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The Twins came into town for three, and left town with three more losses. On Monday, Detroit won 12-2, thanks to an eight-run first inning, six RBIs by the splendid double-play combination of Trammell and Lou Whitaker and two more RBIs by Gibson. It was Leach's turn to be the hero the next night. He hit a three-run homer that accounted for all the Tigers' runs as Wilcox and Saucier again teamed up for the shutout. "I can't say that was the biggest thrill of my life," says Leach. "I did have a few at Michigan. But it was my biggest in baseball." Dan Schatzeder and Tobik combined to shut out the Twins 4-0 on Wednesday, and one of the Pine Bros., Papi, came through with a two-run homer.
The Twins, however, aren't the '27 Yankees. Nor are they even the '81 Rangers, who came into Detroit last Friday. The Tigers had to start Aurelio Lopez, normally a reliever, because Morris had a stiff shoulder, but this was the night the regulars started hitting the long ball. First Baseman Richie Hebner smote a two-run homer in the first, Kemp a solo shot in the third and Whitaker a two-run home run in the seventh. Going into the game, the Tigers had hit only 24 homers in 36 games in Tiger Stadium, which is usually a very good home-run ball park.
Lopez left after five innings, giving way to Cappuzzello, who held the fort until Saucier arrived in the seventh. Al Oliver led off the eighth with a harmless home run, the first homer off Saucier all year and the first run he had given up in 21 innings. He actually shook off Craig's signal on that pitch. Following orders, Saucier didn't allow another hit, and he picked up his 11th save in the 7-4 victory.
On Saturday, Anderson and Craig set what must be a major league record for trips to the mound—six—in a shutout. They nursed Dan Petry through six innings of constant trouble, though he gave up only one hit. Then Rozema came on and pitched well until giving up a lead-off single in the ninth. Sure enough, he had shaken off Craig on the pitch. Guess who came on? The Rangers sent up Bill Stein, batting .403 as a pinch hitter, against Saucier. After Stein swung at a fastball and missed, Craig, sitting in the dugout, touched his left ear, his right ear, the bill of his cap, his nose and his mouth. Catcher Lance Parrish got the message and relayed it to Saucier, who threw a cruel slider that Stein beat into the ground for a 4-6-3 double play. Saucier then retired Billy Sample for save and dance No. 12. Together the three pitchers yielded only four hits in the 2-0 win.
On Sunday the left-leaning Tigers faced Jon Matlack, their ninth lefthander in 13 games. Gibson's two-run homer in the first staked them to an early lead, but Wilcox didn't have his good stuff and had to leave after six with the score tied 3-3. The Rangers went ahead 4-3 in the ninth, and for the less-than-faithful, it appeared that the winning streak might end.
But Jones led off the bottom of the inning against Matlack with only the sixth homer of his career. Kemp, who didn't start because of a sore wrist, singled off reliever Jim Kern and went to second on a sacrifice. After Whitaker was intentionally walked, Peters hit for Cowens and brought the count to 3-0. Steve Comer relieved Kern and got one strike, and then Peters chopped a grounder just off the glove of First Baseman Stein to score Kemp with the winning run.
The outside of Tiger Stadium is badly in need of a paint job, and the club knows it. Ninety cents of every ticket sale is earmarked for renovation. On the field, though, the paint job begun four years ago is nearly complete. The Tigers still have a few patches to touch up—they could use a regular third baseman and a power-hitting outfielder, preferably righthanded—but the first coat is down. First came Kemp in 1977, out of USC with only 125 minor league games under his belt. He turned into one of the best hitters in the league in just three years. Although he feels he's having a subpar season—.295, 34 RBIs, seven homers—and is hearing boos after winning a $600,000 salary in arbitration, he's still the most dangerous batter on the team. "The strike hurt me a lot," says Kemp. "I have a very active swing, and timing is important. I was hitting the ball well before the strike, but I don't feel good at the plate. Plus I'm mentally fatigued. A pennant race would cure that."
Whitaker and Trammell won their jobs at second and short, respectively, in '78, and their faces still look as if they came out of a high school yearbook. After an off year, Whitaker is back hitting .265, and Trammell is batting .297, highest among the regulars, after a slow start. Before Friday night's game, he belatedly accepted his Gold Glove from Rawlings.
The other key up the middle is Parrish, who started catching full time in '79 and has hit 43 homers the last two years. He looks as if he could beat the living daylights out of any runner who tries to score, which no doubt helped him land a job as a bodyguard for singer Tina Turner over the winter. Parrish is struggling at the plate—.227 with only seven homers—but he's suffering his slump with the same nonchalance he shows his squealing teenybopper fans.
The golden boy is, of course, Gibson. "He has no idea of how good he is," says Summers. "All he needs is time." One of the most impressive things that Gibson did last week was get thrown out at first. On Friday night he hit a routine double-play ball to second but beat the throw to first, although the umpire mistakenly called him out. Leach doesn't have Gibson's baseball talent, but, says Anderson, "The kid's a winner. He's the kind of guy you don't notice until you go over the scorebook and find out he figured in every run." The Tigers plan to play Leach more in the outfield, especially now that they have acquired First Baseman Ron Jackson from the Twins.