Yesterday, 43,013 people filed into Comerica Park to observe the Tigers end their season in miserable fashion, losing 2-1 to the Baltimore Orioles. As noted repeatedly by the TBS announcers (who were terrible all series…yes, Dennis Eckersley, we are aware that you used to be a pitcher, you don’t have to keep reminding us), the crowd was eerily quiet. On a gray, blustery Michigan afternoon, those in attendance were, as Mitch Albom put it, bearing silent witness to the potential end of an era. After meltdowns by the bullpen in the first two games of the series, Detroit fans showed up to the party, but came empty-handed. Sometimes, as fans, you bring the energy with you, but sometimes you need to be fed. And these fans came hungry for any reason to hope, for any sign of life. And they starved.
As the fans well know, the Tigers are not a team that comes back from the dead. This is a team reliant on dominant starting pitching, building an early lead and holding on for dear life. During the Tigers’ current run of four consecutive division championships, they have never come back to win a postseason game they were losing going into the eighth inning. Not once. Since 2011, they’ve been trailing after seven innings 14 times and lost all 14 games. For that matter, the Tigers haven’t even won a single game where they were tied entering the eighth; they’re 0-4 in such games. At the same time, the bullpen has registered five blown saves in the eighth inning or later. Opposing bullpens have incurred a blown save against the Tigers in the 8th inning or later only once, in Game 2 of the 2012 ALDS, but even in that game, it was only after the Tigers’ bullpen had already blown a save. The Tigers have only won a single game that went into extra innings in four opportunities, Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS, but again, that was only after the Tigers bullpen had already blown a save in the 9th.
Overall, the Tigers have played 38 postseason games since 2011, with a record of 17-21. In those games, they were leading after seven innings 20 times, trailing 14 times and tied 4 times. If they simply won the games they were winning, lost the games they were losing, and won half of the games that were tied, that would be 22 wins and 16 losses. The difference between 22-16 and 17-21 is the difference between genuine hope and utter despair.
This isn’t all about the bullpen or performance in the late innings. This is about knowing that crazy things happen in baseball, and sometimes, when the chips are down, all you can do is hope for a miracle. And while Detroit fans still clung to that hope, they understandably felt like those miracles only happen in other places for other fans for other teams. When you hope for the best but expect the worst, you’re never wrong. And the Tigers never fail to disappoint.