DETROIT — Torii Hunter walked from the bat rack toward the middle of the dugout after the Detroit Tigers lost for the 12th time in the last 16 games on Wednesday night. He took the game bat and batting gloves in his arms and tossed them over the dugout roof to some startled and extremely appreciative fans.
"They were bad luck," Hunter said, while dressing in the quiet clubhouse. "I took everything I had — my bat and gloves — and got rid of them. They weren’t doing me any good."
He raised his eyebrows and forced a smile.
Hunter has gone 2-for-19 since hitting big homers in consecutive games last week in Oakland against the Athletics. He is 0-for-8 in back-to-back losses to the Toronto Blue Jays, who triumphed 8-2 on Wednesday as the Tigers went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Even that lone hit simply loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth inning, when Detroit could not score as reliever Aaron Loup slammed the door shut.
The Tigers were on top of the baseball world on May 18, having just swept three games in Boston against the Red Sox to improve to 27-12. But now they’ve lost 12 games in a little over two weeks after losing that same number of games over the first seven weeks.
The important thing is for players not to think they are this kind of team.
"It’s not how we drew it up," said Detroit manager Brad Ausmus. "But this isn’t Armageddon.
"I still think this is a funk. This team is way better than we’ve played the last two weeks. What’s more indicative of this team is how we played the first two months."
The slide began with the rotation that includes two recent Cy Young Award winners going from great to throwing batting practice. Their contagious success had — with the exception of Anibal Sanchez — become a rash they all contracted at once.
Then the bullpen went from nearly totally reliable to — with the exceptions of Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kroll — an inability to put many zeroes on the scoreboard.
And the offense — which was simply destroying everybody — has pretty much shut down besides Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
"The issue is that these things have run together," said Ausmus. "The important thing is for players not to think they are this kind of team."
Ausmus said he doesn’t believe that is the case. He has talked to them as individuals and as a group to assure his team doesn’t get side-tracked by losing.
"It’s a cohesive group," said Ausmus. "So they haven’t gotten too down on themselves."
Yet, they have lost their edge. How do they get that back?
"We’ve got to change," said spark plug left fielder Rajai Davis, who stole 14 bases in the first 37 games and only two in the last 18 games. "We’ve got to play better as a team. We’ve got to get timely hits and pitch well and play defense.
"And we’ve got tomorrow and the rest of the season…We’re a good team and just got into a little skid."
Cabrera added: "You’ve just got to do a lot of adjustments. We will get more run support for the pitching. There are a lot of games to play. We will adjust, and go from there."
Hunter has seen has batting average drop from .304 on May 18, when Detroit had that 27-12 record, to .264. Center fielder Austin Jackson has had the other big dip since then, going from .271 to .233.
The lack of hitting has led to the wasting of a revival of the starting rotation. Sanchez pitched seven shutout innings Tuesday, but Detroit lost. Rick Porcello had a quality start Wednesday, but took the loss.
"We have targets on our backs," said Porcello, "but we just have to rise to the occasion."
Hunter said he knows this team will do just that.
"Through every storm," said Hunter, "there’s always a rainbow that means that it’s finished. So in baseball you have those trials and troubles, and that’s what we’re going through right now. But we’ve got to keep working hard, keep fighting through, making adjustments at the plate, working on things behind the scenes.
"That’s weathering the storm. If we can do that, I think we’re going to see sunshine soon. Just like winter, winter wants to stay around. But no, spring is coming. Spring wants to stay around. It can’t because summer’s coming. Summer wants to stay around. but it can’t because fall is coming. This right here, this little funk, it’s going to come to an end. It wants to stay around, but it can’t."
But he stressed that saying it will turn around won’t make it so.
"Private discipline and public success go hand in hand," Hunter said. "…We’re just trying to weather a storm, and only the strong come out of a storm."
And when the storm gets the roughest and your ship sways uncomfortably, it’s always best to throw the unresponsive bats and gloves overboard.