The televisions were off, there was no music blaring, and any discussions were had softly in the almost empty visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park. The puzzling Detroit Tigers were about a half-hour removed from their latest dreary loss Tuesday, and one player was trying to explain the unexplainable.
As player after player drifted away, Kenny Rogers talked about how the Tigers had to increase their intensity level instead of relying on their talent. It was a subtle indictment by Rogers, who soon shifted to blunt.
"Let's not kid ourselves," he said. "Right now, we're the worst team in baseball. We can keep talking about how good we are. We haven't shown anything yet."
The revamped Tigers were a trendy choice to win a World Series title after adding Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Edgar Renteria in the offseason, but they began the season 0-7 and were trying to win their first game before tax returns were due. Six days before Uncle Sam's deadline, the Tigers exhaled after a 7-2 victory against the Red Sox on Wednesday night gave them that elusive win.
The Tigers took extra batting practice before the game, which manager Jim Leyland acknowledged would not be a solution. Still, the Tigers, whose lineup was hyped as one that could score 1,000 runs in 2008, needed to do something different. Before Wednesday, Detroit had scored a measly 15 runs in seven games and had been outscored, 23-2, in the last 23 innings.
Leyland, the straight-talking, chain-smoking manager, veered through a range of emotions in two interviews Tuesday. He was disappointed but optimistic. He was feisty but in a charming way. He was hopeful, even if the situation has seemed hopeless.
Although the $138 million Tigers finally won a game, they had already dumped themselves into a historical abyss with the 0-7 start. No team has made the playoffs after losing its first seven games. Those numbing numbers annoy Leyland, who briefly ignored his cigarettes to dismiss them.
Spicing a response with an expletive, Leyland said he did not care what "happened in the last 100 years."
"I care about what's happening right now," he said.
What has happened is that the Tigers have failed to generate offense, and offense was supposed to make them fearsome this season. After being shut out just three times last year, the Tigers have been blanked twice in 2008.
Rogers stressed that the Tigers' free fall had been caused by more than an anemic offense and said they had not performed "adequately" in any phase of the game. As unproductive as Detroit's offense has been, Rogers said its pitching had to be the guide. Until Jeremy Bonderman and four relievers stopped Boston on Wednesday, Detroit had the worst earned run average in the American League.
Leyland wants the Tigers to be better at prolonging at-bats, which should tire pitchers and allow their intelligent hitters to pounce. No Tigers are in the top 40 in the major leagues in pitches per plate appearance, a revealing statistic that validates Leyland's theory about Detroit's lackluster approach.
Cabrera, who is one of the premier players in baseball, is batting .125, and Placido Polanco, a .341 hitter last year, is hitting .103. Ivan Rodriguez (.161) and Gary Sheffield (.222) have been invisible. Magglio Ordonez, Cabrera and Sheffield have combined to hit one homer, four fewer than Mark Reynolds of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
As integral as Curtis Granderson, the center fielder and leadoff hitter, is as a catalyst, Leyland refused to use his absence as a reason for Detroit's demise. Granderson has a broken right hand.
"Cleveland hasn't had Victor Martinez," said Leyland, about the catcher who missed four of the Indians' first six games. "What the heck is the difference?"
Maybe the expectations have unnerved the Tigers. Leyland has been asked repeatedly if the Tigers have been spooked by the significant expectations, and he continues to say that having grand expectations is a positive because that means Detroit has a good team.
Mike Lowell of the Red Sox said the Tigers' drought "is more of a hiccup than the team they really are." Boston's Sean Casey, who played for the Tigers last year, was surprised Detroit began so poorly, but he added that a seven-game losing streak would not be as glaring if it happened in July.
Still, it is easy for opponents who did not start 0-7 to make those statements. Rogers said he disagreed with the notion that "it's early and they'll turn it around." Even though it is extremely early, Rogers acknowledged that some damage had already been done. He said the Tigers needed to improve and improve fast.
"All you do is make the hill harder to climb," Rogers said.