Wojo: Tigers bring a little fire back to Comerica Park

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — Suddenly there’s action and noise, mostly of the positive variety. After two weeks of doldrums, the Tigers have lumbered to life, and there’s no sense debating how long it’ll last, because nobody knows in this goofy game.

The Tigers have packed crazy bursts and outbursts into a three-game winning streak after beating the Twins 7-2 Tuesday night. It seems like something has turned, and yes, I fully understand the opponent turned into the last-place Twins. Sometimes that’s what it takes — a timely visit from a lowly foe, an impassioned tirade from an embattled manager, a few clutch hits that produce huge innings.

Whatever this is, it started with a break in Baltimore and a comeback victory. It continued with an eight-run first inning against the Twins Monday night, followed by a near-collapse, followed by a fired-up Brad Ausmus igniting the crowd.

And then Tuesday night, more sudden energy in a seven-run seventh inning, lit by the prodigal son returned, Cameron Maybin, whose enthusiasm is catching on. He’s only been here two games after recovering from wrist and shoulder injuries, after being gone eight years as part of the lopsided 2008 trade that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit.

Shirt off his back

Of course, a team always looks more energetic when its sluggers start slugging, but we’ve seen something else. Ausmus’ tirade, capped by a fantastic shirt-shucking show, was a long-awaited display of his frustration and relatively unseen passion. I don’t think it was calculated to change perceptions, but at least in the short term, it resonated with people.

The players loved it, even if it meant Ausmus was suspended and Gene Lamont stepped in Tuesday night. The fans loved it, almost as much as they loved another one-inning offensive explosion that featured home runs by Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez and a two-run single by Jose Iglesias. On that play, the speedy Maybin raced home from second ahead of the throw, then hopped around with the type of unfettered enthusiasm the Tigers don’t often show.

The crowd of 27,652 was as loud as ever, as if releasing pent-up emotion. Maybe, just maybe, the heavy tension about Ausmus’ job status is lifting. It takes a break or two, and the Tigers got a break on Martinez’s checked swing in Baltimore, then got a break in the schedule, and now might be getting a boost from their new center fielder.

“To be honest, Cameron Maybin has been huge for us,” Kinsler said. “He’s come up in big situations, extended innings, stolen bases, put pressure on the other team. He brings energy, he brings excitement to the game, he loves to play the game. When you add a personality like that, it helps everybody.”

Bringing the hype

Maybin, 29, was the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2005, and has had a decent, unspectacular career elsewhere. GM Al Avila traded to get him back, and he finally might fit here. It’s only been two games, but Maybin is 4-for-6 with two stolen bases, and has looked smooth in center field.

“When I’m healthy, I can do a lot of good things on the baseball field,” Maybin said. “I can bring energy, bring guys together as one. When you show these fans passion and energy, they feed off it, and you could see that late in the game. I think they could feel how much fun we were having. That’s what it’s about, getting these guys hyped and giving them something to be excited about.”

Kinsler talked about the same thing, about making Comerica Park “loud and chaotic.” Obviously, it starts with winning, which usually starts with pitching. But the Tigers’ talented lineup might be forced to carry a team still searching for consistent pitching.

Theoretically, danger breeds focus, but also can produce frustration. We saw a lot of that the past couple weeks, when the Tigers lost 11 of 12. We’ve seen an almost carefree looseness the past few wild days.

“I don’t know if the players really feel the tension,” Lamont said. “I don’t blame the fans or you guys, it’s what you have to write about. The players probably were putting a little extra pressure on themselves. Hopefully this gets us going, and you feel like it has.”

It does feel that way, for now. The Tigers (18-21) still have a lot of climbing to do against tougher opponents, but their response to the strife is encouraging. Tension will always be here but it doesn’t have to be suffocating, and it can be motivating.