Monday was a great day to wake up as a Detroit Tiger. Nothing like leading the American League Championship Series 2-0 over the New York Yankees with Justin Verlander scheduled to take the ball Tuesday night. Things couldn’t be better than if Ty Cobb and Al Kaline returned to Comerica Park in their primes and said to Jim Leyland, “Put me in coach.”
There are no sure things in sport, of course, but at this moment the Tigers are better positioned than any other team in baseball to win the 2012 World Series, there being only a few others left, of course, who are eligible. Up until now Detroit fans might argue that the Tigers peaked this year in March when everyone thought they were going to run away with the American League Central Division crown.
So what if the Tigers didn’t start running until September when they finally caught up to the Chicago White Sox. The Tigers are now peaking at the right time of year, on the field rather than on paper, (though Leyland still must sleep with one eye open and one eye on his bullpen).
The Tigers have won two ACLS games of a type that the Yankees normally win, the kind of wins that always leave other fans cursing. Winning Game 1 5-4 was huge after losing a 4-0 lead in the ninth. If someone asked for a show of hands in Yankee Stadium of those who thought the Tigers would prevail after giving away that margin the count probably would have stopped at a handful, and that would only have been accurate if the person wasn’t ordering beers for him and his row.
New York got exactly the kind of heroics it needed for an energizing comeback and triumph, only the Yankees left the W on the table. Sunday night Hiroki Kuroda pitched about as well as is possible, twirling a no-hitter for 4 2/3, striking out 11, but trailing 1-0 when he left the ballgame. The Yankees were then completely unraveled by a very, very bad umpiring call at second base. Instant replay showed just how out Jhonny Peralta was. His being called safe enabled the Tigers to tack on two more runs in their 3-0 win.
Verlander, probably the best pitcher in the game, takes the mound with a chance to put Detroit up 3-0. Throw in the fact that Derek Jeter is finished for the series because of his freshly broken ankle and that all of the other Yankees stars and All-Stars are hitting about a collective .100, and things are looking pretty upbeat for the Tigers. The way things are going for them in the batter’s box Alex Rodriguez (.130 in the playoffs), Curtis Granderson (.115), and Robinson Cano (.063) will call for party arrangements to be made if they hit a long foul ball. The way they’re swinging they need time in the Fall Instructional League, not the ALCS.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are not exactly pounding the stuffing out of the ball, but are getting the hits they need when they need them the most from top guns Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and others here and there like Peralta, who is hitting .385 in the post-season and Austin Jackson.
Of the five American League playoff teams alive when the post-season began, the Tigers had the fewest wins with 88. But that hasn’t seem to matter to them, or to the St. Louis Cardinals. In the NL the Cardinals also had the fewest wins at the start of the playoffs, also with 88. It is interesting to note that baseball was always supposed to be about the long season and how the cream rose to the top in 154 or 162 games so the right team won the pennant.
Now baseball is all about winning the short series. Being good enough over 162 games now means being good enough to squeeze into the playoffs. After that being good enough is about matching up against a team for three wins or four in a series. It’s a whole different ballgame.