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The Rarest of Occurences

What if Tiger Woods just couldn’t hit his 3-iron? What if with every other club in the bag, he was the best player on the course, but he swung the 3-iron like it was made of damp noodle? He’d still be a great golfer, without a doubt, and he’d still be able to hit his Nike-branded ball 3-iron distance by shortening his swing on his 2-iron or really rearing back and cranking his four. There would be a chink in his armor, though, an inexplicable flaw in his game that might make even his staunchest admirers question their opinion of his greatness.

We’re seeing a parallel situation unfold with the 2005 Tigers. Ivan Rodriguez is clearly the team’s biggest star and ostensibly their best player but he simply isn’t drawing any walks. It’s not a fatal flaw — as with Tiger and his fictional 3-iron boondoggles, Pudge can get around his inability to watch a quartet of bad pitches go past by hitting for a good average. He’s done so to date, checking in at a respectable .288. But Pudge only has five walks on the season, and though there are other ways to get on base, his impatience has clearly hurt his performance and the team’s offense. Alan Trammell has recognized the problem, too, and has recently dropped Pudge in the lineup, unwilling to put a player with a .300 OBP in the second or third spots. It’s hard to consider Rodriguez the team’s best player when he’s so clearly deficient in one important area. Or maybe he is the team’s best player, as the rest of the team certainly seems to be following his lead. The Tigers have walked fewer times than any other team in the majors, driving them to 25th in OBP and, not surprisingly, 25th in runs scored. The acquisition of Placido Polanco, who has sported OBPs close to .400 in the last few years, looks better in this light, though he has gone walkless in his first three games as a Tiger in that haven of control pitching, Coors Field.

But back to Pudge. Rodriguez has never been a particularly patient hitter — the 41 walks he drew last year constituted the second-highest total of his long and illustrious career, but in 2005 he’s on pace for 14. He’s walked so few times in the Tigers’ first sixty games that we can discuss each one like it’s some kind of special event.

1. April 13, at Minnesota. Pudge walked in the sixth, off Kyle Lohse, with a runner on first. He’d score that inning, though Detroit lost 8-4, and he was the only Tiger to draw a free pass that day against a Twins’ squad that is walking historically few batters this season. Lohse, in fact, is one of the Twins’ worst offenders, with 15 BBs in 61 IP.

2. April 24, vs. Minnesota. Again against the Twins! Of course, the walk was intentional. A subsequent throwing error would reopen first base, and Guillen would be walked as well before Rondell White killed the inning with a double play. The Tigers would win the game.

3. May 6, at Anaheim. Pudge led of the sixth with a base on balls against the notoriously wild Kelvim Escobar, making a rare start in between bone spur DL trips.

4. May 17, vs. Tampa Bay. An intentional walk in the 11th inning.

5. June 11, at Colorado. The big drought. Almost a month in between even intentional walks, no doubt at least in part because Pudge isn’t an effective enough hitter right now to win that much respect. In this case the walk was unintentional, Pudge’s third honest free pass of the season. But how legitmate was it? Neal was ejected from the game for arguing balls and strikes with the umpire. It seems Pudge needed a little help from the boys in blue to draw his first walk in a month.

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