Slumping Tigers looking for a quick solution

Originally Published: October 24, 2006
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- Detroit catcher Pudge Rodriguez sat at his locker stall after Game 3 of the World Series, struggling to explain the debacle he had just witnessed. He wore sliding pants, a long-sleeved undershirt, and the dazed expression of a man who is stinking it up royally on a national stage.

Rodriguez had one foot on the carpet and the other propped against the side of his locker stall. It rested next to two black Louisville Slugger bats, which were there for no apparent reason.

Rodriguez is a Hall of Fame lock on the basis of his 13 All-Star Game appearances, 11 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers and 1999 American League Most Valuable Player award. He hit .313 in the postseason to lead the Florida Marlins to a world championship in 2003, and gave the Detroit franchise a dose of credibility by signing a four-year, $40 million contract as a free agent.

The events of this October? Let's just say they won't take up much space on his Cooperstown plaque.

Curtis Granderson
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaCurtis Granderson was hitless in four at-bats in Game 3, and is now 0-for-13 in the series.
Rodriguez failed to get the ball out of the infield in three at-bats against Chris Carpenter in Detroit's 5-0 loss Tuesday night, extending his World Series futility to 0-for-11 and his current streak of postseason futility to 0-for-23. Basically, he's a walking testament to the ravages of futility.

Rodriguez knows what's happening, and he has a good idea why. But time is growing short, and extricating himself from this mess might require him to dial back on his emotions rather than gearing up further. That's tough to envision, given Detroit manager Jim Leyland's observation two days ago that Rodriguez's problems were partly the result of trying too hard. How on earth is he going to start relaxing now?

"I'm an aggressive hitter and I'm always going to be aggressive," Rodriguez said. "Sometimes that goes against players a little bit. I haven't felt good at the plate, and I'm swinging at bad pitches right now. I'm jumping. I'm in between. That's hitting. That's why hitting isn't easy.

"I just have to relax and concentrate every at-bat tomorrow and wait for a good pitch to hit. If I do that, I promise you I'll hit the ball hard. I'm a good hitter."

On a positive note, Rodriguez's 16 major-league seasons have taught him to leave the bad nights at the ballpark. The same cannot be said for Leyland, who no doubt retired to the team hotel and churned through some cigarettes and different lineup combinations in an effort to quell St. Louis' momentum.

Toothless Tigers
Detroit Tigers
Three key Detroit Tigers -- their leadoff man, ALCS MVP, and All-Star catcher
-- have gone a combined 0-34 in the World Series. A look at their struggles:
Game
Curtis Granderson
Placido Polanco
Ivan Rodriguez
1
0-4
0-4
0-4
2
0-5
0-3
0-4
3
0-4
0-3
0-3
Totals
0-13
0-10
0-11

Here's how bad it's been for the Tigers in this series: Leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson is hitless in 13 at-bats. No. 3 hitter Placido Polanco is 0-for-10. Factor in Rodriguez's nonexistent contribution, and three of Detroit's main hitters have yet to reach base in 34 trips to the plate against St. Louis.

The Cardinals lead the Series two games to one even though they're hitting .196 as a team. That's because the Tigers have scored a total of five runs and are batting .185 as a team.

This must remind Leyland a little bit of his first season with Pittsburgh in 1986, when he was running Joe Orsulak, Jim Morrison and Sid Bream out there on a regular basis, with a little Sammy Khalifa and Trench Davis on the side.

Realistically, Leyland's options are limited. Does he replace the free-swinging Granderson at leadoff with the free-swinging Polanco? Does he move Rodriguez up in the order so he'll get better pitches to hit?

Detroit's bench consists of Alexis Gomez, Marcus Thames, Neifi Perez, Ramon Santiago and Omar Infante, so there don't appear to be any magic solutions there.

"I'm going to sleep on it," Leyland said. "I don't know what it's going to look like and I'm certainly not going to talk about it."

The Tigers ranked 28th in the major leagues in walks this year and 24th in on-base percentage, so they're not conditioned to play small ball and manufacture runs when they're out of sync offensively. And right now they're a lineup that's begging to be exploited.

"The [Cardinals] have seen what we do well and what we've done badly and they're exploiting it. ... They know each person's weaknesses, and they're going right after it."
-- Tigers CF Curtis Granderson

The first time through the Detroit order, Carpenter pumped mostly first-pitch fastballs for strikes. Then he gradually found the touch on his breaking ball and continued to toy with the Tigers. He needed only 82 pitches to log eight innings of work.

"The frustrating thing is, he never really falls into patterns," said first baseman Sean Casey, who had two of Detroit's three hits. "In different at-bats he'll start you out with curveballs, cutters, sinkers or changeups, so you can't have that great game plan when you go up there."

Some of the credit no doubt goes to the St. Louis advance scouts who followed Detroit throughout its playoff wins over the Yankees and Athletics. The Tigers found a way to work deep into counts against the likes of Barry Zito and Rich Harden, but they've been going down quickly against the Cardinals.

"They've seen what we do well and what we've done badly and they're exploiting it," Granderson said. "They've studied a lot of film. They know each person's weaknesses, and they're going right after it."

The scary part is, the hottest St. Louis pitcher has yet to appear in this series. That's Jeff Suppan, who will take the mound against Jeremy Bonderman in Game 4 Wednesday night.

Pudge Rodriguez and his Detroit teammates have promised to show up for the game. Whether they'll bring their bats is another question.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer