Greg Eno

Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

Monday Morning Manager: Week 8

In Baseball on May 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Last Week: 3-3

This Week: at Bos (5/28-31); NYY (6/1-3)

 

So, What Happened?

 

The Tigers were sweepers and sweepees last week.

They spent a horrifying three days in Cleveland to start the week, where clutch hits were as plentiful as snowballs in July. Then it was off to Minnesota to get well—or at least better—at the Twins’ expense. In Minnesota, the offense came alive and even featured the most clutch hit of all—a two-run homer in the ninth ining to turn a deficit into a victory.

The starting pitching was competent, but the defense and base running wasn’t, for the most part. Even the three wins in Minny were tainted by suspect displays of both.

The bottom line? A three-game winning streak (first back-to-back wins since April 18) and maybe some stroked egos heading into Boston.

The week also featured newcomer Quentin Berry, who in just five games has taken the Tigers’ fan base by storm with his hitting, speed and range in center field.

Hero of the Week

MMM likes the aforementioned Berry, who was called up from Toledo midweek because Austin Jackson’s painful side remained painful. Ajax was placed on the 15-day disabled list.

Berry’s debut was met with great skepticism, as the Tigers were continuing to scuffle along. All we knew about him was that he was fast.

Berry is fast, or sure. But in replacing Jackson and also Don Kelly at the leadoff spot, Berry got on base with hits and walks, stole bases, and played a very impressive center field. His presence clearly sparked the Tigers in Minesota.

For someone who nobody had really heard of at the time of last week’s MMM offering, Berry was a very pleasant surprise and already has folks wanting him to remain on the roster when Jackson is scheduled to return this Friday.

Sports talk radio was abuzz after Sunday’s win, chatting up Berry and presenting scenarios by which he would stay on the 25-man roster when Jackson comes off the DL.

MMM was duly impressed as well; Berry started Sunday’s game-winning rally with a base hit, then stole second base.

Honorable mentions: Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, for coming alive over the weekend. Cabby stroked the game-winning homer on Sunday—a monster shot to straightaway center that was vintage Cabrera. Fielder went 9-for-11 in Minnesota and quelled some of the negative talk about him.

Goat of the Week

 

MMM is going to indict the entire team this week, vis a vis the terrible defense that is being displayed on a daily basis.

The Tigers seem to lead MLB in the four-out inning, though MMM doesn’t have any hard numbers on which to base that. Sometimes the Tigers toss in a five or even six-out inning on occasion.

The infield defense, especially, has been rotten of late. Seems the Tigers can’t complete a double play to save their souls.

All this silliness is starting to come back and bite them in the you-know-where.

Wednesday night in Cleveland, Fielder turned what should have been an easy out at home plate into a badly thrown misadventure, allowing the go-ahead run to score in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Reliever Brayan Villarreal played the stooge in Minnesota, botching a sure double play by throwing the baseball to neither the second baseman or shortstop after fielding a come-backer. He also threw wildly on a pickoff attempt.

Jhonny Peralta couldn’t finish a DP on Sunday when he threw high to first base after being given a perfect throw from Rick Porcello.

And those are just a few examples.

MMM thinks the Tigers ought to clean up their defense before they entertain thoughts of catching the Indians and White Sox, much less thinking about playoffs and World Series. Yes, the hitting has been suspect (left the bases loaded twice on Wednesday), but the Tigers are giving away far too many outs on defense.

For all the hand-wringing over whether Cabrera can play third base, MMM thinks we should have been more concerned about Fielder at first base, where he’s been below average.

Under the Microscope

MMM is placing a non-player UtM, and that would be GM Dave Dombrowski.

Why? Because DD has a decision to make when Jackson comes off the DL on Friday.

Who gets lopped off the 25-man?

If Berry continues to be a spark plug this week in Boston, the decision will be even more important—and scrutinized; hence, UtM.

MMM would like to see Ryan Raburn released, but that doesn’t really solve everything, because to leave Ramon Santiago as the starting second baseman would be ill-advised.

It just seems that there ought to be room on the roster for Berry, especially if he keeps this up.

MMM, however, believes that the likely scenario is for Danny Worth to be sent down—again. MMM wonders how many options can possibly be left with Worth.

