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Gorillas of the Missed
Steve Rushin
June 10, 1991
Detroit's lineup packs a mighty wallop, but an abundance of strikeouts is part of the bargain
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June 10, 1991

Gorillas Of The Missed

Detroit's lineup packs a mighty wallop, but an abundance of strikeouts is part of the bargain

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There is a bad new record being pressed in Detroit. The label is not Motown, but K-Tel. The record features a quartet of men playing wind instruments. It has three big cuts, and then it's done. While this is a record that swings, it is hardly likely to result in a hit.

That sound you do not hear is the Mow-down sound, the sound of Detroit Tiger after Detroit Tiger swinging at baseballs—and missing. The Tigers are being mowed down at a near-record pace this season, led, if you will, by Rob Deer, Cecil Fielder, Pete Incaviglia and Mickey Tettleton. They are four beefy Tigers who render the phrase "meat of the order" laughably inadequate, but their considerable size is not the only thing these players share. There is another resemblance among the four that is more striking.

"You get what you pay for," says Tiger hitting coach Vada Pinson, whose club this past off-season shelled out big bucks—a combined $4 million for this year—to sign Deer, Incaviglia and Tettleton. "We knew when we got them that they'd strike out some."

And that is what they do—much of the time, anyway. Deer, Fielder, Incaviglia and Tettleton, teammates for the first time in 1991, struck out a collective 635 times in 1990. Thus far this year, they're on about the same pace, having already combined for 188 strikeouts through Sunday, with rightfielder Deer, whose 63 K's were the most by any one player in the majors, leading the way. Their mere presence in the same lineup makes a strong case that the American League team record for strikeouts in a season—1,148, set by the 1986 Seattle Mariners (the team that struck out 20 times against Boston's Roger Clemens to set baseball's alltime single-game mark)—will be, shall we say, struck from the record book by the end of this summer. There's also the chance that the Tigers, who at week's end were averaging seven strikeouts per game, could eclipse the major league record of 1,203, set by the '68 New York Mets. "There will be a lot of games [against the Tigers] this season in which, if a starting pitcher has his stuff, he can use the same baseball for two or three innings," says broadcaster and former pitcher Jim Kaat.

Clemens appeared to be doing just that in a recent outing in Detroit, striking out eight Tigers by the time he faced designated hitter Incaviglia with a man on base in the seventh inning. "Roger is a great pitcher," Inky would say afterward. "I hadn't done a whole lot of good in my last 11 at bats against him."

This was understatement of the most sublime order. "As a matter of fact," Incaviglia continued hesitantly, "I had struck out 11 times in a row against him."

This is true: 11 times in a row. On this night, however, in this at bat, Incaviglia doubled in the go-ahead run against the Rocket. When Incaviglia reached second base, he remarked to Clemens that this was the first time he had ever seen the pitcher's back. "I guess," Incaviglia would go on to say, as perplexed as anyone else, "the law of averages finally caught up with me."

Let us not forget that Clemens left that game with 10 strikeouts in seven innings. In other words, in case we have yet to make this perfectly clear, all the fans at Tiger Stadium are not confined to the stands. The Wave is done on the field there as well.

Of course, as with all unpleasant records, this one has a better flip side. Laid end to end, Deer, Fielder, Incaviglia and Tettleton not only would provide enormously entertaining photographic possibilities but also would stretch for nearly 25 feet and 900 pounds of power: Deer, Incaviglia and Tettleton alone lashed a collective 66 home runs last season while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers, the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore Orioles, respectively. This season, the trio has 24 homers and 73 RBIs among them.

If Fielder's 182 strikeouts last season were most in the majors—and four short of the American League record set by, you guessed it, Deer in 1987—well, his 51 home runs and 132 RBIs were best in the game too. These Tigers, then, will hardly subsist on nothing but K rations. "We'll lead the league in home runs," says Detroit manager Sparky Anderson, whose team's 55 dingers did indeed lead the league as of Sunday. "That other thing, I don't care about."

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