It's perhaps a true measure of success when a team can assess its victories in terms of esthetics. Consider last Friday night in Cleveland. Bozo the Clown threw out the first ball. It was 43° and drizzling. Cleveland Stadium is the sort of ramshackle horror you expect to be inhabited by gnomes and mad scientists. The Detroit Tigers beat the Indians 9-2, largely because the Indians made five errors and left a dozen runners on base. Winning pitcher Dan Petry, who had a no-hitter going for 7⅔ innings in his last appearance, also against Cleveland, walked six, gave up six hits and threw a wild pitch in his five innings. In separate sections of the Detroit clubhouse afterward, the game was critically examined. "My god," said manager Sparky Anderson, "that was ugly." "Now that," said Petry, "is really what it means to win ugly." Winning ugly was something last year's American League West champion Chicago White Sox did. They enjoyed it. The Tigers, who've been winning beautiful, acted as if they were willing to throw this one back, so offended were they by its artistic shortcomings.
They aren't yet so sated with success, of course, that they can toss out a win just because it isn't pretty. Almost, though. The Tigers were 18-2 at the end of April, the most successful first month in the team's 83-year history, and an amazing 22-4 at the end of last week. The Tigers then dropped two consecutive one-run games to the Red Sox, on Wednesday and Thursday, but they bounced back from that appalling lapse by winning three straight from the hapless Indians over the weekend. The fact is, Detroit could easily have been 25-1 at week's end. The Tigers had the winning or tying run on base in the ninth inning in each of those two losses to the Red Sox, and it took the Indians 19 innings to beat them 8-4 on April 27. Only a 5-2 defeat by Kansas City after nine straight wins at the start of the season might be considered convincing. And it's not as if the home-field advantage was a factor. All four losses were at home. As of Sunday the Tigers were 11-zip on the road, five games ahead of second-place Toronto in the AL East, baseball's toughest division, and nine in front of the defending world champion Baltimore Orioles. Not bad for starters.
The Tigers are where they are, says the chronically optimistic Anderson, because they belong there. Indeed, Detroit leads the American League in team batting average (.291), earned run average (2.58) and is second in double plays (34). "We've caught everything," says Anderson, exaggerating only slightly. "We've pitched good and we've hit. There's nothing freaky about our record. We're 22-4 because we ought to be." Nevertheless, the fates do love a winner. On Saturday the Indians were trailing the Tigers 6-5 with two out and two on in the bottom of the ninth when Indian pinch hitter Broderick Perkins nailed an Aurelio Lopez fastball and sent it on a high are deep down the rightfield line. It looked for all the world like the game-winning homer. Base runners George Vukovich and Mike Fischlin were dancing on the paths, and Perkins had his hands held high as he went into his home-run trot. But then, as if by divine intervention, the ball hooked foul just before it plopped into the rightfield stands. Perkins struck out on the next pitch to end the game. The Tigers had win No. 21. They got No. 22 the hard way, trailing 5-1 after six innings, but scoring four runs in the eighth inning to tie the game, and winning in the 12th on Dave Bergman's double and Lou Whitaker's single.
Even obscure rules seem to work in Detroit's favor. In a May 1 victory over the Red Sox, the Tigers' Marty Castillo doubled in the fourth inning. The Sox were convinced, however, that he'd failed to touch first base. Pitcher Bruce Hurst put the ball in play by stepping on the rubber. He then threw to first baseman Mike Easier for what the Sox hoped would be an out. No, the umpires ruled, Castillo had touched the bag. That might have been that, had not designated hitter Darrell Evans, seated beside Anderson on the bench, spotted something amiss. Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy, backing up Easier on Hurst's throw to first, had been standing in foul territory, and, as Evans hastily advised his manager, Rule 4.03 states that all players except the catcher must be in fair territory when the ball is in play. Anderson rushed onto the field to protest, and umpire Ken Kaiser called a balk on Hurst, sending Castillo to third, from where he soon scored.
Ever fair-minded, Anderson gave Evans full credit for this coup. Evans, after all, is his kind of player, which is to say dedicated, alert, knowledgeable and gentlemanly. Evans came to Detroit last winter as a free agent after 7½ seasons with the Giants and seven before that with the Braves. He has been—and will be—primarily a designated hitter, certainly an unfamiliar position for a lifelong National Leaguer. "I'd rather play defense," he says, "but then as a DH, you're still playing, you're still getting four at bats. It's not like pinch-hitting." Unlike many DHs, whose attention may wander between times at bat, Evans keeps his eye on the ball and the ballplayers. He was able to detect the Red Sox' peculiar infraction, he says, "because my dad used to read the rule book to me when I was a kid and ask me questions. I know the rules, and I like staying in the game. I've played too long not to be alert. Something like this is a way of getting the jump on somebody. It might mean a game, and one game can mean a pennant."
The Tigers' lightning start already has fans and even cynical reporters talking pennant in Detroit, and Anderson is dumbstruck by such presumption. The team is not likely to play .850 ball the rest of the way, he says. No one has yet. "I know there are for sure 58 more babies out there that are lost," he says, babies meaning games. He failed to say that 62 lost babies would still give his team 100 wins and, conceivably, the division title. "This thing could go the other way for a while," Anderson adds. "We're going to lose some games in the ninth like we're winning them now. And there'll be some freaky losses. We'll even lose some on balls that will go right through Tram and Lou," this last referring to his virtually faultless Gold Glovers, shortstop Alan Trammell and second baseman Whitaker. Trammell is inclined to agree. "We realize it won't last," he says. "We'll have our dry spells."
Another Gold Glover, catcher Lance Parrish, says he avoids even thinking about the extraordinary start. "I try not to figure it out. But I know this club is intelligent enough to realize that we've a long way to go, that the season isn't going to end tomorrow. All we can do is work hard and play well and try to build on our lead. It's too easy to get carried away. But there's one thing that'll keep us alert. Most of the teams from now on will be gunning for us. We'll have to play all that much harder to stay ahead."
Parrish is part of what utility infielder Tom Brookens calls "the backbone of our club," the middle defense. And Anderson says his "middle" is the best in all baseball. "I challenge you to name anyone better than Parrish, Trammell, Whitaker and Chet Lemon," he says. "Three of them are Gold Glovers, and it's a crime Lemon isn't. I never saw Mays in his prime, and I'll accept the word of those who did that he was probably the greatest, but I've never seen a better centerfielder defensively than Chester Lemon. If the ball hits the grass out there, it either means he wasn't playing or it was just plain uncatchable."
Lemon, a bright and ebullient 29-year-old, is spurred on by such lavish praise. "I tell you," he says, "I'll go from foul line to foul line to prove him right." In that ugly Friday night win, Lemon made a beautiful catch of a long drive by the Indians' Carmelo Castillo, soaring high above the fence at the 395-foot sign to take a home run away from him. After reentry and touchdown, Lemon impishly popped his bubble gum as if to say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
On offense. Lemon is off to the fastest start of his career. At week's end he was hitting .340 and leading the team with seven homers and 24 RBIs. "Now more than at any other time," he says, "I'm determined to put power and average together." He was 4 for 4 on Saturday with a homer—his seventh—three RBIs and three runs scored. Whitaker and Trammell aren't exactly patsies at the plate, either. They hit .320 and .319, respectively, last year and by week's end were batting .324 and .362. And Trammell has already had an 18-game hitting streak. Of the middlemen, only Parrish, who had 27 homers and 104 RBIs last year, is off to a sluggish start.