Septeber 27, 2016
The party’s at Comerica this
week; Tigers aren’t invited
By KEITH GAVE
They’re going to celebrate another Central Division championship this week at Comerica Park. Only problem is, the champagne will be spritzing around in the visitors’ clubhouse.
And is there anything more sickening than that? You play all season long for a divisional title, which is still within reach in the final couple of weeks of the regular season that was supposed to reach its climax this week with four-game showdown between Detroit and Cleveland for all the division marbles, and it’s the other guys throwing the party.
That’s because the Tigers blew a handful of winnable games down the stretch, so gap between them and the Indians remains seven games. And that’s pretty much the definition of insurmountable with just seven games remaining on the schedule.
Cleveland’s magic number is 1, which means the Indians need to win just one of these four games and they clinch the Central crown. The Tigers, meantime, still barely cling to what is now a longshot to qualify for the last remaining shot at the post-season – the second wildcard spot that earns them a one-game playoff.
It’s not impossible, but frankly I like that snowball’s chance in hell a little better. Detroit has to not only win all or most of its remaining games to surpass Baltimore, but get help from several other teams that play not only the Orioles but Seattle and Houston, both on the Tigers’ heels in the wildcard race.
Meantime, you can bet that bet that besides the gloves, bats, helmets and uniforms the Indians packed for their four-game trip to Detroit, they also brought along cases of bubbly and those stupid goggles that somehow made their way into these championship celebrations.
Goggles? Please. Real men don’t wear goggles because they happen to spill a little champagne. . . all over one another. Yep, it stings like hell when it gets in the eyes, but you know what? That’s the good stuff. That’s what never escapes the memory bank.
I’ve had the privilege of being in several of those post-game parties when teams are celebrating something special. The Tigers in 1984 come to mind. So do the Red Wings in 1997. Those guys didn’t have protective eyewear – and neither did the reporters who chronicled those championship seasons.
Did I wince and tear up a little bit when Vladimir Konstantinov poured the remnants of a bottle of bubbly over my head when the Wings won in ’97. Yep. And I remember that wonderful feeling to this day.
But I digress. The Indians will be the ones partying at Comerica Park. Meantime, the Tigers can only hope they might be doing the same thing in Atlanta this weekend, as strange a place as that seems for an American League team to conclude its schedule.
Their mission is fairly simple: Win their remaining seven games, and the Tigers are almost certainly in. They’re 1½ games behind Baltimore for the second wildcard spot and three games behind Toronto, which looks like a lock to secure the first wildcard. That means the Orioles would have to lose at least one of their remaining six games. They close the season on the road with three at Toronto and three in New York against the Yankees.
That’s doable. But if both the Orioles and Tigers stumble, Seattle and Houston are on their heels. Seattle is 2½ games behind Baltimore and Houston is three games back. Those two teams play a three-game set this week; Seattle finishes with four games at Oakland while Houston goes to Los Angeles to play the Angels.
Buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride to the end, with a lot of twists and turns.
A Kid Line?
TRAVERSE CITY – The Red Wings may have stumbled onto something in the final training camp scrimmage Monday.
They put together a line centered by Andreas Athanasiou on the left wing and Anthony Mantha, Detroit’s first-round pick in 2014, on the right side. The unit scored two goals just seconds apart, giving the packed house at the Centre I.C.E. Arena quite a thrill.
Coach Jeff Blashill liked what he saw, two, enough to perhaps try that unit in preseason games that start Tuesday when the reigning Stanly Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins visit Joe Louis Arena. All three will get long looks, playing as many as five of the eight games before the regular season starts next month, Blashill said.
Meantime, give Dylan Larkin a little credit for enthusiasm. He could have taken a few more days off after competing with Team North American in the World Cup of Hockey. Instead, as soon as his team was eliminated he headed for Traverse City to join his teammates in camp, eager to show his coaches what he can do at center, his natural position.
“It was fun,” he said after today’s game, adding he was looking for more opportunity to play in the middle. He played on the wing in his rookie season, performing well enough to earn a place in the NHL All-Star Game.
Bear in mind, though, center and win are two completely different jobs. And if you’re playing center the right way in the NHL, you’re scoring tends to dip a bit.
Speaking of Red Wings centers. Frans Neilsen is drawing rave reviews for his play with Team Europe, which plays Team Canada in a best-of-three championship series this week. His coach, Ralph Krueger describes Neilsen as “one of the best 4-5 two-way centers in the world.”
Which is exactly what they need with Pavel Datsyuk gone home to Russia.