McCosky: Maybe in 10 years we will look back on 2019 Tigers and laugh
Detroit — What’s your favorite memory from the 2019 Tigers season? Do you even have one? Should we all just wake up next spring and pretend the 114-loss debacle was only a nightmare?
Wish we could. Alas, all those losses, at least 20 in each of the last four months – which, when you think about it, is hard to do — and tying an 80-year-old record with 59 home losses are etched into public record.
As are the Tigers’ other dubious distinctions:
► Major-league record 1,595 strikeouts, with just 391 walks, second worst in baseball and second worst in club history since 1976.
► In a season where a record 6,776 home runs were hit, with the Twins and Yankees mashing more than 300 each, the Tigers hit 149, second-fewest in baseball and the club’s fewest since 1963.
► The Tigers run differential was minus-333, second worst in history, behind the 2003 Tigers mark of minus-337. They now own the four worst run differentials in history (2002 and 1996 are also in the top four). Their home run differential of minus-221, also the lowest in history.
► Their .294 on-base percentage was the franchise’s worst since the dead-ball era (1904).
► Their 556 RBIs are the fewest in baseball and the lowest since 2003, and their 582 runs were also the fewest scored in baseball and the club’s fewest since 2002.
► Their 78 OPS-plus was the worst in baseball.
► Their 5.24 ERA was the third-worst in baseball, and, cause and effect, their defensive runs saved (minus-80) was fourth worst in baseball.
But that’s not to say there weren’t some good times, right?
► How about manager Ron Gardenhire’s run at the single-season record for managerial ejections. On June 29 he was booted for the seventh time, his fourth in a span of 22 days. While he was sitting in his office watching the Tigers beat the Nationals and snap an eight-game losing streak, he got a call from his former manager and current MLB chief baseball officer, Joe Torre.
“He just told me not to set any records,” Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire’s next, and last, ejection came on Aug. 19. His eight ejections are a Tigers record, but fell three short of the big-league mark of 11 last achieved by Braves legendary manager Bobby Cox in 2001.
► How about back on May 7 when Gardenhire got lightheaded, nearly passed out and had to leave the dugout early in the game. He’d drank some liquid concoction that was meant to be an energy drink — he joked that he mistakenly drank a cup of Daniel Norris’ high-octane coffee — and his lips turned blue and swelled up.
► How about the bizarre-o world that was created by the suspended game at Comerica Park against the Athletics on May 19. The final 2.5 innings were played in Oakland on Sept. 6. By then, several players who were in the lineup in May, Nick Castellanos and Josh Harrison to name two, were no longer on the team.
Jordy Mercer ended up taking the last strike for his longtime friend and double-play partner Harrison. Harrison was at the plate back in May, with two strikes on him, when the rains came. Mercer strode to the plate three months later, swung at one pitch and Harrison’s stat line for 2019 was thus complete.
And reliever Jake Diekman blew away the time-space continuum by pitching for two different teams, in two separate cities, on the same day. He’d pitched a scoreless inning for the Royals in Anaheim on May 19, was traded to Oakland, and pitched a scoreless inning against the Tigers to finish the suspended game.
It was that kind of season.
► How about Niko Goodrum’s Jose Canseco moment against the Mariners on Aug. 13. Only instead of a ball going over the fence off his head, he essentially glove-flipped it over. It what was a quintessential 2019 moment. Goodrum, who again played every position but pitcher and catcher, was in center field and Brandon Dixon, who played everywhere but shortstop and catcher (yes, he pitched), was in left.
Kyle Seager, who had already hit two home runs that day, came up in the ninth and sliced a drive deep to left-center. Goodrum and Dixon were on a collision course, and their lower bodies did eventually connect. Goodrum snared the ball in his webbing but as he tried to avoid contact, he flipped his glove and the ball flew over the fence.
“Ten years from now, maybe I will watch it and make fun of myself,” Dixon said afterward. “But in the moment, it’s not something you want to be a part of.”
That quote could be an epitaph for the season.
