Mike Maroth, Detroit s hard-luck left-hander, lost six games by the first of May last season.
He was just the second pitcher in 110 years to lose 10 games by the start of June.
And by early September, he was the first 20-game loser in the majors in 23 years.
The only thing more dismal than Maroth s 9-21 record was the pitiful performance of his team. The Tigers finished 43-119, a whopping 47 games behind the AL Central Division champion Minnesota Twins.
"There were times when it was tough to come to the ballpark last year," Maroth said last week. "You just had to keep telling yourself this was your job and you had to go out and do it to the best of your ability, no matter how many losses the team had."
Manager Alan Trammell and pitching coach Bob Cluck approached Maroth late last August about the possibility of shutting down his season to avoid reaching the dreaded 20-loss mark.
Maroth declined their offer. Sure, he was ready for the nightmare to be over, but he was not about to quit on his teammates.
"I told Bob, 'If Mike thinks this is going to affect him, let s help him out and sit him down, " Trammell said. "But Mike didn t want any part of that."
The 26-year-old Maroth suffered his 20th loss on Sept. 5, 2003. It was the most losses by a major league pitcher since Brian Kingman dropped 20 for the Oakland Athletics in 1980.
A week later, Maroth suffered setback No. 21. He was first Tigers pitcher to lose that many games in a season since Mickey Lolich in 1974.
Despite his rotten season, and the team s rotten season, Maroth did not hang his head. He was relentless and just kept pitching. He never skipped a start, or never begged off on one.
Maroth also got plenty of support from his teammates and fans. Most of the letters he received offered support and encouragement. Very few were discouraging.
"What happened last year made us all stronger," Maroth said.
Although Maroth started 0-9 last season and did not pick up his first victory until May 23, things finally turned around for him late in the season.
Had he not won three games down the stretch, the Tigers almost certainly would have eclipsed the 1962 New York Mets record for losses (120) in a season.
Maroth finished with a 5.73 ERA and was tied for the league lead in earned runs (123) and home runs (34) allowed. Those numbers will not keep you in the majors very long under most circumstances, but what Maroth and the Tigers went through last year was not normal.
"I know what it s like to lose 20 games now," Maroth said. "Some day, I d really like to find out what it feels like to win 20."
Maroth, who secured a spot in Detroit s rotation two years ago after going 8-1 with a 2.82 ERA in his first 11 starts at Triple-A Toledo, is off to a good start this season.
He was 3-1 through Sunday with a 3.58 ERA. He has put together five solid starts and was named Detroit s pitcher of the month for April.
"I had a great April," he said. "I enjoyed all of April for myself, but I can t enjoy it too much. I have to keep my mind straight."
Maroth was a big reason why the Tigers went 12-11 last month - their first winning record since 1993. It took Detroit 47 games to earn its 12th win last season.
"It s amazing what a couple of wins and a little confidence will do," Trammell said. "At this point last year, Mike was pitching just as well - he just didn t have the run support or the defense behind him.
"He s a fine major-league pitcher. He deserves a lot of credit for hanging in there and persevering through a tough situation last year."
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