Another decade of Detroit Tigers baseball has closed in Detroit. In this decade, we saw very ugly moments, moments of destiny, and events in history that forever changed Detroit Tigers baseball. For some people, specific events will be remembered. For others it will be roster and managerial changes. Leading up to the new year, Motor City Bengals will document the top ten moments of the decade on the field and in the front office in relation to the changes it has caused in the organization. Some documented moments will be positive events that will forever be cherished. Others will be those times that it was embarrassing to be a Tigers fan.
Today I break down the top ten moments on the field this decade for the Detroit Tigers.
10.) October 1, 2000: Shane Halter Plays all nine positions- With the Tigers completely out of contention, Shortstop Shane Halter, who was once claimed off waivers by Detroit, played every single position on the field on that first Sunday in October. Halter became only the fourth player to do so, and nobody has done it since at the major league level.
To boot, Halter went 4-for-5, drove in three runs and scored twice. 2000 wasn’t one of the worse years in the decade, but Halter surely brought one of the only specific interesting moments on the field. In the game, Halter started at first, then in order moved to third base, right field, center field, left field, shortstop, catcher and pitcher.
This changed Tigers baseball in my opinion, because this was the beginning of the point where it couldn’t be taken seriously. Shane Halter was one of my favorite players of this decade, and it was good to see a dedicated player actually be remembered for once. But this was the start of the downfall of Tigers baseball for more than half of the decade.
9.) June 8th, 2001: Damion Easley hits for the cycle- Easley was the bright point of a nearly 100 loss season in 2001. He only sported a .250 average that season, but on June 8th, Easley became only the ninth Tiger to ever hit for the cycle in the game.
Easley hit a double in the third, a homer in the fifth, a single in the sixth and a triple in the eighth as the Tigers cruised to a 9-4 win on that Friday night. Sadly, from that point on the second baseman was never the same. As Blake over at Spot Starters notes, the Tigers eventually lopped off his contract by buying out a his contract. At the time it was the biggest amount of money a team ever paid to cut a player. Carlos Guillen became the 10th player in Tigers history to hit for the cycle in 2006, but that often is overshadowed by the successful campaign of the 2006 Tigers.
8.) April 4, 2005: Dmitri Young hits three homers on opening day- For many Tigers fans, it seemed like the gap might be closing between talented young players and competitive veterans. 2005 started with a ray of hope, when Dmitri Young flashed his power potential in three blasts that left Comerica Park. Young was one of the only bright spots in years past, and when he joined Tuffy Rhodes and George Bell as the only men to hit three homers on opening day, a new-found hope was established. The 2005 Tigers finished 20 games under .500, but had shown vast improvements on the field. For me, Opening Day in 2005 was exciting. The man fans called “Big D” smashed the ball and looked unstoppable at the plate. Definitely a moment to cherish in the first half of the decade.
7). October 6, 2009: Game 163 brings one hell of an end to the decade- It came down to just a few pitches, a few missed opportunities on offense, and a complete meltdown down the stretch. Game 163 is a good reason to why we now have a different image when we glimpse into the future. If the Tigers make the playoffs, it would seem that Curtis Granderson would still be a Tiger. Edwin Jackson would be opening the season as the number two starter. The Tigers would not be near as young as they are, and Fernando Rodney might still be a Tiger.
You can talk about the losing seasons and the embarrassing moments on the field during this decade, but none of those moments sting like this one did. A whole fan base was crushed by one game. It wasn’t the fact that it happened that hurt either. It was the fact that most of fans saw it coming, but still didn’t want to admit it in support of our team.
6.) Septmber 6, 2003: Maroth loses 20 games- We will get to the 2003 season in a whole in just a bit, but the season got completely ugly in 2003, when rookie lefty Mike Maroth lost twenty games, becoming the first pitcher since 1980 to do so. Maroth and and rookie starter Jeremy Bonderman were compared to Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, but neither ever got to that point in their careers. Maroth was thrown into the fire as the leader of a rotation, and at a young age, there was no doubt that he wasn’t ready for the gig. Maroth would lead the team in wins in 2003, and Jeremy Bonderman was forced out of his last start, so he could avoid losing 20 games as well. In the times that I have been fortunate to talk to Maroth, he never looks back to this moment, but he would place some blame on it for a lot of his career injuries. September was just the beginning of the ugliness from that season.
