"Even though I've been here 11 years, this team is special," says Trammell. "We don't look that impressive, we don't blow you out. We just win." Even Trammell, who is simply the best shortstop in baseball, doesn't get the recognition he deserves. Detroit general manager Bill Lajoie would like to make a trade for another hitter, but he says, "Frankly we don't have a lot to offer. We're a first-place team without a lot of marketable talent. But we look for what's inside a player: heart."
Heart the Tigers have, and they also have arm. They own the third-best team ERA in the league, 3.47. On Saturday, they sent out Alexander, and he shut out the Red Sox through six innings. In the meantime, Bergman, who was looking more and more like a real cleanup hitter, drove in two runs with a double and a single off Wes Gardner. In the sixth, Nokes hit a tremendous two-run homer off the third deck in rightfield. Ben-zinger answered with a two-run homer for the Red Sox, but that was all Alexander would permit.
"It's tough to say if this is the best pitching staff I've ever been on," Alexander said. "In 1972 I was the fifth starter on an Oriole staff that had four starters who won 20 or more games the year before. But this one is close."
One of the reasons the pitching staff has been so effective is that it is well rested, and this has nothing do with special airplane flights. Not since April 21 has a Tiger starter gone to the mound on fewer than four days' rest. The bullpen is also remarkably sound. Henneman has made good on 18 of 21 save opportunities, and the 1984 American League MVP, Guillermo Hernandez, also known as Willie, has a 1.58 ERA in his last 35 outings.
We haven't even mentioned the Tigers' best pitcher this year, the lanky righthander with the same name as the Pittsburgh Pirates' relief pitcher. Going into Sunday's game with the Red Sox, Jeff Robinson was 13-4 with a 2.69 ERA, having held opposing hitters to an amazing .191 batting average. "He's probably the guy we're going to whack around," Morgan said Saturday night.
The Red Sox did win on Sunday, but they didn't exactly whack Robinson around. In fact, he and Boston lefty Bruce Hurst threw goose eggs for nine innings before the Red Sox broke free for three runs in the 10th. Said Morgan afterward, "If we didn't win today, all that good work we've done would have been halved in a hurry."
In the Tiger clubhouse, Sparky said, "There's still 50 games left. But if we get the pitching, we're gonna win it. It's as simple as that."
And just to make sure his pitchers get enough shut-eye for their three-game series in Boston this weekend. Sparky is sending the cagey righthander, the lanky righthander and the talented-but-erratic righthander on ahead of the rest from Texas—where the Tigers were scheduled to play a three-game series with the Rangers—on Wednesday.