So UtM goes Dombrowski, because the chatter has already begun re: Quentin Berry and his amazing opening week.

Upcoming: Red Sox, Yankees

 

How about seven games with baseball’s Hatfields and the McCoys this week?

It’s off to Boston for four games, then a return home to face the Yankees after the 10-game road trip.

Neither team is happy where it’s at right now; the Red Sox probably more so. Boston is 23-24, same as the Tigers, and the Red Sox dropped two of three to Tampa Bay at home over the weekend. They lost Sunday eerily similar to how the Twins lost to the Tigers: on a two-run home run in the top of the ninth that turned a one-run deficit into a lead and, ultimately, a victory.

The Red Sox had another lousy start this season, their second straight, and while they’ve played better as of late, they are nonetheless last in what is turning out to be a very interesting AL East race.

The Yankees are in third place, looking up at Baltimore (!) and Tampa.

It’s always a big event when the Yanks come to town, and in recent years Comerica Park has proven to be a House of Horrors for the Bronx Bombers.

Derek Jeter, the only Yankee player that MMM likes, is playing like the Jeter of old, and that’s good for baseball. The Kalamazoo product is a treasure, and it’s nice to see him rebound from a couple of non-Jeter-like years.

Jeter is hitting .342 and running as good as he has in years. The rest of the team hasn’t always followed his lead, but the Yankees are 26-21 and on a five-game winning streak.

MMM believes, though, that this week is less about the high-profile competition and more about the offense continuing to come alive and the infield defense getting tighter. The Tigers aren’t playing the Red Sox and the Yankees this week so much as they are still playing themselves.

That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!

Pistons’ Monroe Reminds Detroit’s Basketball Yoda of Reed, Lanier

In Basketball on May 27, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Under normal circumstances, I would dismiss the comparisons of a second-year NBA big man to the likes of Hall of Famers Bob Lanier and Willis Reed as so much horsepucky, figuring it to be spewed by an over-exuberant fan who might never have seen Lanier or Reed play a single minute.

I might roll my eyes and lightly smirk at the notion of the Pistons’ Greg Monroe, after just two NBA seasons, having anything more in common with Lanier and Reed other than all three of them are left-handed.

Unless the one making the comparison is Ray Scott.

If you’d ever like to go NBA brain-picking, you could do a whole lot worse than to talk to Scott, who some around town remember as a one time NBA Coach of the Year with the Pistons, but who fewer remember as being one of the best and most consistent big men of his time, playing for the Pistons in the 1960s. Today Scott, 73, is as close to a basketball Yoda as you’ll find in this town.

Scott was a leaping, rebounding, and scoring big man out of Portland University, but he was really a Philadelphia kid. The Pistons nabbed him fourth overall in the 1961 draft, and for most of the decade Scott produced double-doubles (points and rebounds) every night like a Pez dispenser.

One year for the Pistons, Scott averaged 13.5 boards a game, snatching basketballs away from the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Jerry Lucas while the rest of his teammates fought gamely but usually ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

That was Pistons basketball in Scott’s day—the losses piled up like dishes in the kitchen of a diner during the lunch rush.

So when Ray Scott says Greg Monroe reminds him of Willis Reed and Bob Lanier, you ought to listen, because Ray played against the former and coached the latter.

Ray was waxing the art of big man play in the NBA last week on “The Knee Jerks,” the weekly podcast I co-host with Big Al Beaton. Ray, always the gentleman, was on hand to help us celebrate our third anniversary of doing the show.

It was then when Scott said something that would have caused me to bop the speaker in the mouth—had the speaker not been Ray Scott.

“With Greg Monroe, we finally have a big man in Detroit who we can throw the ball into for all four quarters and make something happen and we haven’t had that since Bob Lanier,” Scott said of the kid from Georgetown who just finished his second season for a bad Pistons team, which Scott and Lanier know all about.

For full disclosure, Ray wanted us to know that he serves on the board of Monroe’s charity foundation. That’s OK; what he said didn’t smack of shilling. Ray doesn’t roll like that.

Monroe, to hear Scott say it, might become the best NBA center from Georgetown since Patrick Ewing. No less.