5.) June 12, 2009: Justin Verlander throws No-Hitter against the Brewers- For those of you that haven’t witnessed Verlander’s performance at Comerica Park, it is very hard to put into words. In true Verlander style, it wasn’t until the ninth inning that the starter was throwing his hardest. On that night, Verlander had a devastating curve, unhittable changeup and a blazing fastball. Not only did he strike out 12 hitters, he also shut down the most potent power offense in the National League that season. What is most forgotten about that game is the pitching duel that did ensue. Opposing righty Jeff Suppan shut down 12 of the first 13 batters he faced. The Tigers wouldn’t make it back to the World Series as hoped, but Justin Verlander lit up Comerica Park on June 12th, in the middle of a playoff race.
4.) September 28, 2003: Tigers avoid loss 120- It was the most emarrassing season arguably in Tigers history, but when the victory was in the books on September 30th, those young core players were able to celebrate on the field. Their fifth win in the last six games gave a dark a gloomy season meaning. Many of the players on that field would not mold into major league caliber talent, but it did many things for some of the others. For Mike Maroth, it meant revenging the fact that he had lost more than twenty games on the season. It’s one of the ugliest teams in sports history, but if the Tigers didnt avoid that loss, things could have turned out worse this decade. At least in my opinion.
3.) October 5, 2006: Justin Verlander rebounds against the best lineup ever assembled- The 2006 season rested on the arm of one rookie of the year named Justin Verlander. ESPN’s Jon Miller and Joe Morgan had tabbed the 2006 Yankees lineup as the best one ever assembled. Opposing the rookie was veteran Mike Mussina, Verlander did not give up an inch on the mound. It was obvious the youngster was nervous and trying to overperform. In the bottom of the fourth of game two with a one-run lead, Verlander served up a two run homer and an RBI double to make it 3-1. With the backend of the bullpen the Yankees sported, it looked nearly impossible for the Tigers to make a comeback. Especially if Verlander was rattled after a tough fourth inning. After the Tigers added one to get within one, Verlander went out in the bottom of the fifth and shut down the second coming of murder’s row, when he struck out Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez looking. With the game tied, Verlander shut down Hideki Matsui, and was then replaced when Jorge Posada reached base. The Tigers would ultimately win, but the performance of Verlander and fellow rookie Joel Zumaya put the Tigers back in the series. Jamie Walker would get out of the sixth with a ground ball double play and the Tigers would cruise from that point in the series, due to another improbable pitching performance. Though Verlander didn’t throw a no-hitter or strike out twelve, his guts and fearlessness will never be forgotten that afternoon against the champions on paper. Joel Zumaya’s three strike outs with the bloodshot eyes will also always be remembered.
2.) October 6, 2009- Kenny Rogers vs. his kryptonite- It’s funny two of the best moments of the decade to me happened on back to back days, but anyone that witnessed what the gambler did on the mound in this game will agree that it is a top moment of the decade. Everyone around said he couldn’t beat the Yankees. Everyone said that he wasn’t a big game pitcher in the playoffs. Everyone said that he was the wrong fit for the Tigers. When Kenny Rogers took the mound at Comerica Park that night, it was like watching For the Love of the Game in real life. Here was a guy that had been through it all, screaming at the opposing batters. Here was a man leaving it all on the line for one last shot at being a champion. This wasn’t even his best start of the 2006 post-season, but it was the most memorable. Afterwords, Rogers said he didn’t mean any disrespect to the Yankees hitters, but talking was something he had to do. Wrapped up tight with gauze from shoulder to shoulder, the Tigers had a hero. And when the Tigers clinched against the Yankees, they had a 41 year old pitcher who just wanted to pour champagne all over a state police officer.
1.) October 14, 2006: Magglio takes it to the Street- There is no doubt in my mind that Magglio’s shot heard around the D was the moment of the decade. Tigers fans will never forget Placido Polanco rounding third and hopping, Magglio holding his pose, Houston Street’s fat fastball, or Dan Dickerson’s call of the shot. It was that home run that officially stopped the bleeding. For twelve years, Tigers fans wished for this moment, never even getting a chance to be in the World Series. Then, for the first time in history, a team that had twelve losing seasons was going to the World Series. I will always remember that moment for as long as I live, I am pretty sure most Tigers fans will too.
(Joe Dexter is the lead writer at Motor City Bengals. You can follow his rants on twitter at twitter.com/joedexter)