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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Monday, October 22, 2012

WS PREVIEW: Tigers won't get fooled again, prepare differently than in '06

(The Associated Press file photo) Detroit Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney (left) and catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez await the arrival of manager Jim Leyland on the mound during Game 5 of the 2006 World Series. The Tigers lost the series, 4-1, and their long layoff beforehand has long been the blame. This year, they've handled it differently.

DETROIT — Remember the old adage, “Fool me once ...”?

The Detroit Tigers got fooled twice in 2006 — maybe more.

Never again.

Lessons learned from getting fooled about their own preparation in the run-up to the 2006 World Series have led the Tigers to deal with this year’s pre-Series layoff far differently — and they hope with different results.

“First of all, unless you’ve been there, you really don’t fathom having six days until you play. You don’t think of that,” said Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, who has dwelt for years on what the Tigers could have done differently after a lengthy layoff left the Tigers rusty against the Cardinals that year.

“Secondly, ‘Well, OK, we’ll push the guys enough.’ Well, the weather wasn’t really conducive, wasn’t real good at the time, so we had to spend some time inside.

“Then you’re thinking, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t push them quite as much. We just won.’ It’s not the same thing. So I think all those processes lead you to come to a different decision.

“It just didn’t work real well the last time.”

No, it didn’t.

The Tigers found themselves with six days on their hands after sweeping the Oakland A’s in the ’06 American League Championship Series. They tried to get the players together for practice, but inclement forced them indoors, ending up across Brush Street at Ford Field.

They fooled themselves into thinking they were ready.

And they weren’t.

The Tigers looked lethargic. They hit just .199 in the series and allowed eight unearned runs in five games, thanks to eight errors.

“I think mentally rusty, as much as anything else. If you remember right, some of our big guys went like 5-for-90 in that series. I think you can get mentally rusty, too,” manager Jim Leyland said on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” radio show.

“You have an emotional win, like we had last night, and you’ve really got some adrenaline going, then you sit around for five or six days, a week, that’s pretty tough. I think it’s a combination of mental exhaustion, as well as physical exhaustion, and I think you lose that sharpness a little bit you gotta be careful.

It’s not the first time it’s happened. Dombrowski pointed to a recent story in print, outlining that very problem.

“It was about how many teams swept an LCS in four games, and how many of them ended up being in position, how they did in the postseason. ... Seven out of the eight clubs since ’85 that swept an LCS lost a World Series,” the GM said. “There’s been a common bond: They just have too many days off.

“We’ve had some conversations about that.”

But that doesn’t mean that had anything figured out. At least not yet.

After all, they’d gone for years without thinking of a solution.

“I remember Dan O’Dowd, the year after, he was with the Rockies, and they swept, and he called me, and said ‘Dave, we just saw what happened to you guys last year. Do you have anything that would help with it?’ ” Dombrowski recalled. “I said, ‘Dan, I wish there was something I could tell you, for sure, I know worked, because if it would, we would’ve done it.’ ”

The light-bulb moment may have been in discussing the situation with someone who had the answer back then, but had no motivation to give away the secret formula: The Cardinals manager.

“One thing you gotta do is, our hitters lost their timing. Somehow, you gotta do the best you can at trying to get that,” Dombrowski said. “I talked to Tony La Russa about it. His club was like that a long time ago, ’88-’89. I know he’s talked to Jim. One thing he told me, in ’88 they did pretty much what we did in ’06. ... He said in ’89, they went full-scale, intersquad games, the whole bit, just like we’re going to be doing. And he said it was a completely different feeling going into the ‘89 World Series. He said, ‘We had our pitchers throw to our guys for a couple days, we had (Dennis) Eckersley throwing to (Jose) Canseco.’ He said it was amazing how different it was.”


Fooled again.

“That sun of a gun, who is a very good friend, knew. Because they threw a guy that first game that would never start the first game, normally,” Dombrowski said with a rueful smile. “If you notice, (rookie Anthony) Reyes wasn’t going to start the fifth game, when they got back to it.

“But he felt that our timing would be a little off at that point.

“Normally if you’d have thrown him — and no offense to him, because he beat us; we didn’t swing the bats well, and he beat us, shut us down. I was looking, and I said, ‘Geez, we normally hit this type of stuff,’ and we just didn’t hit it very well that day, and I got worried right off the bat.”