► How about rookie Spencer Turnbull’s 17 losses. How about him becoming the first pitcher ever to go 0-11 at home in one season. How about Jordan Zimmermann knocking poor Art “Hard Luck” Houtteman out of the Tigers’ history books. Houtteman in 1948 became the only Tigers pitcher with at least 20 starts to win two games or less. Zimmermann topped him, winning just one.
► How about Matthew Boyd’s manic ride? His 238 strikeouts were fifth most by a Tigers lefty and is 11.56 strikeouts-per-nine rate is the best in club history. But his 39 home runs allowed were the most in the American League, and the 26 he surrendered at Comerica Park topped Justin Verlander’s club record
But it wasn’t all bad or bizarre.
► How about the Tigers sweeping a doubleheader in Boston on April 23. No Tiger team had done that since Aug. 20, 1965. How about the Tigers striking out a visiting team-record 18 at Yankee Stadium (13 by Boyd) on April 3. Or Ronny Rodriguez’s two home runs at Target Field on May 11 that traveled a combined distance of 865 feet. How about the fact that Rodriguez ended up with 25 homers this season (14 in the big leagues, 11 at Toledo). How about Buck Farmer, among his 73 appearances, becoming the first Tigers’ opener ever on June 8.
► How about former Tiger Leonys Martin pulling off a successful steal of home on June 15. Or Max Scherzer coming back to Comerica Park on June 30 and punching out 14.
► How about John "Clutch" Hicks. He hit a solo home run in the ninth inning at Houston to beat fellow Goochland, Va., native Justin Verlander on Aug. 21. He hit a walk-off grand slam to beat the Orioles on Sept. 14. And, in the Tigers final win of 2019 in Chicago last Saturday, he hit a pinch-hit, three-run, game-winning homer in the ninth off closer Alex Colome. Hicks hit six of his 13 home runs in the ninth inning or later.
► How about JaCoby Jones stealing a home run from Nationals’ Victor Robles on June 29. He not only had to track it a long way, he timed it perfectly, planting his left foot into the padding and hoisting himself well beyond the fence to snare the ball.
► How about Dixon. His 15 home runs led the Tigers. One of those was a three-run walk-off against Royals closer Ian Kennedy in the 10th inning on May 5. And how about Dixon posting an opponent batting average of .143 in his two pitching appearances. He allowed one hit, a home run, and hit two batters.
► How about Edwin Jackson’s stirring return to the Tigers and to Comerica Park on Aug. 9. Ten years ago, he was an All-Star with the Tigers. The Tigers picked him up after Oakland and Toronto had released him. Now, at age 36, walked off to one of the warmest ovations of the season after holding the Royals to a run and four hits in 6.1 innings.
“I try to be young at least once a week,” he said after.
► How about young Venezuelans Victor Reyes and Harold Castro establishing themselves as part of the solution in 2020. Castro, 25, has been in the organization since 2011 and was never considered a prospect coming up through the system. But, finally getting his chance, he was hitting .300 on Sept. 19 before wrist and ankle soreness slowed him. He still finished at .291 and other than Jones, was the club’s best defensive center fielder.
Reyes, 24, who did finish the year over .300, began playing regularly on June 3. In the 63 games he played since then, he slashed .307/.337/.438 with 16 doubles, five triples, three home runs and nine stolen bases.
One of the best moments of the season came on Sunday, when Gardenhire pulled Reyes from the game after his bunt single in the sixth put him over .300.
"He hit .300," Gardenhire said. "I'm not going to let him have another at-bat and not hit .300. He earned it. I talked to him and I told him, if he gets a hit in one of his first two at-bats, I'm taking him out.
"I think that was important and I think he deserves it."
► And lastly, how about Miguel Cabrera. Hitting essentially on one leg, he played in 136 games, got 139 hits, posting a .282 average and a .346 on-base percentage. He hit 12 home runs, the fewest he’s hit with a minimum of 300 at-bats since he was a 20-year-old rookie playing in Miami.
Still, the example he set for the young players — grinding through the pain and discomfort, adjusting his swing to compensate for the pain, tuning out all the negativity about his power numbers, and, most importantly, playing and producing right to the end, even hitting home runs in his last two games — should be inspiring.