It wasn't the smooth ride they hoped it would be. In fact, nothing came easy for the Tigers in 2012. For a lot of this season, it seemed unlikely they'd end up in a World Series. Then they got hot at the right time.
In a four-week stretch, they played their best baseball, first in winning the American League Central and then in getting by the Oakland A's and New York Yankees in the playoffs.
When the Tigers swept the Yanks in the AL Championship Series, they seemed virtually unstoppable. And then it went away. Their bats fell stunningly quiet in the World Series, and the San Francisco Giants beat them again Sunday night, this time 4-3 in 10 innings, to complete a four-game sweep.
When it ended, Justin Verlander and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera lingered on their dugout railing to watch the Giants celebrate and to consider what might have been. It was a World Series in which nothing went right. It began in Game 1 with Verlander having his worst outing in six weeks and came undone from there.
Despite having two of baseball's best offensive players, the Tigers hit just .159 in the four games and were outscored 16-6. Until Cabrera hit a two-run home run for a 2-1 lead in the third inning, Detroit hadn't had so much as a lead in the World Series.
That home run snapped a streak of 20 scoreless innings. For the Series, Cabrera hit .231, Prince Fielder .071. Those were among the numbers that stood out in a quiet clubhouse in which a bunch of guys who'd grown close these last six months had hoped to write their own ending.
Not so sweep
"To get so close and not win it is tough," Verlander said. "I think it'll take a little time to realize it was an accomplishment to get so close."
Manager Jim Leyland had spoken to his players before the game to remind them to keep things simple. Even though no team had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a World Series, the Tigers believed all they had to do was win Game 4.
If they did that, they were going to hand the ball to Verlander in Game 5. They believed he would win, and then they would return to San Francisco with a puncher's chance in Games 6 and 7.
"There wasn't a doubt in my mind that we had a good chance to win it," Verlander said.
Instead, reliever Phil Coke gave up Marco Scutaro's run-scoring single in the top of the 10th inning, and the Tigers were unable to respond in the bottom of the inning.
"You've got to be a man about it," Fielder said. "We did all we can do. We can't try any harder. We got here. That's an achievement in itself."
Fielder offered no excuses for his poor World Series.
"It's not about me," he said. "It's about the Detroit Tigers. Good pitching is going to do that at times. In a short series, if they're pitching you tough, it's going to be tough."
When the sting of defeat wears off, the Tigers may be able to focus on winning two AL championships in a seven-year stretch and going to the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 1934-35.
They drew three million fans for just the third time in franchise history and established themselves as consistent winners and consummate professionals.
Still, the ending hurt.
"If somebody told me in Spring Training that we would be in the World Series, I would have had to say I'll take that," Leyland said. "It was kind of a weird way that we got there, because we were a little inconsistent all year. Then we played pretty good when we had to to get the division, and we obviously played pretty good through the first two rounds of the playoffs. We got to the World Series, and we just sputtered offensively. But like I said, if somebody would have told me in February that 'You're going to go to the World Series this year,' I would have had to say, 'Well, that's a pretty successful season.'"
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.