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Brad Andress is shouting. As usual, it's the only means of communicating in the Detroit Tigers' clubhouse, where heavy-metal rock is almost always cranked up to teeth-rattling volume. "The players we have," yells Andress, the team's strength coach, "are gifted mesomorphic individuals." Mesomorphic? Was that before the Mesozoic or after the Paleozoic?
In any case the Tigers have muscled their way to the best record in the American League (27-15) and seized sole possession of the East lead for the first time in five years. They have done this primarily on the brute strength of an offense too mesomorphic to be contained by any park—be it Oriole, Fenway or Jurassic.
"When we get ahold of mediocre pitching, we just crush it," says Tiger manager Sparky Anderson, who, in the same breath, is also accurately describing much of the mound work seen in baseball this expansion year. "We can hurt you quick."
How quick? On April 25, Detroit came to bat in the seventh inning, trailing the Minnesota Twins 5-1. Five hitters later the score was tied. When the game ended, the Tigers had won 16-5. Detroit starter David Wells had exited on the losing side and had angrily heaved his spikes, glove and hat into his locker, and he thought someone was joking when he heard the final score after emerging from a few minutes of arm exercises in the training room. "I turn my back and look what happens," Wells says. "Guys were laughing at me. One minute I'm throwing stuff, and the next minute we score eight runs."
Until they beat the Oakland A's 20-4 in the Tiger Stadium opener this year, Detroit had scored 20 runs in a game only five times in its history, all of them before 1937. Four days later, the Tigers did it again, trashing the Seattle Mariners 20-3. The rout of the A's began a 12-game stretch in which Detroit scored 120 runs, went 11-1 and roared into first place—where it has remained since April 23.
The Tiger surge continued through Sunday, at which point Detroit had won 10 of its last 13 games. In taking two out of three in a weekend series with the Cleveland Indians, the Tigers extended their division lead over the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays to 3½ games. Homers by Mickey Tettleton, his ninth, and Cecil Fielder, his eighth, were the difference in Detroit's 4-2 win on Sunday.
Lest you regard the Tigers as mere brutes, Anderson would like it known that these are most genteel beings when they are without bat in hand. Anderson, who knows how to handle players, if not the English language, reinforces that proclivity for good behavior by his insistence that the Tigers dress properly and act civilly when in street clothes. "Stewardesses tell me, 'We never have no people like you,' " he says proudly, "We have guys who are tough—almost street-tough—but on the other hand they're very gentle. I enjoy being around them."
On most other teams players fling their dirty clothes on the clubhouse floor for attendants to fetch; the rule in the Detroit locker room is, If you don't put them in the hamper yourself, they don't get washed. "My wife tells me the same thing, but I'm not as good about it at home," says outfielder Rob Deer. "Sparky wants us to act a certain way. This year he finally let us wear cowboy boots and jeans on the road. It took him 24 years to give in on that."
This is a clean but mean scoring machine. The Tigers are on a pace to break the Yankees' 61-year-old major league record for runs in a season (chart, above). At week's end Detroit hadn't been shut out in its past 76 games and hadn't lost more than two straight games all season. Oh...did someone mention the Tigers' mediocre starting pitching? Their incendiary bullpen? A defense that has made more errors than every American League club but the Cleveland Indians? No problem. The Detroit offense is so prolific that it is on its way to destroying the theory that winning teams are built on pitching and defense. Even in games in which the Tigers have not hit a home run, their record is 12-5.
And after fielding three losing teams in the past four years, Detroit slowly is winning back fans. The team's average attendance of 19,194 through Sunday may sound ordinary, but for a franchise that relies heavily on walk-up sales and has drawn more than 2 million fans in a season only five times, that's an encouraging 35% increase over last year. While the improvements to Tiger Stadium and the nightly giveaways cooked up by Detroit's latest pizza-baron owner, Mike Hitch, CEO of Little Caesars, have helped pull in the public, the main attraction has been the team, which is as entertaining a club as there is in baseball. "If I were a fan, this is the team I'd root for," says Deer, who has eight homers. "How can you not like this team? We're fun to watch."