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Expectations not the root of struggles

Expectations not the root of struggles

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DETROIT -- With a combination of superior starting pitching, tons of hitting and an address from the manager regarding personal accountability, the Tigers for the most part on Tuesday night looked the way they were supposed to look. And that was very good.

The starting pitching and the hitting were more obviously central in a 12-8 victory over the Mariners, but it may not have been a complete coincidence that manager Jim Leyland gave his players a piece of his mind before all the pitching and hitting took place.

Justin Verlander came in 1-7 with a 6.05 earned run average, but he was back in his best form. He worked six innings, allowing one run and striking out seven. It was a vivid reminder of just how good he could be.

The Tigers, who had scored a total of just 12 runs in their six-game road trip, matched that in their first night at home, with a four-homer, 17-hit attack. Shortstop Edgar Renteria was particularly productive with a home run, a bases-loaded triple, a single and five RBIs.

Put it all together, and it was precisely the kind of thing the 2008 Tigers were supposed to be able to do, if not all of the time, then often enough to make a real difference. Their 18-27 record says that hasn't happened.

Even on this night things were far from perfect. The Detroit bullpen surrendered seven runs and turned a blowout into a save situation for closer Todd Jones. But the overall effect was more than positive.

Leyland had been patient with the Tigers' on-field struggles, but his patience came to an end on Tuesday, because of comments made by players in a USA Today story and, the manager said, in other stories.

Leyland called a pregame meeting on Tuesday on the topic of personal accountability. He was troubled that some public comments by players gave the impression that issues such as clubhouse atmosphere or cliques in the clubhouse were problems for the team. The only real problem, Leyland said, was the way the Tigers were performing. And he included his own performance in that critique.

"What's wrong is we haven't hit, we haven't pitched, we haven't managed good enough, I've stunk," Leyland said after the game. "I told the players: 'I look in the mirror right now, I'm mad at myself, because I think I stink.' We all have to look in the mirror and say: 'How are you doing?'

"Don't look for all this other [silliness]. It's diversionary tactics. It's not meeting the situation head-on. Meeting the situation head-on is saying: 'You know what? We're where we are, and I haven't done much.' "

Leyland indicated that the thrust of his message was: "Accept responsibility and personal accountability." Some of his remarks cannot be completely quoted here because of the intended family readership of this site, but you'll get the message.

"I told the team that we've played [poorly]," Leyland said. "And I don't ever say that to the team before I say that I'm [not doing a good job]. We're all in this together. I don't mean that individual players are [bad]. I mean, our performance has been [bad]. And it starts with me.

"Tonight, our performance was very, very good. It looked a little sloppy at the end, but we looked relaxed, we went up there, we were aggressive, we were a team, we had a good performance from our starting pitcher, we got timely hitting, that makes a good atmosphere.

"When you look for all these other excuses, that's [garbage]. Hold yourself accountable, go out there and do your job, bust your butt and we'll do fine.

"We're a very talented team that has not played up to its capabilities, that has not accepted the challenge of high expectations, and it's my responsibility to get this team to play like it's capable. And I have not done that. I don't feel too good about myself right now when I look in the mirror. But I'm not going to put the blame somewhere else.

"I'm not holding back any more. I'll never, ever single out any player. If the team is not performing, you don't single out players, you say the team is not performing, led by a [bad] performance by the manager, up to this point. You don't start hinting there's something wrong in the clubhouse, or somebody's not hustling. That's [garbage]. I don't [care] who likes it and who doesn't like it. We're all in this together and I've told them that since Day 1 since I've been here, and it'll be that way until I'm gone. You don't insinuate like that unless you want to name names. It makes it look like 'I'm hustling, but other guys aren't.'

"I'm not going to put up with it, when you've got to start worrying about people all over saying: 'Oh, they got problems in the clubhouse, they got this, they got that.' We don't have any problems except for the fact that we haven't won enough games."

In the USA Today article, some Detroit players suggested that expectations for this team were unfairly high. This set Leyland off, in a large way. Expectations for the Tigers this season were somewhere between lofty and monumental, but in a way, why not? They had added Miguel Cabrera to an already-imposing lineup. They had won the American League pennant just two years before. And they were spending a franchise-record $138 million in an effort to win everything in sight.

"It isn't fair all of a sudden for people to have expectations?" the manager said. "Well, why wasn't it fair? What are you talking about, it wasn't fair? You're supposed to love the expectations. You're saying it wasn't fair to have expectations? What are you talking about?

"I'm a grown man. I can take my heat, and I deserve some for the performance of this club. But you better be careful when you're a player. If you're hitting .200 and .220 and striking out, you shouldn't be popping off, in my opinion, about other situations. You ought to be taking care of your own business.

"If they want to play games, I'll play games, and it won't be long [before] I'll put names to it, if they want me to. I'm not quite to that point yet. They want to play games, I'll play games. I'll quit protecting some of these guys night after night after night after night. And I'll put some names to it."

Tuesday night, the combination of strong starting pitching and robust hitting made the Tigers seem like the team they hoped to be. Those were the important elements of their victory, but the reminder on personal accountability also could not have hurt.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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