Frustrated Tigers fall to Red Sox
Offense stumbles against Wakefield; Robertson drops to 1-4
DETROIT -- Tim Wakefield's knuckleball was dipping and diving at a Tigers offense that continues to sink.
More than once following Tuesday's 5-0 shutout to the Red Sox, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that Detroit is a good team. He said some similarly positive things to his players immediately after the game. In contrast to the stereotypical image of the fiery skipper trying to tear down his players for what's going wrong, this was a manager trying to build his players up.
"I think the main thing," Leyland said, "is to not lose sight of how good we are."
Later, Leyland was more specific, pointing to the offensive talent.
"When you're talking about offense, this is a very good team," Leyland said. "Is this a perfect team? Absolutely not. But is this a very good offensive team? Yes."
From a talent standpoint, few would argue. Leyland said multiple times over the last several days that he'd be "shocked" if this team doesn't hit. Right now, it isn't hitting -- no matter the combinations -- and the results are compiling.
By itself, Tuesday could be written off as a tough day against a knuckleballer whose trademark pitch was fluttering. The problem the Tigers face is that Tuesday is added to the struggles they've had for much of the season's first 5 1/2 weeks.
It's not one shutout, but the fifth in Detroit's first 34 games, or an average of just over a week per shutout. That broke the Tigers out of the tie they had with Minnesota, Kansas City and Washington for the Major League lead. They've now scored four runs or less as many times as they've scored five or more, and they're 0-17 when they're in the under category. Beyond the five shutouts, they've been held to one run in four other games, and two runs in three games.
"Every time you lose a ballgame, you didn't necessarily do something wrong," Leyland said. "Sometimes, you're just not hitting."
Tigers players closed off the clubhouse for a brief time after the game. Later, players said this was not a team with a confidence problem. Rather, this might be a group of hitters trying to solve everything with one swing, and who instead end up adding to the nothing.
"We want to win," Curtis Granderson said. "We feel that we should be able to win. And right now, over the last few games, we haven't. Before, we had. And before that, we hadn't."
Indeed, it was only a week ago that the Tigers looked solid against the Yankees, rallying against New York pitching and pitching well enough to make it stand up. It was then that the Tigers turnaround seemed imminent. Now, it seems like longer than a week ago, but it's a glimpse of what this team can do.
"A week ago, we were one team," Nate Robertson said. "Now, we're a different team. But we're the same team."
It's a team that isn't producing, but seems to be pressing.
"I think probably guys are trying too hard," Leyland said. "They're probably all feeling responsibility. In no way, shape or form am I down on them. I still believe they'll turn it around."
A two-out, first-inning single through the right side from Carlos Guillen marked the Tigers' lone baserunner until Dustin Pedroia's fielding error allowed Guillen on base in the seventh. Seventeen consecutive Tiger batters went down in order in between the two baserunners. Ivan Rodriguez gave Detroit its lone runner in scoring position when he doubled into the right-field corner with two outs in the eighth.
All the while, the Tigers did not draw a walk against a knuckleballer who had walked at least four batters in four of his last five starts. Wakefield (3-1) struck out five Tigers, four of them swinging.
It wasn't simply the knuckleball that beat them, but the mix of pitches that Wakefield threw in.
"You have to think knuckleball -- that's his bread and butter," Granderson said. "It wasn't that the fastball or curveball were overpowering. It's just something to throw in the back of your mind to get you off of the knuckleball."
Boston's three-run second inning proved to be plenty of support when the Red Sox strung together three straight hits and four consecutive baserunners against Robertson. J.D. Drew singled in a run ahead of Kevin Cash's RBI double, one off three hits from Cash on the night. Coco Crisp's groundout plated Drew for a 3-0 lead.
David Ortiz knocked Robertson (1-4) from the game by taking a fastball 414 feet to right, well into the outfield seats. Freddy Dolsi entered his Major League game and watched Manny Ramirez send his first big league pitch 427 feet to center. It marked the first set of back-to-back home runs this season for the Red Sox.
It was enough to get the Tigers off of any rhythm they could hope to build. The challenge at this point is to not break themselves down by loss after loss. That was Leyland's point after the game.
Ranting and raving, he said, only works if it's a spontaneous thing in response to players aren't trying. He doesn't see that as the case, Instead, he coined the term "over-effort."
"There was no screaming, no hollering [after the game]," Leyland said. "Anything that I said to the team was positive. I'm behind this team 100 percent, and I will sink or swim with this team."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.