DETROIT — The Tigers were officially eliminated from playoff contention this week, so as he did last year, manager A.J. Hinch held a team meeting before Friday’s 3-2, 10-inning win over the White Sox to discuss it. He talked about the need for improvement, both from the team and from himself.
“We have every excuse in the book when it comes to 17 starting pitchers and 51 players and a bunch of debuts, a little bad luck here, a little bad luck there,” Hinch said. “But we also didn’t play well. It’s all-encompassing why we are where we are, but it doesn’t have to stay this way.
“We’ve got to figure out a better way of doing things and squeezing more out of our group, and it starts with me. I don’t feel very good about this season at all. I feel responsible. I’m in charge of anything that happens on the field, and we haven’t been very good. It starts with me looking at myself. It starts with the coaches and the players. If we want it to be different, we’re going to have to do something about it.”
Hinch wants his team to be playing meaningful games in September. But as the Tigers watch the White Sox fight for the AL Central title, he wants his team to appreciate what it’s like.
“They should be jealous that [the White Sox] are playing for something,” Hinch said. “They should feel the urgency that goes with playing meaningful September baseball. Our young guys, it’s a great competition regardless of what’s at stake for one team or another. But as a general concept, they should be jealous.”
The Tigers have might have been jealous, but as they took the field, they were also a little angry, miffed at the idea that the White Sox might feel like they could stroll through Detroit.
That might have come from remarks White Sox shortstop Elvis Andrus made about expecting the Guardians to crumble down the stretch as Chicago keeps winning series.
This seemingly caught the attention of some Tigers players.
“I think they thought they were going to come in and get some easy wins,” starter Matt Manning said. “We didn’t like that, so we’re going to fight back.”
The Tigers fought on Friday, led by Manning’s seven scoreless innings on three hits with five strikeouts, and Javier Báez falling a home run shy of the cycle in a 3-for-3 performance. They kept fighting after José Abreu hit a two-run double to tie the game in the eighth. They kept fighting after Báez — who ran the bases aggressively all night — was thrown out at home trying to score the go-ahead run on a pitch that bounced in the dirt, off catcher Yasmani Grandal and back to reliever Joe Kelly.
“Obviously we’re not happy with our record, but I think we give everything we have,” said Báez, one of a handful of Tigers who wore number 21 in honor of Roberto Clemente. “There’s no excuses. We didn’t play good baseball as a team. [We had] all the injuries, but we still have to play good baseball. If we’re going to lose, we have to lose the right way, not making the mistakes that I’m making.”
Once the Tigers forced extra innings, Alex Lange — who also wore 21 to honor his maternal grandmother — stranded the go-ahead run on second by striking out the side in order. He was so fired up he seemed ready to slap hands with the umpire as he checked his hands.
“I think if you ask anybody in this locker room, we’re going to accelerate to the finish line,” Lange said. “We’re not going to lay down. If anybody comes in here thinking we’re just going to lay down, that’s not what this team is about. We’ve had our struggles this year, we’ve taken our licks, but we’re getting stronger, we’re getting better. We’re going to continue to work, and we have a lot to prove. We’re going to finish strong and ride the momentum into next year and see where we end up.”
That’s what Hinch wants to hear.
“This team cares,” Hinch said. “I know it’s easy to bang on them based on the season that we’ve had and the fact that we haven’t produced, but the heart hasn’t been a problem. We know what’s going on across the way. We’re jealous more than we’re trying to show them anything. We want to win tonight. We want to win tomorrow.”