The Tigers lost just 10 times all season when leading after six innings, but even then, they hadn't seen anything like this. A misstep from Curtis Granderson, a mistake from Fernando Rodney and a near-miss from Craig Monroe sent the Tigers from what looked like a deadlocked World Series to another loss to the Cardinals. Unlike the other two, however, Thursday's 5-4 defeat was one that got away.
Any one of the aforementioned plays by itself would've been memorable in a Fall Classic contest. Put them all together in a Game 4 that the Tigers needed to even the series, and with the Cardinals capitalizing on each of them, and you have caps tipped and heads shaking. Yet it's the most innocent of them, the footage of Granderson falling out of camera view on a fly ball that will be remembered the most.
It might well go down as the lasting image of the Tigers' fortunes in the series. What was expected to be a routine path for the suddenly favored American League champions has suddenly turned into a misadventure. If the Tigers are to win this Fall Classic, they'll have to repeat the feat of the 1968 club and make up a 3-1 series deficit on the Cards.
"Hey, the baseball gods are funny," Granderson said. "You've got to go ahead and continue believing in them. They go ahead and even things out, so if it's that case, you know a lot of good things should be happening very soon for us.
"I'm still going to be looking up to the baseball gods for it. They're just trying to make things interesting, and I totally understand that."
The way the Tigers season has unfolded, it has never been this kind of interesting, never on the brink of elimination. When they entered the final day of the regular season, still looking to clinch the AL Central, they knew they were in the playoffs regardless. In this case, all they know is that they're going home after Game 5. They just hope they have a game to play there.
"Your entire year's on the line," closer Todd Jones said. "We've put ourselves in this situation where every mistake can be fatal. And you're talking about the end of the season if you lose [Friday]. We've been going as a team since the middle of February. If you lose tomorrow, it's all over."
For Granderson to still believe in the baseball gods after the twist of fate dealt to him on the game's biggest stage speaks volumes. On the surface, it was an innocent casualty of the weather, a day of a turf-soaking rains as well as a mist that fell for much of the evening. Yet Granderson doesn't believe weather played a role, and he wore a new pair of spikes that usuall work fine.
David Eckstein hit a seventh-inning fly ball to near-straightaway center that forced Granderson back. As he closed in on the ball's path, his footing gave way, dropping him to the ground. The divot from his slip flew into the air as Eckstein's ball flew by.
By the time Granderson ran it down, Eckstein was on his way to second with a leadoff double, putting the tying run in scoring position.
"It definitely wasn't the surface," Granderson said, "because I would've just slipped across the top. But I ended up taking a big divot and a big chunk out, so for some reason, I ended up moving a little piece of the dirt and the grass."
Fernando Rodney had just thwarted a Cardinals scoring chance in the previous inning, relieving Jeremy Bonderman to strike out back-to-back hitters swinging at changeups. Immediately, Rodney was back in protection mode.
With the newfound scoring opportunity, So Taguchi pinch-hit for Chris Duncan with the clear intent of advancing Eckstein to third with one out. He accomplished his purpose with a slow bunt down the first-base line, then got more than he bargained for when Rodney made his first costly toss of the night. The throw to first sailed over Placido Polanco's head and into right field, allowing Eckstein to score easily and sending Taguchi around to second, where he later came home on a Preston Wilson single.
Teams Down 3-1, Win World Series
|Six teams in Major League Baseball history have trailed, 3-1, in the World Series and went on to win the Fall Classic.|
|Boston Pilgrims||1903*||Pittsburgh Pirates|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||1925||Washington Senators|
|NY Yankees||1958||Milwaukee Braves|
|Detroit Tigers||1968||St. Louis Cardinals|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||1979||Baltimore Orioles|
|Kansas City Royals||1985||St. Louis Cardinals|
|*Best of nine format; 5-3 World Series result|
Like Granderson, Rodney said the weather wasn't a factor.
"The ball slipped out," he said of the record-setting fourth error by a Tigers pitcher in a World Series. "I didn't try to throw hard, because I'm close to [Polanco]. That's why I think the ball went that way."
The next time Eckstein came up an inning later, the game was again tied thanks to Brandon Inge's eighth-inning double. Joel Zumaya relieved Rodney and missed the strike zone with his first six pitches, walking leadoff hitter Yadier Molina before Aaron Miles barely beat out what was nearly a rally-killing double play.
Zumaya struck out Juan Encarnacion on three pitches, but the last bounced in the dirt and skipped past Ivan Rodriguez to move Miles to second. Again, Zumaya fell behind on back-to-back balls to Eckstein. On a 3-1 fastball, Eckstein hit a hard liner towards the left-field gap.
Unlike Granderson and Rodney, Monroe's play would've been a highlight grab if he caught it, especially since he was playing in for a play at the plate. He covered enough ground to make a diving attempt, but could only get the tip of his glove in the path. The ball skipped over and kept going as Monroe fell to the ground.
"I got a good break on it and it took off," Monroe said, "and I just missed it. Game of inches."
But the inches that will probably be remembered more are those of the Busch Stadium turf that flew into the air as Granderson slipped, especially for those old enough to remember the '68 series. It was another play by a center fielder, that one by seven-time NL Gold Glove winner Curt Flood when he misjudged Jim Northrup's drive that landed over his head for a two-run triple, that helped seal the Tigers' victory.
If this is the Cardinals' revenge, 38 years later, it came early. Flood's play happened in Game 7, after the Tigers had come back from a 3-1 deficit to even the series.
"I knew that question would be asked," manager Jim Leyland said after the game, "if I remember Curt Flood slipping, and I do. But right now, I'm not real interested in Curt Flood."
The Tigers need two wins just to get to Game 7. But so far, the series results have matched up exactly, game for game. The baseball gods, Granderson hopes, are funny that way.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.