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Published: Wednesday, 5/7/2008

Anemic Tigers knuckle under to Wakefield, Red Sox

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

DETROIT - Tim Wakefield's knuckleball dipped and danced last night as it often does. And when the Boston Red Sox pitcher mixed that funky pitch with a curveball and fastball, it made his knuckler all the more effective.

The Tigers had no answer for Wakefield in their 5-0 loss - the fifth time Detroit has been shut out this season. Wakefield allowed two hits and struck out six in eight innings.

Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson said Wakefield started to mix his pitches last year the way he did last night, but was even more deceptive this time.

After Carlos Guillen notched a first-inning single, Wakefield retired 17 in a row and went 22 batters without allowing

another hit.

"It wasn't that his fastball or curveball was overpowering, but it's something to get your mind off the knuckleball," Granderson said.

The Tigers' hot-and-cold offense has been mostly cold the last several days, and was coming off a performance Monday in which the team walked 10 times but only scored three runs.

In their loss on Monday night, the Tigers made 19 outs on balls in the air, which yesterday manager Jim Leyland said was "usually a bad sign."

"A lot of times it's a sign that you're team's behind and somebody's trying to hit a home run," Leyland surmised.

Leyland also said it's better to face a knuckleballer when your team is struggling at the plate because "when you're going good, a guy like that can mess up your swings for a few days."

But the Tigers fared no better, making 10 more outs on fly balls against Wakefield (3-1).

"We hit a lot of lazy fly balls, but the knuckleball looks like it's floating up there and you get under it and pop it up," Leyland said.

The Red Sox scored three runs off Detroit starter Nate Robertson (1-4) in the second inning, then chased him from the game in the seventh when David Ortiz blasted a solo homer - his second in Boston's two wins over the Tigers this week.

Freddy Dolsi, called up from Double-A Erie over the weekend, relieved Robertson and was abruptly welcomed - albeit rudely - to the majors. Manny Ramirez hit Dolsi's first major league pitch 427 feet over the center-field wall for a homer.

Leyland noted that his Tigers (14-20), who have lost five straight and remain in last place in the AL Central, are putting added pressure on themselves to succeed. He said the portion of the 38,564 fans at Comerica Park who booed the players and manager last night had a right to do so, but the Tigers need to remember they're the same collection of superstars many predicted to reach the World Series this year.

Leyland, who scolded his club after a string of poor performances last month, hinted that he delivered some uplifting words after last night's game.

Of course, he didn't say what those words were.

"Anything I said tonight was positive, and you can take that to the bank," Leyland said. "I will sink or swim with this team. I'm behind this team 100 percent."

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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