Aug. 13--PITTSBURGH -- By winning the American League Central Division the last three years, the Tigers have created an expectation for victory that can acquire the air of performance art: They are supposed to win, and they are supposed to win the AL Central by a lot of games.
"I think a lot of people feel disappointed about us," the Tigers'Victor Martinez said after Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to the Pirates. "But I want to let people know that I think a lot of fans want us to win the division by 15 or 20 games. It doesn't work that way because we're playing big-league teams. They are playing hard. They aren't giving things away."
When the Tigers left home a week ago Sunday, they had a five-game lead in the division. Today, they come home a half-game behind first-place Kansas City. The teams are tied in losses, but the Royals have one more win. (In hockey, it would be said the Tigers have a game in hand.)
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Martinez reiterated that he loves playing for the Tigers fans.
"We always feel great about going home," he said. "I don't think there are better fans in baseball than the Tigers'. I've been in very good atmospheres. I played for the Red Sox for 1 1/2 years.
"But these fans in Detroit are great. We always feel great going home with our fans backing us up. We're pretty confident that we'll turn this around and get going.
"We are struggling, but that doesn't mean that we're out. There is a lot of season left, and we are plenty confident in ourselves."
Several minutes later, at a locker next to Martinez, outfielder Torii Hunter had his own message for the Tigers fans heading into the five-game home stand that starts tonight.
"We need our fans more than ever," Hunter said. "We need them to act, not react."
Bedlam at Comerica certainly would be a welcome sound after the 2-7 trip that concluded with another quiet offensive night by the Tigers. "Crappy," manager Brad Ausmus said, his usual and beautiful compound-sentence eloquence reduced to one blunt word when asked to summarize a trip that featured far more clutch hitting by the opposition than by the Tigers.
Hunter said: "If I was to give ourselves a grade for this trip, I'd give it a 'D' or maybe an 'F.' This last week, it just feels like we've been going through the motions. Not intentionally, but our body language. But I think coming home to our fans who bring all the energy, I think we can build off that."
Tonight and Thursday, the Tigers and Pirates play at Comerica to conclude their home-and-home interleague series. Then Seattle and manager Lloyd McClendon and center fielder Austin Jackson arrive for a three-game series.
"We need the fans to come with a lot of energy, loud, screaming, yelling," Hunter said. "We feed off that. We feed off the energy. So when we come home, we need their help."
Hunter hopes home is where the heart is. Asked about the "heart level" of the Tigers, he said, "It's going to come back. Starting (tonight), we're going to get it back. No doubt about it."
Hunter's and Martinez's comments were streams that flowed from different directions. They merged to form a strong statement about home support. They merged to form a mightier stream -- kind of like the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers that pour into Pittsburgh and come together there to form a stronger, bigger river that rolls by Cincinnati and has the same name as the state in which Cincinnati is located.
But Hunter's and Martinez's thoughts were on Michigan, not the Ohio.
Contact John Lowe: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @freeptigers.
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