Costly error ends Tigers' season
Handed lead, Verlander's miscue gives Redbirds championship
ST. LOUIS -- The Tigers ended their World Series trip as the subject of a few one-liners, most of them justifiably containing the letters PFP for pitchers' fielding practice. But with their season complete, the Tigers can look around and say they're no joke.
The sting of Friday's 4-2 loss to the Cardinals, especially the mistakes that continued to haunt Detroit as it unfolded, lingered around the visiting clubhouse for a while after the game. But mixed in with the moist eyes was an appreciation for how far the Tigers have come to get here. As unbelievable as it was for them to see their fundamentals fall apart over the five-game Series, it was just as incredible for many to realize that the journey they started in mid-February is over.
"Man, what a fun season," Justin Verlander reflected well after the Cardinals sent the Tigers home empty-handed at Busch Stadium. "It's hard to say that now. I really can't feel it right now. But looking back on this, this has been nothing but fun, getting to know these guys and getting to be a part of this team. I couldn't ask for more in my rookie year.
"The total end result, I would change a little bit. But in the long scheme of things, excluding this, I wouldn't change a thing. This has been an unbelievable run."
The next question stemmed from the defense, and even he couldn't help but take a self-deprecating jab.
"I can tell you I'll be working pretty hard on PFPs next year," he said.
The upset of all upset seasons, an unlikely rise from 119 losses three years ago to the American League pennant, ended with Detroit on the other end of the upset. After the Tigers entered the Fall Classic suddenly favored to capture their first world championship since 1984, they fell to an NL champion that won just 83 games in the regular season but found momentum at just the right time.
Though the Tigers insisted they had put their Game 4 loss behind them as they readied for a must-win contest, the trend of defensive miscues from the mound was something they couldn't seem to shake. Hours after manager Jim Leyland hoped aloud his team wouldn't extend its record for pitchers' errors in a World Series, the problem arose again.
Verlander struggled to find home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck's strike zone early, throwing two wild pitches, walking the bases loaded in the first inning and coming within a pitch of walking in a run. He settled down from there -- at least throwing the ball to the plate.
A two-run home run from Sean Casey, his second homer in as many nights, briefly put Detroit ahead in the fourth before the miscue arrived. It happened after back-to-back one-out singles from Yadier Molina and So Taguchi put runners at first and second for Jeff Weaver, the former Tigers ace who resurrected his career in St. Louis.
This time, Weaver's damage came at the plate, when he slapped a one-hopper back to the mound. Verlander fielded it cleanly, looked immediately to third base for the force out on the lead runner, and fired to the outfield side of Brandon Inge. In came Molina while Taguchi moved to third, where David Eckstein's grounder to short drove Taguchi in and gave St. Louis a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
It was nearly identical to the throw Joel Zumaya tried in Game 3. It was very similar to more than a few plays in March.
"That exact play was something we worked on all of Spring Training," Verlander said. "It gets very repetitive, and I missed. I hadn't done it all season long. It was one of those fluke plays. You got first and second, you want to have the opportunity to throw the guy out at third. I'm thinking that, and I pick up the ball and I throw it away."
Only one of the three runs scored off Verlander in six innings of work were earned. For that matter, eight of the 22 runs the Cardinals scored in the Series were unearned as a result of five errors from Tigers pitching, which otherwise received relatively effective work from its starters. Detroit became the first team to commit an error in each of the first five games of a World Series since the 1979 Pirates.
And Verlander might well have become the first pitcher thinking about the error total when he had to make a play.
"I don't know whether the four errors [entering the game] had anything to do with it," he said. "But when I went to pick up that ball, instead of not thinking and just picking it up and throwing it, my thought process was, 'Don't throw it away.' Any athlete will tell you that's the wrong mentality to have. That's not normally me."
Until this series, it wasn't normal for any of the Tigers. Though they were a middle-of-the-road team statistically on defense, they generally executed well with the game on the line to complement their effective pitching.
The flip side of the unearned tallies was the opportunistic offense from the Cardinals, mirroring a trait the Tigers used to get this far. Given the lead back, Weaver managed to shut that down from his end, retiring 12 of Detroit's next 14 batters while pushing his strikeout total to nine on the night.
"He threw more breaking pitches this time [than in his Game 2 loss]," Inge said of Weaver. "He threw more fastballs last time and he got hurt early. This time, he just got ahead, threw strikes. Bottom line, he just kept everyone off-balance."
It was undoubtedly redemption for Weaver, whose trade out of Detroit four years ago was the unofficial start of the Tigers' rebuilding project. But the Tigers left St. Louis feeling pretty redeemed themselves. They'll probably have the most publicized PFP sessions in baseball history when they report to Spring Training next February. But for the first time, they'll be going to Lakeland, Fla., being seen as a contender.
"I'm not disappointed," Kenny Rogers said. "I don't mean to minimize it. We didn't have the greatest Series in the world, but it wasn't for lack of effort."
Or as closer Todd Jones said, "You can't take anything away from the Cardinals. They forced us to make plays, and we didn't make plays. They beat us, and they beat us pretty good. It's disappointing that we're here, but you've got to be in the World Series to lose it. I'm as proud of these guys as anybody would be of their team."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.