It was already galling to hear Ray make the comparisons to Reed and Lanier—until you thought of how many nights Scott and Reed jostled under the boards at Cobo Arena or Madison Square Garden, leaning against one another, waving a hand in each other’s face. And then you just had to think of all the practice sessions with Scott the coach and Lanier the player from 1972-76, when Ray coached the Pistons and Lanier was depositing those 10-foot hook shots over the likes of Kareem and Nate Thurmond and Dave Cowens.

Monroe survived a drama-filled rookie season with the Pistons in 2010-11 under the disrespected coach John Kuester. The 6’10” center/power forward didn’t get off the bench much in the first couple weeks of the season, but by the end of it, Monroe was starting and showing the tender skills that made him attractive to president Joe Dumars.

Year two was when Monroe took his giant leap for mankind.

The numbers shot up, from 9.4 points/7.5 rebounds per game to 15.4/9.7. Even the free throw percentage went way up, from .622 to .739. The confidence soared with the numbers. The team didn’t exactly soar with Monroe, but a 21-21 finish after a 4-20 start was something to build on for next season.

Entering Year three, it’s not crazy talk to call Greg Monroe one of the Pistons’ leaders—on and off the court.

Ah, but there is one area in which Monroe gets dogged a little—a criticism that has followed him like a piece of toilet paper stuck to a shoe.

It’s whispered that he’s not as tough as an NBA big man should be. That there’s a mean streak that Monroe simply doesn’t possess.

Scott, on our show, said that Reed was “as mean as a snake.” Lanier, the coach said, had a toughness that was different than Reed’s but manifested itself in how Bob played through pain and through the turmoil that sometimes beset the Pistons in the 1970s.

It’s unclear, this early in Monroe’s career, whether he’ll develop that nasty edge that is required to be a beast to play against on a nightly basis. Scott, for example, used “easy going” in describing Monroe.

But the strides made in Year Two, combined with the flashes that rookie point guard Brandon Knight showed, makes one wonder if the Pistons have themselves an inside-outside combo in the making not seen since—dare we say it—Scott was coaching Dave Bing and Bob Lanier.

“I like the way (Monroe) goes about his business,” Scott told us this week. “He is easy going but he works very hard and that’s how you show great improvement, as he did this past season.”

Reed’s watershed moment was in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals, when he limped onto the Madison Square Garden floor on one leg thanks to a torn thigh muscle, gamely starting against the Los Angeles Lakers and nailing a couple of mid-range jumpers. He only played a few minutes, but his mere presence inspired his teammates to a blowout win for the championship.

Lanier came into the NBA on one leg as well. The St. Bonaventure grad had his leg in traction when the Pistons drafted him in the first round in 1970, the after effects of a nasty knee injury suffered in the 1970 NCAA Tournament.

“Bob had to work hard on a day-to-day basis just on conditioning alone,” Scott recalled.

For 10 seasons Lanier battled his brittle knees, Pistons upheaval and bemusing coaches before being liberated via a trade to the Milwaukee Bucks in 1980. Unlike Reed, however, Lanier never achieved his ultimate goal of an NBA championship, though he came close with the Bucks a couple of times.

Greg Monroe’s greatest moment as a Piston has yet to be realized. Wondering what it might be is enough to warm the cockles of a fan’s heart.

So there you have it. Greg Monroe, just two years into his NBA career, reminds Detroit’s basketball Yoda of a pair of Hall of Fame centers.

Ray Scott is about the only fellow in town who can get away with such hogwash.

Because he’s probably right.

Billy Martin’s 1972 Heroes a Forgotten Bunch

In Baseball on May 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm

The Tigers came out of spring training in Lakeland confident of their hitting. Their lineup was rich with veteran bats and some young ones. The offense didn’t figure to be a problem.

But oh, what about that pitching!

The pitching caused some of the so-called experts to make a face that was consistent with biting into a lemon. There were a couple reliable arms but after that, you might have wanted to pray for rain, a la the old Boston Braves of Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain.

Then a funny thing happened. The offense was slow out of the gate, and the pitching—surprise, surprise—actually became the team’s saving grace.

Chalk another one up against the supposed wise baseball minds.

Sound familiar?

It should—if you’re over 45 years old.

If you thought I was speaking of this year’s Tigers, you’re forgiven. You should also be heartened.

