The 2003 Detroit Tigers, the team that quite possibly turned around the fortunes of the franchise, finished the first month of the season and began the second month the way they played all throughout April: horrendous.
Their record for April (including Opening Day, which was on March 31) was 3-21.
Week 5: April 29 to May 4 (Weekly record 1-5)(2003 record 4-25)
After a 2-10 road trip, the Tigers returned home for a six-game homestand against the teams that would finish at the bottom of the AL East in ’03, Baltimore and Tampa Bay. The week began with the first of three games with the Orioles on Tuesday. A loss was followed by a rain-out on Wednesday, and a Thursday doubleheader resulted in two losses on the same day.
After being swept by Baltimore, the Tigers dropped the first two games of the series to the Devil Rays, including a 10-inning loss on Saturday, May 3, which extended the latest losing streak to six games. To avoid a winless homestand, Detroit defeated Tampa Bay 7-3 on Sunday, May 4.
Painful Game(s) of the Week: May 1-Orioles at Tigers (DH)
If a pair of games were more symbolic of the crapstorm that was 2003, it was the traditional (back-to-back) doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles on May 1. In each game of the twin-bill, Detroit jumped out to a lead behind very solid performances from the starters, Nate Cornejo and Mike Maroth.
In Game 1, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead into the fifth when Baltimore tied it. In the seventh, Omar Infante singled in Ramon Santiago to grab the lead back, at 2-1. The bullpen, in the form of Franklyn German and Steve Sparks, blew the game, allowing four runs in the eighth and ninth innings.
In the second game, hard luck starter Maroth was on the mound. The southpaw had lost six consecutive games to start the season, mixing in decent starts with games in which he allowed four runs (twice), five runs, and six runs (in his prior outing). Detroit pushed single runs across in the third, fifth, and seventh, but the shocking 3-0 lead in the eighth was secondary to Maroth’s no-hitter through seven innings.
Much like “Red” noted about prison in Shawshank Redemption–“I wish I could tell you that Mike fought the good fight, and he got his no-hitter. I wish I could tell you that–but the 2003 season is no fairy tale world.” The belief that something good could come out of this season was immediately blown up when Jay Gibbons led off the eighth with a single. From there the floodgates opened. Maroth woke up from his fairy tale and allowed four runs in the inning. Another loss for the Tigers.
“I went from a feeling I’ve never had on the mound to being dazed and stunned,” Maroth said. “For everything to happen as quick as it did is the toughest part.”
Final: Baltimore 5, Detroit 2 (Game 1); Baltimore 6, Detroit 4 (Game 2)
(Lousy) Player of the Week: Mike Maroth
Maroth was one of those guys you just had to root for. He began the year 0-9 in 10 outings, and did not notch his first 2003 win until May 23. Mike finished the year with 21 losses, the first pitcher in 23 years (Oakland’s Brian Kingman in 1980) to lose 20 games in a season. He was nearly joined by rookie Jeremy Bonderman with 20 losses, but Tigers’ brass shut him down with 19 losses. That Maroth went out there and took his lumps every game seemed to endear him to Tigers’ faithful.
Maroth was acquired by Detroit in a trade with Boston for Bryce Florie. Drafted in 1998, he was a minor leaguer at the time of the trade and worked his way up to make a very successful major league debut on June 8, 2002–a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Comerica Park. Maroth allowed no runs on seven hits in seven innings of work in his debut and finished that season at 6-10 with a 4.48 ERA.
Mike had stretches where it looked like he could be a solid major league pitcher, however his lowest season ERA was 4.19 in an injury-shortened 2006 season. In fact, Maroth was a major catalyst in the early part of that pennant winning season, starting the year with three consecutive wins and a 5-2 record before missing June through August with bone chips in his left elbow. Late in the season he appeared in relief four times, posting a 9.53 ERA in just under 6 innings of work, allowing three homers. He was left off the postseason roster, and began the 2007 season in Detroit’s rotation before being traded to the Cardinals in June.
He was not successful in St. Louis, was released following the season, and bounced around the minors a bit before retiring in Jan. 2011. Maroth now has the indignity of being the only player since 1981 to have 20 losses, a distinction that will likely stand for a long time.
There is a silver lining. Mike is back in the Tigers’ organization as the pitching coach of the Class-A Lakeland Flying Tigers.