Monday, October 2, 2006

Do you believe in magic? I do

Alright, so the sky has fallen.

That much is is evident judging by the looks of 40,000-plus people filing out of Comerica Park Sunday afternoon, a day in which these people expected to lose their voices instead of walking out silently.

A day where the Tigers were primed to capture their first division title since 1987, one where the champagne would flow yet again, only a week after the team popped bottles in Kansas City.

This celebration would undoubtedly be sweeter, in front of the home fans.

Sure, Zach Miner squandered any chance of clinching on Saturday night, after allowing 7 runs in the first inning.

But they couldn't lose to the Royals--who were 3-14 against the Tigers--again with an opportunity to clinch the division, could they?

Of course not.

And they did a great job of selling that to us the first three innings of the game, jumping out to a 6-0 cushion.

Four hours and thirty-seven minutes later, the only thing we were sold on was a mammoth collapse, and a trip to New York.

All that was left to do before boarding the plane was to sign and seal the A.L. Central championship to Minnesota, because afterall, the Tigers had just handed it to them.

What's worse (and is there really anything worse than getting swept by the Royals?) is the trip to New York, where they'll begin the postseason against the Yankees, formerly known as the A.L. All-Stars. With just one win against the quadruple-A Royals, they could have started off at home, with two games against the A.L. West champion Oakland A's.

But hey, as impossible as it seems, let's look on the bright side for a second.

At least we're not White Sox fans.

Boy, that must be one unhappy group of campers after watching both playoff-bound teams from the Central stumble, stumble, and stumble again down the stretch.

Truth be told, there's about as much of a bright side to this series with the Yankees as there is a nice side of the Bronx.

Which is why. . . GASP!. . . I'm going with the Tigers.

In October, you can only count on one thing: the unexpected.

Yes, the Tigers have limped into the postseason from both a physical and mental standpoint, far from their midseason form.

And yes, the Yankees boast the most dominant lineup anyone alive has seen, Yankee Stadium is still the most intimidating backdrop for playoff baseball, and they haven't missed a postseason in a decade.

But this series has upset written all over it, to just about nobody in the country except me.

No, I have no statistical proof whatsoever that points to the contrary, partly because I'm not mathematically gifted enough to create a new stat. But there simply isn't one that exists which points to an upset.

And I'm not sure, but I think my cat just asked me if I was crazy.

On paper, the Bronx Bombers lineup is staggering from top to bottom. Future Hall-of-Fame names such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield are penned in nightly. Hearing the rest of the lineup just might make you sick.

Their pitching doesn't lack substance, either. Chien-Ming Wang was a victory away from 20 wins in the regular season, Mike Mussina is having another stellar year under the radar, and has anyone heard of Randy Johnson? He's questionable for the series, but that's not a pitcher Tigers hitters want to see this time of the year.

Let's not even get started with the Yankee Stadium ghosts or the aura of the pinstripes. We'll take those as they come. No need to scare Jim Leyland out of his boots.

There are a couple things stirring in my gut about this series.

This team has appeared to relish in the underdog role. Sure, they haven't been real underdogs since April or May, but whenever adversity hits, they've responded with wins. Take Leyland's outburst in mid-April, the Dmitri Young situation, or late-season sweeps at Chicago and Minnesota.

Every time, they've responded with wins. There is a sort of brotherhood around this team that you just don't see with teams that win the Wild Card and promptly get bounced from the playoffs.

When the postseason was clinched, most of them had a small taste of what winning is like, and after expecting to get more of that taste, it was taken away from them in a heartbeat. Now they want it back.

Secondly, in the playoffs, the lumber gets colder. Which means pitchers have a distinct advantage over hitters. The Tigers finished the regular season with the lowest ERA in the majors, at 3.84. That's quite a feat coming out of the A.L.

Coincidentally, the pitchers who started the season in the #4 and #5 slots in the rotation will open the playoffs. Oddly enough, it could work out best in this situation.

Both Nate Robertson and rookie Justin Verlander have the potential to win games in New York. Robertson has a bulldog mentality on the mound, and his record (13-13) doesn't do him justice with the run support he's recieved in the past.

Verlander hasn't fared well against the leagues top-tier teams, but the Yankees haven't seen him, another slight advantage for the Tigers. He has stuff that, when he's on, is flat-out dominating. But as a rookie starting in Yankee Stadium, can you really count on that?

A split in New York is absolutely crucial. Fly back home down 0-2, and the Tigers are done. They could scrape out a win in Game Three, give some Detroiters false hope and host another playoff game, but they will not beat the Yankees in three straight.

If the Tigers manage a split, they're going to wrap up the series without having to take a return trip to the Big Apple for Game Five.

The audacity I have to pick a four-game series win, not even a five-game thriller that would seem much more likely, you mutter.

However, the pitching matchups are favorable for the games in Detroit, and there's a mysterious air of confidence flying around, arising after such a disappointing weekend.

Such confidence that can't be measured with history, stats, or pitching matchups.

In a word, it's magical. The team, the season. The mix of young and old, the rebirth of a baseball town. Something tells me that this ride won't stop for the Yankees, and the story will continue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i believe in the magic my dude. Agreed on all points, its gonna be tough but this year is very magical, u can just tell in the dugout that there is a real bond. They are a family and will do what they have to do.