Many believed that the 2006 American League Championship Series would feature the Minnesota Twins vs. the New York Yankees. The Twins were, after all, baseball's hottest team in the second half of the season. And the Yankees were, after all, the Yankees.
But the Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers had other plans. These teams may have been underdogs in their Division Series, but they both share the traits that make for postseason success. They have pitching talent and pitching depth, they have the proven ability to hit in the clutch, they have managers who are, at the very least, among the best in the game.
So they both come to this ALCS on merit. And they both come rolling, Oakland with a sweep over Minnesota, Detroit with one loss, but then three straight victories over New York.
And the presence of both teams here is a very good thing for baseball. Not that the Yankees and the Twins would have been bad for the game. The Twins are an example of accomplishing much with relatively small financial resources. And the Yankees, love them or hate them, are always good for business.
The Athletics are the Twins of the West Coast, except that they have been much more highly publicized. The Michael Lewis book "Moneyball" celebrated the acumen of Oakland general manager Billy Beane and his ability to win without having anything like a wealthy franchise.
It is good that a franchise in the lower half of player payroll has come this far. It offers some evidence of increased competitive balance, but more than that, it gives hope to less-than-wealthy franchises. The hope is that baseball intelligence can triumph over money.
The Tigers aren't the Yankees in player payroll, either, but their contribution to the game's well-being is slightly different than Oakland's. The Tigers are evidence that a franchise can rise up from long years of failure and become successful through astute acquisitions and an injection of solid leadership.
The second quality is where manager Jim Leyland comes in. The Tigers have a brand new mind-set under Leyland. It's an all-things-are-possible approach that has made a long franchise losing streak a mere memory. Again, the Tigers can serve as role models for franchises in similar circumstances. Find the right players, hire the right manager and you, too, can move on over to the win column.
The news keeps getting better. Both teams have already ended droughts this autumn. The Athletics had not won a postseason series since 1990. The Tigers had not even been in the postseason since 1987.
"Watching [the Athletics] on TV, they are pitching their tail off," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "They seem to be getting healthier. You know, they have got their closer back. This ballclub [Detroit] is a little more explosive probably offensively. But Oakland is playing with a great deal of confidence.
"It's just, they probably should be hard-fought games, because they both have a pitching staff that's pretty deep and both managers are pretty proud of using these guys any time he wants."
So if neither of these teams was a unanimous choice to come this far, the fact that they deserve to have come this far is easily established. This will not be the ALCS that many expected, but there is a chance that might be even better than the ALCS that many expected.
These two teams aren't playing to see which can make the loftier contribution to baseball's general welfare. Winning the pennant and going to the World Series might be of more immediate concern than that.
But both the Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers are examples that good things can happen to franchises that do things the right way. You could ask for more familiar teams to be here. But you couldn't ask for better baseball examples to be here. And one of them is going to be a good baseball example in the 2006 World Series.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.