From left, Tigers Jamie Walker, Brandon Inge, Matt Walbeck and A.J. Hinch celebrate a victory that prevented 120 losses but still capped a dismal season in Detroit.
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DETROIT - It should come as no surprise that the Tigers promise changes will be made before the 2004 season begins.
Owner Mike Ilitch told general manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Alan Trammell that he will do whatever it takes to avoid another embarrassment such as the just-completed season. While the Tigers managed to avoid tying the 120 losses of the expansion New York Mets of 1962, the Tigers still set American League and franchise records with 119.
“I am going to do what I feel is necessary to field a good team,” Ilitch said in the Detroit Free Press yesterday. “I am going to go out and sign free agents. I am going to operate like other teams because I feel I have a foundation.”
Trammell wouldn't discuss what moves might be made following his team's 9-4 win over Minnesota yesterday, but the news of change still made him happy.
“It remains to be seen what we'll do,” Trammell said. “Our job in our year-end review will be to talk about players. But the fact that we'll do something puts a smile on my face.”
The news also made outfielder Dmitri Young happy.
“This year we started from scratch, with the eggs, flour and sugar,” he said. “Now we have to get the right mixture. I heard Mike Ilitch is going to step up and spend more money. We'll get some [free agent] guys to come here and challenge themselves. Instead of going to a contender they'll come here and help build a team from the ground up.”
While the Tigers' $59 million payroll ranks 23rd among 30 major leaague teams, it also is roughly six million behind the AL Central-champion Twins. The problem isn't as much about how much is spent as it is about how the money is spent.
More than half of those $59 million goes to four people: Bobby Higginson, Dean Palmer, Damion Easley and Steve Sparks. All but Higginson are gone, but the contracts for both Palmer and Sparks end this season.
While change is in the air for the Tigers, one thing will stay the same: Detroit's 2003 coaching staff will return intact.
“I think that's why we've been able to hold this thing together,” Trammell said before yesterday's game. “They've been a support group for me. And believe me, I needed it.”
Young also was in favor of bringing the staff - pitching coach Bob Cluck, hitting coach Bruce Fields, bench coach Kirk Gibson, first-base coach Mick Kelleher, bullpen coach Lance Parrish and third-base coach Juan Samuel - back next season.
“These guys are great coaches who are eager to teach,” Young said. “They're a fun group.”
LET'S HEAR IT: Fans at Comerica Park gave Young a standing ovation before his final at-bat in the bottom of the eighth. When the count reached 3-2 the fans again stood and cheered before Young struck out against the Twins' Grant Balfour.
Young had three singles in his first three at-bats before being hit by a pitch in the sixth. Young needed to go 5-for-5 to bring his average to the .300 mark; his 3-for-4 day left him with a .297 batting average for the season.
“That was awesome,” Young said of the fans yesterday. “The people who came out today really supported us. When we're a contender, that's when it really will be fun.”
ATTENDANCE STREAK: The Tigers drew 1,368,345 fans, continuing their American League-leading streak of 39 seasons of drawing more than 1 million. It also marks the fourth season at Comerica Park where crowds have steadily dwindled each year. The first season at the new park drew 2,533,752.
THREE-DOT DATA: Alex Sanchez had an RBI double in the sixth inning, extending his hit streak to a career-high 11 games. ... Young's three hits extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Young batted .500 (19-for-38) in that span. ... A seventh-inning double play by the Tigers was Detroit's 194th this season, tying the record set by the 1950 club. ... Catcher Brandon Inge had two hits in four at-bats to finish the season above the .200 mark. Inge hit .203. ... Third baseman Shane Halter had nine assists and three putouts in the contest.