This year, the Tigers handled it very differently.

Or at least they did as soon as they figured out exactly how to do it.

They didn’t put a plan together months ahead of time. “I would never be so presumptuous to be that cocky, to say, you know, if this happens that we sweep somebody in four, we’ve got five or six days off ...” Dombrowski said.

What’s more, it’s one of those things that’s hard to craft on the fly.

“I will tell you, I’ve never even discussed the topic until about ... a week ago — when we were up 2-0, and I didn’t even mention it to Jim, because I know Jim well enough. There are just some topics Jim would rather not talk about. You just get to know people. ... I know he wouldn’t want to talk about something like that; I talked to a couple of his coaches,” Dombrowski said. “And I just said, ‘This is too early to talk about this. Way too early.’ But we’re faced with a difficult situation, in that our instructional league ends Thursday, so if this would be a short series, four or five games, and we have a bunch of days off, would we want to do something different.

“And they said, ‘Well, we’ve talked about it a little bit.’ I said, ‘Well, great. I’m just going to put some of this in motion.’ But I never even discussed it with Jim about doing something different, because I think there are some things that you just leave alone. Once we got into the discussion, it was apparent we were very much on the same page, the thought process about doing something different.”

The Tigers tapped into their instructional league, hand-picking a group of players to keep around, to provide the opposition for a couple of intra-squad scrimmages with the Tigers.

They held them Sunday and Monday at Comerica Park, under relatively sunny skies. And no one got hurt.

That was the key. So were the youngsters who helped out.

“These are the guys that were there. Very simple. They were there, they were available,” assistant GM Al Avila said. “The thing is, they’ve been practicing and playing up to Thursday so they are in good shape, they’re in playing form so they can come up here and participate in a normal way. Really we can use them almost any way we want. Pitching, hitting-wise. It’ll be good practice for our guys.”

The plan was to have pitchers face live bats, and batters face live pitching.

Only one question: Where?

Would the weather cooperate enough to do it in Detroit, or would the Tigers have to get creative, and figure out ways to fly everyone to Florida for a few days, and hold it at the Lakeland complex?

“The main thing we were really looking at was the weather, what is the weather going to be like? Because last time, it was not so much that we didn’t plan to work out, because we did, and we did some workouts but the weather was so miserable and the rain and sleet and all that, it was hard to get a full day’s work in,” Avila said. “But you’re limited in what you can do indoors. We did look at the weather and the weather was favorable for the weekend so that really made it all possible.”

Next problem was getting guys from the instructional league to stick around long enough to pull off the plan.

And to believe what they’d just heard.

“It’s absolutely incredible. We were all expecting on Thursday to get a message that we were going to finish our last workout and head home. Dave O (Owen, the team’s director of player development) broke the news to us and I really don’t think it’s still hit anybody yet. It’s kind of surreal that we’re so close to so many great baseball players,” said Devon Travis, the Tigers’ 13th-round pick in the last draft.

“It was in a meeting. It was our final meeting for instructs to kind of say goodbye, hope everyone had fun and learned a lot. Honestly, when he first said it, I think a lot of the guys looked around like, what did he just say? After the meeting was over, we all kind of walked up, like, we don’t understand what we’re really doing right now. ...

“I didn’t think they had the right guy, I’ll tell you that. I couldn’t believe it, I really couldn’t. It’s just crazy.”

For a group of guys — most of them recent draftees — who thought their season was over, who probably didn’t figure they’d contribute to the organization in a meaningful way anytime soon, it was a staggering realization.

So was the fact that they’d be playing against some of the world’s best known big leaguers.

“Absolutely, those guys (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder) are the best hitters in the game, if not the world. It’s always an honor to be able to face those guys. We’ll see how it goes. It’s going to definitely be fun though,” said Joe Rogers, whose family lived in Michigan, moving to Florida before he was born.

“It’s an honor to be here. I know all of us are excited to help them be prepared for the World Series.”

And not get fooled again.

Email Matthew B. Mowery at and follow him on Twitter @matthewbmowery. Text keyword “Tigers” to 22700 to get updates sent to your phone. Msg & data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.


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