DETROIT – All those people who kept doubting the Detroit Tigers, take a week off and think again.
Jim Leyland, Magglio Ordonez and the rest of the Tigers will be spending that time getting ready for the World Series.
Written off by the entire baseball world only three years ago, the Tigers made it official Saturday. They’re back, and on the prowl.
Ordonez hit his second homer of the game, connecting for a three-run shot with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning that lifted Leyland’s team over the Oakland Athletics 6-3 for a startling four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series.
“I think early on in spring training we had a lot of good players. We didn’t have a good team,” Leyland said. “And today I can make the statement that we’ve got a good team, and that’s the thing that I’m proudest of.”
With the crowd of 42,967 at Comerica Park in delirium, joined by fans watching from distant downtown buildings and all over Michigan, the Tigers rejoiced after their seventh straight postseason win.
The wild-card Tigers get to rest up for Game 1, at home Saturday night against either the New York Mets or St. Louis Cardinals. It will be their first Series appearance since winning it all exactly 22 years ago Saturday on Oct. 14, 1984.
In those days, Sparky Anderson, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris were among the big names at Tiger Stadium, making history at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
Starting next week, these Tigers get a chance to make their mark at the address of baseball’s most surprising story – Woodward and Montcalm.
“Nobody could have expected this. It’s unreal,” said Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline, a team official.
The losingest team in the majors over the past 13 seasons, Detroit was in despair after dropping an embarrassing 119 games in 2003. But in their first year under Leyland, the Tigers projected a winning attitude from the start.
Never has the olde English “D” on the jerseys puffed more proudly. The symbol stands for Detroit, of course. Yet at this point, surely some think it stands for destiny.
Ordonez stamped it so with his no-doubt, winning drive into the left-field stands.
“I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it,” Ordonez said. “This is what I’ve dreamed about my whole career, my whole life. I don’t even remember running around the bases.”
Members of the Tigers bullpen rushed in from left field and nearly beat Ordonez to the plate as fans twirled white towels.
Detroit was the site for the Super Bowl in February, but local fans were simply bystanders. This time, the party is theirs.
“The Super Bowl was great, but that was Pittsburgh’s time to dance,” Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said. “This is Detroit’s. The only thing better than hosting a party is hosting one for yourselves. We’re going to enjoy this.”
Trailing 3-0 early, the Tigers clawed back to tie it against Dan Haren when Ordonez hit a solo home run in the sixth.
After Craig Monroe and ALCS Most Valuable Player Placido Polanco singled with two outs in the ninth off Huston Street, and with the entire ballpark on its feet, Ordonez launched a shot over the wall.
Ordonez stood to watch the ball sail while Monroe and Polanco began jumping. It was the eighth homer to end a postseason series, and it had to be sweet salvation for Ordonez – there were certainly plenty of critics when the Tigers signed the injured All-Star to a multimillion dollar, free-agent deal before the 2005 season.
As the Tigers celebrated at the plate, Leyland walked across the field to Oakland’s first-base dugout to congratulate the A’s. He had special words for A’s slugger Frank Thomas, who went 0 for 13 in the series.
“It was a numbing feeling,” Thomas said. “It’s my little brother who did it – Magglio. We spent seven years together and I’m happy for him. He’s always wanted a ring and he’s going to get a chance.”
Leyland then slapped high-fives with fans along the box-seat railings before taking part in the festivities in the middle of the field.
Not even a baseball lifer such as Leyland – who started out in the Tigers’ system as a minor league catcher – could have foreseen this. Heavy underdogs, they lost Game 1 in the first round to the New York Yankees, but have roared back to win seven in a row.
The last six victories have all been by at least three runs – making Detroit the first team to put together such a streak in the postseason.
Leyland won the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins, but he had taken six years off before deciding to accept the Tigers job.