This is the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Tigers—who often are nothing more to people’s recollection than the team that came four years after the heroic 1968 Tigers.

But the ’72 Tigers came within a whisker—pun intended—of making the World Series. And the formula they used was the opposite of what was forecast for them.

The Tigers of 1971 were a power-laden team, filled with those same heroes from 1968.

Norm Cash, still raising the right field roof at age 36.

Jim Northrup, another dangerous left-handed bat.

Bill Freehan, still the league’s best catcher.

Willie Horton, always a big bopper.

Al Kaline, another 36-year-old veteran who made the All-Star team in 1971, as did Cash and Freehan.

Off the bench was Gates Brown, who, if he had been born five years later, might have been the greatest designated hitter in history, let alone just for the Tigers.

Then you had the role players, like Mickey Stanley, Aurelio Rodriguez, Tony Taylor and Dick McAuliffe, all of whom could reach the seats more than occasionally.

So it was understandable that the Tigers felt comfortable with their offense coming out of spring training in 1972; the 1971 team had won 91 games and finished a strong second to Baltimore.

On the mound, the Tigers rotation was anchored by veterans Mickey Lolich (lefty) and Joe Coleman (righty), but after that it was a crapshoot. Lolich and Coleman each won 20-plus games. Then you did a rain dance.

The offense bulled its way to the 91 wins—that and the magic of manager Billy Martin.

Martin was, in a way, the perfect manager at the perfect time for the Tigers in those days.

It’s the tenet of hiring and firing coaches and managers in sports that you replace the fired guy with his polar opposite.

If the fired guy is too nice and too much a “player’s manager (or coach),” then you get a tough guy to take his place.

If the fired guy is too strict, you bring in an old softy who the players can “relate to.”

If the fired guy is quiet, go get a loudmouth. If the fired guy has loose lips, hire a clam with lockjaw.

And so on.

The 1970 Tigers played uninspired baseball for manager Mayo Smith, a hands-off skipper whose laissez-faire ways worked in 1968, to the tune of a World Series championship.

But by 1970, the Tigers were cranky and filled with the distraction of Denny McLain, whose escapades often went unchecked by the passive Smith.

As the ’70 season closed, it was terribly apparent that the Tigers needed a swift kick between the back pockets.

Enter Martin, one of the most celebrated butt kickers of all time.

Martin was still a raw manager in 1970, having guided the Minnesota Twins to the 1969 AL East pennant as a rookie skipper. Martin fought the umpires and his own players on his way to glory. A celebrated incident with pitcher Dave Boswell occurred in the alley behind the Lindell AC in Detroit. Martin gave the term “giving the pitcher the hook” a whole new meaning, as he KO’d Boswell after a night of drinking.

Minnesota fired Martin after one winning but notorious season in what would become a career trend for him.

After the 1970 season, the Tigers dismissed Smith, who on his way out of town claimed the baseball fans of Detroit couldn’t tell the difference between a ballplayer and a Japanese aviator. Smith’s words.

GM Jim Campbell brought in Martin, a manager Campbell admired from afar, and a former Tigers player (1958).

Campbell figured—rightly, really—that Martin was just what the coddled Tigers needed in order to awaken their talented roster.

Martin barged in and ruffled some feathers, but also coaxed 12 more wins out of the team in 1971, challenging the Orioles for much of the year.

All this was the back story as the Tigers opened the 1972 season, 40 years ago.

Well, you know what happened—the hitting went south (.237 team BA) and the pitching outperformed the expectations. And Martin’s veteran team managed to stay in the race all summer.

Campbell brought in some graybeards like lefty Woodie Fryman, who was the 1972 version of Doug Fister (2011) and Doyle Alexander (1987); catcher Duke Sims; and slugger Frank Howard.

The season’s final weekend pitted the Tigers against the Boston Red Sox in a three-game series in Detroit. Thanks to a spring training players strike that cut into the regular season, the Red Sox would end up playing one fewer game than the Tigers.

The Tigers took the first two games of the series, and thus clinched the division pennant. The Red Sox finished one-half game back—thanks in part to playing one fewer game.

The offensively-challenged Tigers, who drastically underperformed with the bats, used surprisingly good pitching and their two veteran starters (Lolich and Coleman—1972’s Justin Verlander and Fister), along with Fryman and some unexpectedly strong bullpen arms, to nip the pack at the finish line.

