Ordonez powers Tigers into World Series
DETROIT - Magglio Ordonez lofted a high fly ball to left field and when it landed, a most amazing thing: the Detroit Tigers in the World Series!
Written off by the entire baseball world only three years ago, the Tigers made it official Saturday. They're back, and on the prowl.
Ordonez hit his second homer of the game, connecting for a three-run shot with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning that lifted Jim Leyland's Tigers over the Oakland Athletics 6-3 for a startling four-game sweep of the AL championship series.
"I think early on in spring training we had a lot of good players. We didn't have a good team," Leyland said. "And today I can make the statement that we've got a good team, and that's the thing that I'm proudest of."
With the crowd of 42,967 at Comerica Park in delirium, joined by fans watching from distant downtown buildings and all over Michigan, the Tigers rejoiced after their seventh straight postseason win.
The wild-card Tigers now get a week to rest and wait for Game 1 at home next Saturday night against either the New York Mets or St. Louis Cardinals. It will be their first Series appearance since winning it all exactly 22 years ago Saturday on Oct. 14, 1984.
In those days, Sparky Anderson, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris were among the big names at Tiger Stadium. Leyland, Ordonez and their teammates get their chance to make history.
"Nobody could have expected this. It's unreal," said Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline, currently a team official.
The losingest team in the majors over the past 13 seasons, Detroit was in despair after dropping an embarrassing 119 games in 2003. But in their first year under Leyland, the Tigers projected a winning attitude from the start.
And never has the olde English "D" on the jerseys puffed more proudly than it did after Ordonez homered.
"I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it," Ordonez said. "This is what I've dreamed about my whole career, my whole life. I don't even remember running around the bases."
Members of the Tigers' bullpen rushed in from left field and nearly beat Ordonez to the plate as fans twirled white towels. The guys from Motown were losers no mo'.
Down 3-0 early, the Tigers clawed back to tie it against Dan Haren when Ordonez hit a solo home run in the sixth.
After Craig Monroe and ALCS MVP Placido Polanco singled with two outs in the ninth off Huston Street, and with the entire ballpark on its feet, Ordonez launched a no-doubt drive over the wall.
Ordonez stood to watch the ball sail while Monroe and Polanco began jumping. It was the eighth homer ever to end a postseason series, and it had to be sweet salvation for Ordonez — there were certainly plenty of critics when the Tigers signed the injured All-Star to a multimillion dollar, free-agent deal before the 2005 season.
As the Tigers celebrated at the plate, Leyland walked across the field to Oakland's first-base dugout to congratulate the A's. He had special words for A's slugger Frank Thomas, who went 0-for-13 in the series.
"It was a numbing feeling," Thomas said. "It's my little brother who did it — Magglio. We spent seven years together and I'm happy for him. He's always wanted a ring and he's going to get a chance."
Leyland then slapped high-fives with fans along the box-seat railings before taking part in the festivities in the middle of the field.
Not even a baseball lifer like Leyland — who started out in the Tigers' system as a minor league catcher — could have foreseen this. Heavy underdogs, they lost Game 1 in the first round to the New York Yankees, but have roared back to win seven in a row.
And those last six victories have all been by at least three runs — making Detroit the first team to put together such a streak in the postseason.
Leyland won the 1997 World Series with Florida, but had taken six years off before deciding to accept the Tigers' job. A lot of people figured he was crazy, taking over a team that had endured 12 straight losing seasons.
"I kept getting closer to it and closer to it," he said.
Wilfredo Ledezma, who bailed out the Tigers by retiring Marco Scutaro on a foul pop with the bases loaded to end the eighth with the score 3-all, got the win.
Detroit posted the first ALCS sweep since Oakland chased Boston in 1990. The A's started off strong in this postseason, sweeping Minnesota in the first round, but manager Ken Macha's AL West champions could not get key hits against the Tigers.
"I told the players they can't let this series diminish what they did this year," Macha said. "I thought it was a tremendous year.
"The guys played their tails off and that's all you can ask," he said.
Gimpy Milton Bradley symbolized that best, racing into the right-center field gap to grab Curtis Granderson's drive in the ninth.
Polanco, whose separated left shoulder in mid-August had him worried that his season was over, delivered three more hits and went 9-for-17 in the series.
"I know we had a shot to make it to the playoffs, and I didn't know if I was going to play again," he said. "Like I said before, you don't have this opportunity every year, and I wanted to be part of the team."
Both teams blew chances to break open the game in the late innings.
Detroit had an opportunity in the seventh, loading the bases with one out against relievers Joe Kennedy and Kiko Calero. Desperate to save the season, the A's brought in Street.
The closer has struggled and been hurt, a year after winning the Rookie of the Year award. He did the job this time, getting Carlos Guillen to ground into an inning-ending double play that left it tied at 3.
Jay Payton's solo homer gave Oakland a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
A night earlier, Thomas said the A's needed one big inning to get back into the series. Or at least, as Athletics owner Lew Wolff quipped before the game, "We've got to figure out how to beat them without getting a run."
While they scored, the A's didn't get quite enough.
A's starter Dan Haren, who finished off the first-round sweep of Minnesota, began by pitching four scoreless innings and striking out six with a nasty split-fingered fastball.
The Tigers, it turned out, were just getting warmed up on an afternoon when the game-time temperature was 50 degrees.
Held to a paltry two singles in a 3-0 loss Friday, the A's came out swinging in Game 4. It worked, as Bradley and Eric Chavez hit RBI doubles in the first inning.
The early edge came with a price, however, when Bradley appeared to tweak his quadriceps while running the bases. Checked by a trainer, he stayed in the game — the injury later came back to hurt the Athletics.
Robbed on a nice play by Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge to end the first inning, Payton slammed his helmet to the ground.
The next time up, Payton made certain he wouldn't get cheated again with a home run off Jeremy Bonderman.
The Tigers rallied in the fifth, scoring twice after a leadoff single by Inge. Granderson followed with a liner in the gap and when Bradley was slow getting over from right field, hustled for an RBI double. Monroe tied it with an RBI double that hooked just beyond Payton's dive in left.
Ordonez opened the sixth by hitting Haren's first pitch over the left-field wall to make it 3-all.
Notes:@ Polanco extended his postseason hitting streak to nine games, dating to the 2001 playoff with St. Louis. ... Mark Kotsay made an animated twist of his body, hoping to coax his long drive to stay fair in the A's seventh. It curved foul beyond the pole, and he struck out.