CLEVELAND — Deep into Sunday night on an airport runway in Boston, the Tigers rollicked inside their private jet as they waited to be cleared for takeoff.
A minor problem with the landing gear was little match for the spirits of a club that had just thumped the Red Sox for their 11th straight road win.
“We had fun,” outfielder Torii Hunter said. “We were jumping up and down, just cracking jokes on each other.”
The next thing they knew, though, it was 2 a.m. and they were not an inch closer to Cleveland.
"And then they said, ‘Hey, we're going back to the hotel,’” Hunter said. “And all the jokes just stopped.”
GAME STORY: Indians win 5-4 over tired Tigers
A day later, the Tigers dragged themselves into Progressive Field shortly after 4 p.m., wearing heavy eyes and the same matching Zubaz jumpsuits they had worn leaving Fenway Park. Just when it seemed nothing could go wrong on the road, the other cleat dropped as plane trouble left the Tigers scrambling.
The first issue was finding a hotel. No hotels were available at the airport — “Tough to get 60 rooms at 2 in the morning,” manager Brad Ausmus said — sending the Tigers back to their hotel in downtown Boston.
Adding insult, they had nary a change of clothes, their luggage and equipment already stowed away.
“Some of us didn't brush our teeth,” Hunter said. “Some guys didn't shower. We used our finger as the toothbrush, we had the hotel mouthwash. Some guys just stink.”
The Tigers boarded a new plane Monday afternoon and landed in Cleveland at 4 p.m. — about three hours before the first pitch of their series opener against the Indians. Once at the park, several players lined up at the clubhouse coffee machine before hurrying out to the field for an optional batting practice.
“Some of us went to bed at 4 a.m., got up and ate breakfast about 8, so we're tired,” Hunter said. “But no excuses. We've got a Starbucks machine in here, which is pretty awesome.”
Besides, Aumsus said the Tigers hadn’t seen anything. He had a travel horror story to top it from his playing days in San Diego.
It was the departure night for the team’s annual family road trip, and the Padres’ game had run so late that the San Diego airport was closed. The team was rerouted to a military base, only to find their plane’s emergency slide had been discharged.
"And you can't roll it up and stick it back in the door, so they have to get another plane,” he said. “So we're waiting in the hangar. Wally Joyner orders pizza for all the families, the little kids. We took off at 5 a.m. San Diego time, land in rush hour traffic in Chicago, got to the hotel around 11, and took a nap. We played 14 innings that night.“
MARTINEZ SCORCHING: Count Indians manager Terry Francona among those not surprised by Victor Martinez’s searing start.
The Tigers’ cleanup hitter was batting .331 with 10 homers, and perhaps most impressive, only nine strikeouts going into Monday‘s game — placing him on a path toward history. Since the mid-1950s, only one player has hit at least 30 homers and had fewer strikeouts than long balls. Barry Bonds had 45 homers and 41 strikeouts in 2004.
He added to his hot start with a blast into the right-field seats in the second inning on Monday night to tie the game at 1.
”I used to really appreciate what Victor does, but I'm not too big on it now that he's on the other side," said Francona, who managed Martinez for two seasons in Boston. "I told [former Tigers manager] Jim Leyland this all the time, Victor was the perfect protection for [Miguel Cabrera]. If you want to pitch around Miggy, and sometimes you have to, Victor can hit good pitching. He's a switch-hitter, and he can go get a ball. When Victor is going good, he can hit one from his shoe tops to his ears. It makes you nervous."
Torii Hunter snares a fly ball hit by Mike Aviles in the fourth inning, about four hours after the Tigers landed in Cleveland. ASSOCIATED PRESS