The team that sat at the historic bottom of the American League three years ago with an AL-record 119 losses has scratched, clawed, and pitched its way to the top. The AL Championship Series sweep of the A's, capped by Magglio Ordonez's walk-off homer in Saturday's 6-3 win in Game 4, sent the Tigers to the World Series for the first time since 1984.
Appropriately, they did it with a comeback -- from three runs down Saturday night, from worlds behind in 2003.
"We were going to have to finish this in dramatic fashion," Craig Monroe said.
The numbers in the longer comeback are astounding enough. Not only has no team ever rebounded from so many defeats in a season to reach the World Series within three years, only the 1969 New York Mets and 1914 Boston Braves recovered more quickly from a 100-loss season to reach the World Series. No team had ever gone from 12 straight losing seasons to the Fall Classic. Shorter term, the Tigers' rebound from a 71-91 season a year earlier to reach the World Series marks the lowest previous-season win total for a World Series team since the 1993 Phillies.
The statistics are so thick, they're almost overwhelming. The reaction of a capacity crowd at Comerica Park -- twirling towels, cheered and standing as if waiting to erupt in its second wild Saturday night celebration -- proved a city's wait can be measured just as much about quality as quantity. Detroit's wait ended 22 years to the day after Kirk Gibson's two home runs helped the Tigers finish off their 1984 World Series championship.
"When you play in the Major Leagues, you have a chance to get to the World Series," said Ordonez. "As long as you're on the team that has good players, a lot of talent, a good manager, good coaches, good organization, you know one time you're going to get this chance. Now is our chance."
|League Championship Series walk-off home runs (* series clinching game)|
|Magglio Ordonez, Tigers||Athletics||2006 ALCS |
|Jim Edmonds, Cardinals||Astros||2004 NLCS |
|Jeff Kent, Astros||Cardinals||2004 NLCS |
|David Ortiz, Red Sox||Yankees||2004 ALCS |
|Aaron Boone, Yankees||Red Sox||2003 ALCS |
|Alfonso Soriano, Yankees||Mariners||2001 ALCS |
|Bernie Williams, Yankees||Red Sox||1999 ALCS |
|Bernie Williams, Yankees||Orioles||1996 ALCS |
|Lenny Dykstra, Mets||Astros||1986 NLCS |
|Ozzie Smith, Cardinals||Dodgers||1985 NLCS |
|Steve Garvey, Padres||Cubs||1984 NLCS |
|John Lowenstein, Orioles||Angels||1979 ALCS |
|Chris Chambliss, Yankees||Royals||1976 ALCS |
|Bert Campaneris, A's||Orioles||1973 ALCS |
|Johnny Bench, Reds||Mets||1973 NLCS |
Jeremy Bonderman, who pitched the Tigers into the ALCS last Saturday with a Game 4 win over the Yankees to finish off the Division Series, had a 2-0 deficit and a hard-to-control slider by the time he walked off the mound in the first inning. Essentially using his fastball as his primary out pitch until the middle innings, the 23-year-old rebounded to scatter four hits for the rest of his outing, one of them a Jay Payton solo homer on a hanging slider for a 3-0 Oakland lead.
"I was able to get through that first inning and kind of get into a little rhythm," Bonderman said. "Any time you can keep your team close, you're going to give your guys an opportunity to come back. And these guys, they fight. They don't stop. That's why we're a good team, because no one ever gives in."
The Tigers trailed for five innings, more than they had in their previous six straight playoff wins combined following their opening loss in New York. But after back-to-back RBI doubles from Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe in the fifth drew the Tigers within one against the previously-dominant Dan Haren, Ordonez pulled the first pitch in the sixth deep down the left-field line and just over the fence for a game-tying solo homer.
Once the Tigers tied it, the go-ahead run seemed inevitable. The A's put a potential go-ahead run on base in the top of seventh, but Jamie Walker fanned Mark Kotsay to end any hint of a threat. Once the Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the inning, Kenny Rogers began throwing packs of Big League Chew into the crowd, an homage to the Gum Time rally theme that they made famous this summer.
It didn't quite work when Carlos Guillen grounded into an inning-ending double play, but they kept on doing it.
"I don't think they used the whole pack," Rogers said. "You've got to use the whole pack of gum in your mouth at one time. Can't be half, can't be a third. They make my old tail do it, so everyone else has got to do it. But it has a knack for working most of the time."
Two innings later, a case or two worth of gum and 22 years of hope were answered. So were a kid's birthday wishes.
Monroe and Placido Polanco extended the ninth inning with back-to-back singles ahead of Ordonez, who launched a 1-0 pitch fastball from Huston Street deep to left and watched it sail into the seats.
"My kid, it was his birthday today," Ordonez said. "And I told him I was going to hit a home run for him."
Magglio Jr. received two home runs for his 11th birthday Saturday. The Tigers received another step in their comeback. Even as they celebrated, however, they were thinking ahead.
"There's a lot of focus in here," Monroe said. "Yeah, we're excited. We've done something that a lot of people said we wouldn't. We're excited about that. But I think the guys are ready for the other series, the World Series, to give ourselves a chance to do something special."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.