In the ALCS, Oakland beat the Tigers, 3-2 in a heartbreaking series.

A year later, Martin became too much for the Tigers to handle, so he was canned and replaced by his opposite—the more easygoing Ralph Houk.

The 1972 Tigers were the last Detroit playoff baseball team until the 1984 heroes.

Forty years ago. It hardly seems it—if you can remember it to begin with.

Ramon Santiago: Tigers’ Newest Elder Statesman

In Baseball on May 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm

He is the most senior of Tigers, with the cashiering of Brandon Inge a couple weeks ago. He played for Luis Pujols and Alan Trammell. He experienced 43-119 as a starter and the World Series as a bench warmer.

He has, at times, enjoyed the same kind of popularity that the Lions’ backup quarterback has over the years—i.e. it’s sometimes better to be on the bench than in the game. You look more appealing to the fans that way.

He hits from both sides of the plate, as so many players like him do. But he doesn’t necessarily hit from either side terribly well, also keeping with his brethren.

He scores about 30 runs a year and drives in roughly the same amount. He hits a home run every full moon. Though he did once lead the league in…sacrifice hits.

He’s slick with the glove and let’s face it, that’s why he’s stayed in the big leagues every year since 2002.

Ramon Santiago is 32 years old—33 in August—and he’s your new elder statesman on the Tigers, now that Inge has found work in Oakland.

Going from Inge to Santiago in terms of Tigers seniority is like when ABC went from Howard Cosell to Fran Tarkenton in the Monday Night Football broadcast booth.

 

Everyone talked about Inge. Everyone had an opinion.

Ask a Tigers fan about Santiago and you’ll have your question answered with another question.

“Santiago? What about him?”

If Ramon Santiago were a country, he’d be Switzerland. If he were a jacket, he’d be a 40 regular. If he were a bandleader, he’d be Tommy Newsom.

Santiago’s act has played in Detroit since 2002, with only a two-year hiatus in Seattle (2004-05) in which he had a grand total of 47 at-bats for the Mariners. Speaking of Seattle, the Tigers made a whale of a trade when they dealt Santiago to the Mariners; they got Carlos Guillen in return. Even Santiago would tell you that was a steal.

The Mariners released him after the 2005 season and the Tigers snatched him up—kind of like when you find that old pair of shoes in the closet that you could have sworn you had gotten rid of—the comfy ones that you’re glad to again have in your possession.

Santiago never showed flashes of brilliance with the bat as Inge did. In fact, Santiago doesn’t really show flashes of anything except attendance in the dugout. A typical Santiago year is to dress for almost all of the 162 games, play in about two-thirds of them and actually bat in half of those.

 

His role is that of defensive replacement, and with the Tigers infield in recent years, that can mean a whole lot of replacing.

Santiago will start maybe once a week and it won’t be memorable with the bat. But, he’ll catch just about everything and make a few nifty plays in the field and all he’ll get is a pat on the rump and be told to stand by until he’s needed again.

Such is the life of the big league benchwarmer.

When Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder or Austin Jackson arrive at the ballpark, they don’t even bother to look at the lineup card that’s taped on a wall near the Tigers locker room. Not only do they know they’re playing, they know where they’re batting.

It’s like the 1920s Yankees, who invented numbers on the backs of uniforms by virtue of where their players batted in the order, hence Babe Ruth being No. 3, Lou Gehrig No. 4.

Jackson bats leadoff, Cabrera third and Fielder fourth—every game.

When Santiago shuffles into the clubhouse, he could make a mint if he took wagers from fans, ushers and equipment kids on his way inside, as to whether he’s playing that night. But the odds would always be 1:3.

The most at-bats Santiago had in any given season was 2003’s atrocity, when he got into 141 games for the 43-119 Tigers, most of them starts at shortstop, and he registered 444 ABs. He still only scored 41 runs and drove in his 29 RBI, even with all the extra appearances. But he did lead the league with 18 sacrifice bunts.

 

For the next four years combined (2004-07), Santiago had a grand total of 194 at-bats. And it took him 102 games to get those.

Yet the next disgruntled word Santiago utters will be his first. He has shown as much emotion as he’s had playing time. I don’t know if he cusses, but I bet if he does, it’s the Spanish version of “Oh, darn.”

It has taken Santiago 10 years and over 1,800 at-bats to slug as many homers as Cabrera is likely to have by the end of August (25). But when “Santy,” as his teammates call him, knocks one out of the park, it’s a moment as rich with pleasant surprise as seeing a man win a fight with his wife.

If you’re a pitcher who’s surrendered a Ramon Santiago home run, it’s like being an adult duped out of a cookie by a toddler. Like the hare losing to the tortoise.

But it cannot be disputed that Santiago is the Tiger with the most seniority now. He’s the accidental elder statesman.

His teammates love him. They’ve gone on record. They rave about Santiago’s professionalism, his preparedness and his gentle, subtle mentoring of the younger Latin American players on the team.

At times in recent years, Santiago’s insertion into the lineup on a more regular basis has been suggested by a fan base frustrated with second base ever since the Tigers inexplicably let Placido Polanco walk away into free agency after the 2009 season.

 

As the team has tried the likes of Will Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, Danny Worth, Ryan Raburn and even Inge at second base, Santiago has been the backup and the fans have called for him—albeit in a “process of elimination” kind of way.

But the truth is that Ramon Santiago simply isn’t an everyday player. It wasn’t true when he was younger, and it certainly isn’t true as he approaches 33 years old. And there’s no crime in that.

This is Santiago’s 11th season in the big leagues and his ninth with the Tigers. He is the most senior baseball player in Detroit.

But I know what I’ll get if I ask you about No. 39.

“Santiago? What about him?”

Monday Morning Manager: Week 5

In Baseball on May 7, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Last Week: 3-2

This Week: at Sea (5/7-9); at Oak (5/10-13)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers won a game they should have lost, lost a game they should have won, and split a series they needed to sweep.

Follow?

Well, all you need to know is that it was a 3-2 week for the Bengals (Monday’s game was washed out), and considering how things had been going, 3-2 looks mighty fine.

At least, to MMM it does.

But the weekend series with the White Sox at Comerica Park was almost a microcosm of the Tigers season so far: an opportunity wasted, a surprise win and inconsistency highlighted in Max Scherzer and Jose Valverde.

The surprise win was Friday’s walk-off one, thanks to Jhonny Peralta’s two-run homer. The Tigers looked moribund after another sluggish performance by the bats.

The opportunity wasted was Saturday’s, when Valverde surrendered a monster two-run homer to the rejeuvenated Adam Dunn in the ninth inning as the White Sox won, 3-2.

Valverde showed his inconsistency on Sunday, at times appearing to bounce back strong from Saturday’s debacle while also seeming to be on the verge of another meltdown—from batter to batter.

The Chicago ninth on Sunday went single, stolen base, strikeout, walk, pop up, then 3-0 on Gordon Beckham before fanning him.

More thrills and chills than an amusement park ride!

Scherzer turned in a wonderful performance on Saturday, but as usual with Max, you’re happy about it but also flummoxed by his inability to string more than one of these together in a row.

Earlier in the week, the Tigers split two games with the Royals, the offense again spotty after an outburst on Tuesday.

Oh, and Delmon Young returned to the lineup on Saturday after serving his seven-day suspension from MLB for his drunken stupor in New York.
Hero of the Week

The Tigers looked dead in the water on Friday night, sleepwalking through another home game, when Jhonny Peralta stunned the White Sox with a walk-off, opposite-field homer—a two-run shot to give the Tigers a 5-4 win.

Had the Tigers lost, they would have fallen below .500, lost to a divisional rival, and would have lost 10 of their last 13 games.

Peralta made sure none of that happened.

Just as last week’s HotW, Drew Smyly, gave the Tigers a much-needed jolt with his outing in New York, Peralta earns HotW for his rescuing of a game Friday the Tigers had no business winning, nor did they look like winners through eight innings.

The homer was also Peralta’s first of the year—and for a guy with 20 home run potential, it was long overdue. For that, MMM gives Jhonny Hreo of the Week (misspelling intended).

Honorable mention: Miguel Cabrera, who had a seemingly quiet week but it was productive with RBIs and competent play at third base.

