The 2003 Detroit Tigers, the team that quite possibly turned around the fortunes of the franchise, limped through the first three weeks of play, enduring two lengthy losing streaks to start the season.
The fourth week would turn out to be the team’s best on the young season. Was it a sign that things were turning around for the Tigers?
I’ll wait while you finish laughing.
Week 4: April 21 to 27 (Week’s record 2-4) (2003 record 3-20)
The Detroit Tigers long road trip, and losing steak, continued into Oakland on April 22.
The baseball gods had done Tigers’ faithful a favor by giving them off-days each week of the season, providing for a much needed respite. The losing streak reached eight games after dropping another extra innings affair in the first game of the series with the A’s.
It was the first time all season that Detroit had won multiple games in a week. The good feelings came to an end when they lost the last game of the road trip, 4-3 to the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, April 27. The marathon road trip finished 2-10 for the Tigers.
Fans were so thrilled with the road trip that a group of zero fans were on hand at Metro Airport to welcome the team back.
Painful Game of the Week: April 22–Tigers at Athletics
You may notice a pattern. Many of these featured Tigers’ losses were in extra innings. As with a bad team, often times when the pitching excels, the offense can’t give them run support, and when the 2003 hitters had a rare good game at the plate, the pitching served up 7 or more runs.
The Tuesday night game in Oakland saw solid hitting and crafty pitching, at times, but it still didn’t result in a “W” for the Tigs. Six pitchers gave up six runs in the 11 inning contest, however it could have been much worse as the Tigers’ pitchers retired reigning AL MVP, Miguel Tejada five times in five chances–stranding 10 runners on base during his at-bats.
Detroit actually showed some resolve in this game, as they attempted to avoid clinching the worst start since the Baltimore Orioles lost the first 21 games of 1988. Oakland scored a run in the first inning, two runs in the fifth, and a run in the seventh to lead 4-0. It seemed the Tigers were well on their way to another shutout, but Dmitri Young bashed a three-run homer to pull them within a run. The A’s added a run in the bottom of the inning, but undeterred the Tigers added two runs in the top of the ninth, aided by a Tejada error.
Detroit’s good luck against Tejada ended in the 11th as he launched a moonshot into the Oakland night off Wil Ledezma, giving the A’s the 6-5 victory.
Final: Oakland 6, Detroit 5 (11 inn.)
(Lousy) Player of the Week: Dmitri Young
Perhaps its unfair to label Dmitri “lousy.” He was by leaps and bounds the most talented of the Tigers squad that season, and likely their biggest threat in the lineup, bridging the gap between the dark days of the early 2000’s and the arrival of Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and all who would follow.
Young was the fourth overall draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1991. He finally cracked the big league roster with the Cardinals in 1996, and was up full-time the following season. He was traded to the Reds in 1998 and found his groove, hitting over .300 in each of his four seasons in Cincinnati.
Looking to add some punch to its lineup, the Tigers picked him up in a trade that send Luis Pineda and Juan Encarnacion to the Reds. Young’s average dipped while in Detroit, though his 2003 season was best in terms of average (.297) and homers (29). Perhaps his signature moment in the Olde English D was tagging three homers on Opening Day 2005, becoming just the third player (George Brett, Tuffy Rhodes) to hit three homers on Opening Day, and becoming the first player (and one of only two, along with Miguel Cabrera) to hit three home runs in one game at Comerica Park.
Much like his younger brother, Delmon Young, Dmitri’s off-field problems may have shortened his time in the Motor City. His troubles began in the Cardinals’ organization in which he punched a fan who had been heckling him. With the Tigers, he went through a messy divorce, was treated for alcohol, drugs and depression, and plead guilty to an assault in Birmingham.
The final straw came while the Tigers were looking for their first postseason appearance in 19 years during the 2006 season. A rehab stay, domestic violence charge, failure to appear, and arrest warrant–not to mention an awful season on the field, caused the Tigers to release him in September.
Young would spend two seasons with the Nationals (and still had troubles with the law) before announcing his retirement following a year in the minor leagues in 2009. He announced a comeback attempt after the 2011 season, but received no interest.