Tigers end streak of losing seasons
Rogers tosses seven shutout innings for win No. 13
DETROIT -- For all the superlatives that have been raised about this year's Tigers compared to their recent history, there's one more that can put this season into focus: Win No. 81 passed by like a state line along the highway to 100-plus. Never mind that the Tigers hadn't had an 81st win since 1993.
It wasn't much of a topic for conversation in the home clubhouse after Tuesday's 4-0 blanking of the White Sox at Comerica Park, even for some of those who were around when win No. 43 was like a playoff victory in 2003.
"Because that's not the goal," said Mike Maroth, who lost 21 games in that infamous 119-loss season. "That's like saying if you win more games than the year before, are you happy with that?"
Brandon Inge, for one, was happy enough to quietly appreciate it. He's the longest-tenured active Tiger, having been in the organization since 1998 and having debuted in Detroit in 2001. He hadn't seen a winning season. But then, Bobby Higginson played 11 years with the Tigers and didn't see a winning season.
The Pirates, Jim Leyland's old organization, are still waiting to see one. Pittsburgh has had a losing season each year since 1992, the only streak in the Majors that was longer than the Tigers.
"For me," Inge admitted, "it's rewarding, big time, because of the 2003 season. Finally, I'm on a winning team. We're just starting right now, and I understand that, and we're looking for a lot more. But this is what we've been trying to accomplish for so long. We're not settling here by any means, but this is a start."
Most of the Tigers who contributed to Tuesday's win hadn't been around for much of the frustration. Kenny Rogers, whose seven scoreless innings led to Detroit's Major League-leading 14th shutout of the season, joined the club over the winter, in part because he thought they had a chance to win. Marcus Thames, who drove in three runs, was part of a championship team at Triple-A Toledo last year, but this would be his first full season in the Majors. Magglio Ordonez, whose sliding catch helped thwart Chicago's best scoring chance, was only around for the last of the Tigers' losing seasons.
But Inge, Maroth and Dmitri Young, among others, knew more of the losing. So did much of the sellout crowd in attendance, which is part of the reason they've so embraced having a winner.
"It's been a long time," Thames said. "We've been playing good ball this year and giving them something to cheer about. They have the right to come out and cheer hard. When we win a game like that and they know we're not going to have a losing season, they should feel good, because they've been suffering for a while. We just have to keep playing good baseball and give them something even more to cheer about."
Thames gave them a reason to cheer in the first inning without putting the ball in play. His bases-loaded walk provided the capper to Mark Buehrle's struggles with the strike zone after four of Detroit's first five batters singled. After Carlos Guillen singled in Neifi Perez, Buehrle missed on a 3-2 pitch to Thames, bringing in Ivan Rodriguez for his first RBI since Aug. 7.
Thames was 2-for-16 since that RBI without an extra-base hit entering Tuesday, and he's been playing sporadically. So not only did Leyland give him a start, he tried to loosen him up when he stepped into his office before the game.
"I told him, 'If you don't have a good approach the first at-bat, I'm taking you out,'" Leyland joked.
Thames was laughing about it afterwards.
"I was trying to be as patient as I could," he said. "I got the bases-loaded walk, and I took a deep breath and said, 'OK, I can play a little bit now.'"
Buehrle (10-11) was able to throw strikes after that, but three of the five hits he allowed from there led to runs. Guillen sparked a two-out rally in the third with a double that rolled to the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field before Thames plated him with a triple to right-center.
Two innings later, Thames finished the damage. One pitch after lining a would-be home run foul down the left-field line, he straightened out his swing and hit another line drive, this one going out to left-center for his team-high 22nd homer of the season.
"After he threw two fastballs by me, I stepped out of the box and thought what's going on," said Thames. "He kept that [next] one up, and I just pulled off it a little bit. The next one was a changeup, and he left it out over the plate and I was able to take a good hack at it."
Three of Thames' homers have come against the White Sox, even though he has just five hits off of them this year. By contrast, Rogers' success against the White Sox was in line with what he had done to them all season. Ten days after two critical infield errors saddled him with four unearned runs in a 4-3 loss at Chicago, the veteran left-hander allowed no runs of any kind.
"He was really good," Leyland said. "I was really impressed. So much for all that [talk] about the second-half [struggles]."
Rogers (13-6) scattered four hits and a walk over his seven innings, stranding five runners in scoring position for his fourth quality start in as many outings against the White Sox this year. Combined with Fernando Rodney's scoreless relief, the Tigers extended their scoreless streak to 16 consecutive innings. The only White Sox run so far this series came on Jermaine Dye's solo homer in Monday's opener.
Those zeroes are the streak the Tigers want to appreciate. A couple more wins would be appreciated, too, with their American League Central lead now back at 7 1/2 games. The end of the losing seasons streak passed quietly, though not ignored.
"This has been an exciting year, especially since I came back and been in the mix," Young said. "This is what I've been waiting for."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.