Goat of the Week

As much as the Tigers stole Friday’s game, they nonetheless led Saturday’s contest, 2-1, going into the ninth inning.

Then Jose Valverde struck.

It’s not fair, of course, for MMM to compare 2012 Valverde—or any year, for that matter—with 2011 Valverde. Last season’s 49-for-49 Valverde was very special.

This year’s Valverde is Todd Jones, redux. At least, so far.

Papa Grande blew Saturday’s game with a pitch to Adam Dunn that was so fat, MMM was surprised the seams weren’t bursting on the baseball as it was being delivered to the plate.

Dunn launched a rocket, well over 400 feet into the right field grandstands, and the two-run dinger rescued the White Sox, just as Peralta had rescued the Tigers the night before.

Valverde’s hiccup pretty much undid Jhonny’s work from Friday, and it robbed the Tigers of continued momentum, something they badly need.
Under the Microscope

As much as MMM would like to place Scherzer UtM now that he seems to be the only starting pitcher not performing consistently, it’s impossible to dismiss the return of Doug Fister to the Tigers’ rotation.

Fister will pitch Monday night in Seattle, for the first time since an injury to his side cut short his start on opening weekend.

If Fister, who says he is pain-free, can return to anything close to the form he showed after being acquired by the Tigers last summer, he will be, at this point, almost as impactful as he was as a new acquisition in 2011.

MMM is placing the tall, lanky right-hander squarely UtM, to see how he responds physically to being returned to the rotation.

Upcoming: Mariners, A’s

Oh, good Lord, look who we have to talk about yet again.

But first, the Mariners.

The Tigers make their first west coast swing of the year this week.

It starts in Seattle as the Bengals try to repay the Ms for their three-game sweep in Detroit a couple weeks ago. The good news? Felix Hernandez will not be pitching against Detroit this week.

The bad news? The Tigers have a devil of a time with Seattle, it seems, and the Ms are back to their losing ways and thus might be due to start winning again.

OK, MMM wants you to take a deep breath and slowly release it.

Done? Good.

Brandon Inge.

Sorry—had to be said.

Inge awaits the Tigers as a member of the Oakland A’s, who hosts our boys starting Thursday.

Guess who hit a homer and had four ribbies on Sunday for Oakland?

Yep—Mr. Inge.

But Inge aside, the Tigers face a crucial week. They are trying to put the Delmon Young thing behind them, they are getting Fister back, the offense is still trying to fine tune itself, and seven road games on the left coast face them.

MMM is a little scared of the mood he’ll be in when he files his report next week.

That’s all for this week’s MMM. See you next week!

Brodeur Still Chasing the Cup at Age 40

In Hockey on May 6, 2012 at 4:57 pm

In your world or mine, a 40-year-old goalie nine years removed from his last Stanley Cup is probably wearing a suit and gabbing in between periods for one of the TV networks.

Or he might be coaching kid netminders somewhere, imparting words of wisdom about how positioning is everything and teaching the art of being stingy with rebounds.

Not in Martin Brodeur’s world.

In Marty’s World, the 40-year-old goalie is leading in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and already being credited with saving not only pucks, but his team’s bacon.

OK, so Marty Brodeur isn’t 40—yet. He turns it on Sunday.

Not that you’d know it with the way he’s playing these days.

Brodeur has his New Jersey Devils in front of the favored Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1, in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

The latest win was an overtime thriller on Thursday night in Jersey. Brodeur was key in killing off two Flyers power plays in the extra session, enabling the Devils to stay alive long enough to pop in the winning goal with less than three minutes to play in the fourth period.

Brodeur is 17 years removed from the first of his three Cups, which he won over the heavily favored Red Wings in a four-game sweep—a series in which New Jersey employed their infamous trap, and Brodeur’s goaltending allowed the mighty Wings just seven goals scored in four games.

Marty was 23 back then, and at the time, he was almost more recognized for being the son of Denis Brodeur, a world-class hockey photographer whose work—mostly shot at the Montreal Forum—can be found in coffee table books the world over.

You know how many goalies have come and gone from the NHL since 1995?

I don’t, either, but it’s too many to keep track of.

Brodeur is closing in on playing in his 200th playoff game. Through Thursday’s contest, he’s logged close to 12,000 minutes between the pipes in the postseason alone. That’s 200 hours, or over eight full days of kicking, sprawling, butterflying, stretching, reaching and smothering—when the stakes have been the highest.

