ST. LOUIS – For a display of futility equal to the Detroit Tigers' impotence with their bats Tuesday night, one must dig deep in the record books – 50 years deep, in fact, to 296 World Series games ago.
The last time none of the first six hitters in a World Series lineup reached base all game was Oct. 8, 1956, the day Don Larsen threw a perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Though St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter did yield three hits in a 5-0 victory that staked the Cardinals a 2-1 series lead, they were to Sean Casey and Brandon Inge, Detroit's Nos. 7 and 8 hitters, meaning the Tigers' first six hitters went a combined 0 for 20.
"I'm pretty sure this isn't the first time this has happened," said Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, and he was right. No less embarrassing did that make the evening on which Tigers hitters saw their World Series batting average drop to .185, with National League Championship Series MVP Jeff Suppan pitching Game 4 and Anthony Reyes, who shut them down in the opener, set for Game 5.
The malaise seems endemic, too, with Polanco joining leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson and $10 million-a-year catcher Pudge Rodriguez in going 0-fer the series. Together, the Three Stooges are 0 for 34 in the series, and it does not take an abacus to see that's some kind of awful.
So, naturally, the Tigers found themselves doing some postgame soul-searching, grasping for the correct remedy that would apply to all.
"What we really need," Rodriguez said, "is to be more patient."
"The reason we haven't been doing good," Granderson said, "is we haven't been aggressive."
"You've got to be aggressive," Polanco said, "with patience."
The reality: No matter what Detroit's hitters are thinking, they're a mess right now, and no one can blame this on the residual effects of Kenny Rogers' code brown.
Rodriguez's struggles date to early in the ALCS. Since the first game, he has gone hitless in 23 consecutive at-bats, and while Rodriguez has never been the paragon of patience, he does not hit skids like this, either.
In trying to explain his problems, Rodriguez hit the array of standbys: He's pushing himself too much, and he's been off, and hitting is not easy. For all of his I'll-get-better rhetoric, Rodriguez then offered what looked resembled an ivory flag.
"What can I do?" he said.
Not much, apparently.
Carpenter kept Tigers hitters flailing all night, a malady that did not befall them in the ALCS, when they forced Oakland to throw nearly 154 pitches per game, or the AL Division Series, in which New York pitchers averaged more than 134.
In the first three games of the World Series, the Tigers have seen 113, 127 and 93 pitches, the three lowest totals of their 11 postseason games. With 82 pitches over eight innings Tuesday, Carpenter was particularly efficient, aided by a group of Tigers whose eagerness left them more vulnerable than a baby.
Granderson's second at-bat was of particular consequence. After striking out his first time up, he faced Carpenter in the third inning with Inge on third base and two outs. Granderson, who led the AL with 174 strikeouts, took two balls, then lunged at the third pitch, a changeup that he rolled to second base for an easy out. So badly was Granderson fooled, he said, "I didn't even know, really, that it was a changeup until afterward. And that's great. If you can go ahead and do that, have guys second-guessing what pitch they're swinging at, you're going to be effective."
How effective? To simply find lineups in which the first six hitters were held hitless, let alone kept off the bases, necessitates a trip back to 1995, when Tom Glavine threw a one-hitter for Atlanta against Cleveland. Before that it was Boston's Jim Lonborg, who stymied a 1967 Cardinals lineup whose Nos. 1-6 were Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Roger Maris, Orlando Cepeda, Tim McCarver and Mike Shannon.
For almost 10 minutes after it opened, the Tigers' clubhouse was nearly empty and totally silent. Carlos Guillen sat in front of a laptop replaying each of his at-bats, looking for flaws in his stroke. And Guillen has five of the Tigers' 17 hits in the series.
Players trickled out and did their best mea culpas. Joel Zumaya for his errant throw that scored two runs in the seventh inning. Rodriguez for his slump. Granderson for his, too. And Polanco for following his MVP-winning performance in the ALCS with a grand stinker through three games.
"We've got to try something different, I guess," he said.
Whether that means juggling a lineup that has Polanco, he of 63 career home runs, hitting third, he's not sure. The Tigers need some kind of jolt.
Preferably from a defibrillator.
"I'm not sure who's going to play," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who planned to sleep on it. "I don't know what it's going to look like, and I'm certainly not going to talk about that."
His prerogative, certainly. This is not Leyland's first foray into the World Series, nor his foray with a slumping Tigers team. He weathered the final 50 games of the season, in which they went 19-31, and ignited them again for the playoffs. As outfielder Craig Monroe said, "It's one game, man. We win Game 4, it's 2-2, and you've forgotten all about it."
However true Monroe is, he should know better. Leyland stares at the Tigers' offensive numbers like he's locked on one of those Magic Eye drawings, and what he sees is obvious to anyone.
Lots of zeros, little production.
The stuff that makes history. And not the good kind.
- Pudge Rodriguez