Clubhouse keeps eyes on Wild Card race
Despite selling key pieces, Tigers 3 1/2 games back of playoff spot
BALTIMORE -- The visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards was a little quieter, a little emptier Thursday night, despite a 9-8 win for the Tigers. David Price had long since left, riding out of the clubhouse on his traveling bicycle to catch a plane for Toronto. Joakim Soria had been pulled into the manager's office and shipped out to Pittsburgh before game time as his fellow relievers had started the walk out to the center-field bullpen.
Yet amid the shock of a team in seller's mode, the television set at the far end of the clubhouse seemed to defy the mood, showing the final innings of the Twins' win over the Mariners. Minnesota's win kept the Tigers' American League Wild Card deficit at 3 1/2 games, and a White Sox loss at Boston meant one fewer team in front of Detroit.
The Tigers are selling, and they'll probably do it again before Friday's 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline. Tigers players, for now, are not.
"If you've got a chip and a chair, you're still in the game," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We have a lot of opportunity here. Hopefully we can take advantage."
They did not take advantage the last couple of weeks, which is what brought them here to a team reboot and a trade market for pending free agents. The Tigers had the look of a team playing angry -- at their status, at themselves, at whatever -- Thursday, racking up a touchdown-sized lead on the Orioles by the fourth inning and 16 hits by the sixth. The Tigers needed every bit of that offense to hold on, but they looked like the team fans had been waiting to emerge this month.
Playing angry, playing urgently, they insist they're still playing to compete, with veterans like Kinsler and Victor Martinez leading the charge.
"We're still 3 1/2 games out of the Wild Card. There's still things to play for," Kinsler said. "There's people in here that are still trying to establish themselves. The games don't stop. There's still something to work for. Hopefully we can put together some good baseball in the last two months and shock some people."
Crazier things have happened, though even with the young pitching the Tigers received in return, they have the same problems with a patchwork bullpen and a less established rotation. But at this point, it's almost as much about mentality as results.
The Tigers stumbled badly down the stretch when they were out of the race in 2005 and '08. Their 2010 team, bolstered by Jhonny Peralta, stumbled through August but finished strong in September, with many young players fighting for jobs. This team is tougher to define, but they want to define themselves and their season as something other than sellers.
"You always want to win," said interim closer Alex Wilson. "You can't take the competitor out of anybody. We're all out here to win, whether we trade another four or five people or not. We still want to win ballgames. We're not just going to roll over. Tonight was kind of, 'Hey, we're still here.' I'm glad we took the first step in the right direction."