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American League : With Tigers, the Old Killer Instinct Is Missing

April 28, 1985|ROSS NEWHAN

SEATTLE — It's obvious from the standings that there's less tiger in Detroit's tank.

Detroit won 13 of its first 14 games during its improbable 35-5 start last year.

The Tigers were 8-6 after 14 games this year.

Last year, through 14 games, they were also intimidating the opposition early.

They outscored foes in the first inning, 21-7, and through six innings, 56-25.

This year, through 14 games, they had been outscored in the first inning, 6-4, and through six innings, 38-34.

Kirk Gibson acknowledged a lack of drive.

"We've become a little content and too dependent on coming back," Gibson told Vern Plagenhoef of the Booth newspaper chain. "That's a mistake we've made.

"We can get into the trenches as well as anybody but we've been a little lazy, myself included. We have to get on top and make them chase us.

"I don't think we have the killer instinct early in games that we had last year."

Two significant other factors that have contributed to Detroit's comparatively slow start:

--The experiment in which rookie second baseman Chris Pittaro has been moved to third base. It may have to be shelved. Pittaro has swung a strong bat but made four errors on his first 15 ground balls, appearing vulnerable in the field.

--Manager Sparky Anderson is not getting 1984 production from his bench. Doug Baker, Marty Castillo, Barbaro Garbey, Johnny Grubb, Rusty Kuntz and Jim Weaver had combined for a .162 average and one RBI through 14 games.

Anderson lost considerable maneuverability when Ruppert Jones signed with the Angels as a free agent, and infielder Dave Bergman and outfielder Nelson Simmons recently were put on the disabled list.

Bergman had elbow surgery to remove bone chips. Simmons has a torn muscle in his rib cage. Neither is expected back before June 1. The Tigers put only two players on the disabled list all of last year.

Milwaukee shattered one of baseball's most remarkable streaks by rallying for five runs in the ninth inning and an 11-7 victory over Detroit Thursday night.

The Tigers, since the start of the 1984 season and including postseason competition last year, had been 107-0 in games they led going into the ninth. They had kept the streak intact by going 6-0 this year.

Yogi Berra says he isn't bothered by the sniping of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and the persistent headlines regarding his uncertain future.

Said Berra: "The only stories I read these days are the box scores."

Of the Yankees' first six wins, Dave Righetti saved five and won one. . . . The reinstated Mickey Mantle is now negotiating with the Yankees to do color commentary on their cable telecasts.

Yankee designated hitter Don Baylor, who has been hit by pitches 168 times, was angered by Boston brushbacks this week and said he may take it out on the Red Sox infielders.

"I know I'm going to get hit, but there's a time and place. If I don't go out to the mound, it's going to be their infielders (who pay the price). I don't mean anything dirty. It'll be a clean break. Take that anyway you want."

The Dickie Noles who restricted the Brewers to one hit in seven innings last week and who is among the league's earned-run average leaders as a regular in the Texas rotation is the same Dickie Noles whose drinking problem led to brawling and confrontations with the law while he was in the National League.

Noles, who went through an alcohol-abuse program, said he is still taking it a day at a time.

"I do what I have to do to stay sober, and I come to the park ready to pitch," he said.

"I threw the ball just as good last year (he was 2-2 with the Cubs and 2-3 with Texas) but I didn't throw it over the plate. I can't get wild, because when I get wild, I get wild bad, and that goes for on and off the field."

The Rangers took heat for sending outfielder Bill Sample to New York in a late spring trade for former Texas infielder Toby Harrah, who, some observers figured, was past his prime and would be out of place at second base.

A third baseman basically, Harrah has adjusted well, quieting the critics.

He has handled 57 fielding chances without an error and was batted .395 with a league-leading .557 on-base percentage through 14 games. His total of 16 walks in that span was not attained by Ranger leadoff hitters until June 16 of last year, when the club played its 66th game.

Some quick quotes: Seattle catcher Bob Kearney, on his 0 for 29 slump: "I've forgotten where first base is. They tell me its not in the dugout but I don't believe them."

Angel second baseman Bobby Grich: "The bad thing about big-league baseball is all the travel because all you can do in these big cities is shop. The good thing is you can afford it."

Cleveland relief pitcher Tom Wadell, who has four saves in his new role, on the advantage of being a short man: "I don't have to get dressed until the third inning."

Add Kearney, who is 28: "Some guys are happy to hit their weight. I'd just like to hit my age."

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