years ago -- with the Cardinals leading the Tigers three games to one in the World Series. And the record shows how that one turned out.These Tigers would like to do it again -- come back and win. But they're going to have to dramatically alter their play, beginning on Friday night in Game 5 at Busch Stadium, for history to repeat itself. "I know the history," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, sitting in his office on Thursday night long after his team had won Game 4 of the Fall Classic, 5-4, to seemingly take control of the Series. "I don't even want to talk about it, to be honest. What's the point of bringing it up? We have to win a game. All they have to do is win one game [on Friday]. That's all they're going to try to do. "[Tigers manager] Jim Leyland will find a way, I can tell you that. We got spanked enough this year that we're not overconfident about anything." The Tigers didn't appear to be hanging their heads in the clubhouse, either, in the aftermath of a game in which starter Jeremy Bonderman couldn't hold a 3-0 lead, Fernando Rodney committed the fourth critical error for a Tigers pitcher in the four Series games, Curtis Granderson slipped in center field going after David Eckstein's key double, Pudge Rodriguez let a ball skip through his legs for a crucial wild pitch and left fielder Craig Monroe came up just short of making a lunging grab of Eckstein's game-winning double. Everything that can go wrong already has for the Tigers. Even Kenny Rogers' Game 2 gem at Comerica Park was tainted when a substance was discovered on the base of his left hand. Major League Baseball said it was dirt. La Russa thought otherwise, but let it die. Yet, so far, the Tigers have scored just nine runs in the Series and that was their only win. Asked what the Tigers have to do to get back in it, Detroit first baseman Sean Casey was succinct. "We have to put up some runs," he said. "We have to have [Justin] Verlander pitch good. We have to try and give them 27 outs instead of a couple more." The Tigers hit .274 as a team for the season and are hitting .211 in the World Series. Their ERA of 3.84 was the best in the Major Leagues during the regular season, but in this series, though it's dipped to 3.18, the Tigers are being outdone by the Cardinals, who are at 2.31. For a start, the Tigers need a perfecto start on Friday night from Verlander, the rookie right-hander, who allowed seven runs on six hits and was removed three batters into the sixth inning of a 7-2, Game 1 loss. Leyland refused the temptation of hip-hopping Rogers into Verlander's spot and will hold him for Game 6 as scheduled on Saturday night in Detroit, if the Series gets back there. "I'm not going to pitch him in this atmosphere," Leyland said about the emotional and volatile Rogers. "We have to win three ballgames. So I think that pretty much sums it up. If we had to win one game, if it was the seventh game, I'd pitch him. But we have to win three games." Aside from Rogers, the Tigers' vaunted starting pitching, which was so critical in the first two rounds of the playoffs, has been mediocre at best. Nate Robertson was fine in Game 3, but he was out-dueled by Chris Carpenter. And Bonderman allowed the Cardinals to pick away at him before he was removed, kicking and screaming all the way, by Leyland with one out in the sixth inning. Joel Zumaya, who was a lights-out setup man during the regular season with a 6-3 record and a 1.94 ERA in 62 appearances, has been anything but in the World Series. All this must fall back into place. Plus the slumbering Rodriguez, who awoke with his first three hits of the Series on Thursday night, must continue producing for the Tigers to even make a dent in the Cardinals. "We've got to win three in a row," Leyland said. "Are we capable of doing that? Absolutely. Are we in a good position? Absolutely not. So I think you just go out and remind the team that if you win the next game in the postseason you keep playing. And obviously that's the case [on Friday]. We win, we keep playing. If we don't, we don't." In 1968, the Tigers won Game 5 at Tiger Stadium and then came back to the previous Busch Stadium and won the last two games behind Denny McLain and Mickey Lolich, their two best pitchers that season. Right now, the Tigers must focus on winning Game 5 on Friday night, then see if history does repeat itself in Detroit.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.