And here’s the thing: Marty Brodeur looks, pretty much, the same today as he did when he broke into the NHL in the 1991-92 season as a 19-year-old.

Still has the boyish, baby face. Still has the bright eyes. Still has most of his hair.

And judging by his numbers for this season, Brodeur still has the cat-like quickness, the reliable glove and the uncanny knack for placing his body between the shooter and the net, just in time.

Brodeur had 31 wins, a 2.41 GAA, three shutouts and a fine .908 save percentage in his 19th NHL season.

Oh, and about those shutouts.

There was a time, when talking about the seemingly unbreakable records in pro sports, you tossed Terry Sawchuk’s 103 shutouts into the mix. Given the relatively short careers of the modern-day goalie, Sawchuk’s shutout mark appeared untouchable.

For a while.

Then this baby-faced kid from Montreal won another Stanley Cup in 2000, then another in 2003, and all of a sudden, it was like you blinked and the 23-year-old, first-time Cup winner was a grizzled, three-time champion hoarding shutouts like a squirrel does nuts.

Closer and closer, Brodeur edged toward Sawchuk, who was widely regarded as the greatest goalie in NHL history.

For a while.

Then Brodeur passed Sawchuk, in 2009, and now, it’s Marty who may never be caught when it comes to pitching shutouts.

Sawchuk was once in a class all his own, in many people’s eyes, when it came to NHL goaltending excellence. Today, it’s maybe even money: Sawchuk or Brodeur? Brodeur or Sawchuk?

This will hit a nerve in Detroit.

It’s a double whammy because Red Wings fans—if you talk to them about it—are still stinging from the Devils’ sweep of their team in the ’95 finals. I think they rue that series more than the seven-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.

So you have that image of the 1995 Devils. Then you suggest that Marty Brodeur is, overall, a better goalie than Red Wings great Sawchuk, and you might as well be telling a six-year-old that there is no Santa Claus.

Yet here Brodeur is, playing some of his best hockey, leading another playoff series that his team is not even supposed to be competitive in, and you start to scurry to the record books.

What is the longest gap between first and last Stanley Cups won by a goalie?

If Brodeur’s Devils survive the Flyers and two more series after that, it will be 17 years between Cup No. 1 and this one for Marty.

I know that’s one too many “ifs” for some people’s liking, but would you feel comfortable betting against Brodeur right now?

And I’ll save you the scurrying; the 17 years would set an NHL record.

The New Jersey Devils, when Brodeur joined them, were, as Wayne Gretzky once famously called them, a Mickey Mouse organization.

The Devils have a lineage laced with infamy. While other franchises were taking slap shots, the Devils’ forefathers were engaging in slapstick.

The family tree begins in 1974 with the advent of the expansion Kansas City Scouts. They were awful, as most expansion teams of the 1970s were. The Scouts lasted two seasons before moving to Colorado and calling themselves the Rockies—some 17 years before the baseball team swiped that name.

The Colorado Rockies were lousy, too. Even the bombastic Don Cherry was brought in to coach them, and it was like Mike Ditka coaching the New Orleans Saints.

The Rockies moved east to New Jersey in 1982.

The New Jersey Devils were about as bad as the Scouts and the Rockies. They tripped over themselves for over 10 years before finally getting it right, personnel-wise.

Just about the same time that Marty Brodeur arrived to be the Devils’ goalie.

Funny, but in the 19 years that Brodeur has manned the net for Jersey, the Devils have missed the playoffs only twice.

If you think that’s a coincidence, then I have some swamp land in—where else—New Jersey to sell you.

The high-scoring Flyers, who play a video-game style of hockey and win games by scores like 8-3, were supposed to run roughshod over the 2012 Devils in this series—even in the playoffs, where if goal-scoring were a commodity, it’d be gold.

But, the Devils are leading the Flyers. They have another game in New Jersey to play before the series shifts to Philadelphia. By that time, the Flyers might trail, three games to one.

And Marty Brodeur will be a little closer to another Stanley Cup.

Not bad for 40 years old, eh?

Marty is no longer known as Denis’ kid; rather, Denis is Marty’s dad.