Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Empire Strikes Out:Stanks Eliminated by Tigers

Leyland and his squad are on top of the world right now

All that money. All those All-Stars. All that talent. And a team that lost 119 games just 3 years ago and chock full of pitchers young enough to still get carded for cigarettes knocked off the mighty Evil Empire, the New York Stankees, defeating them 8-3 tonight to take the best-of-5 ALDS 3 games to 1.
How did this happen? That is the question that will be asked repeatedly this winter in the Big Apple for a team that caught up to and then bludgeoned into submission the AL East leading BoSox in August then coasted to the best record in baseball (tied with the crosstown Mets.) But they succumbed to a team that had been going in the opposite direction the last month of the season and had been swept by the Royals on the final weekend to lose the division title to Minnesota.
By all rights the mega-millionaire Stanks should have done away with the mid-market Tigers in 3 or 4 games; after all, on paper the Stanks have the much better team.
But as the infamous saying goes,and Captain Jetes reiterated in his postgame comments, you don't play the games on paper, you play them on the field, and the Tigers proved that when you are between the white lines paychecks, All Star selections and posse members don't mean a thing. All you need is a talent, a lot of heart, and the belief in each other that you can go out and knock off a team like the Empire. Thanks to manager Smokey Jim Leyland the Tigers have plenty of that moxie to go around.

Leyland, the probable Manager of the Year winner, has infused this raw, young, talented bunch with confidence, culpability and character. The team is most definitely a reflection of their manager, and nobody embodied that better tonight than young Tiger hurler Jeremy Bonderman. The sometimes shaky 23-year-old righty baffled the Millionaire's Row Stankee lineup, no-hitting them through 5 and ending up with this dazzling linescore: 8.1IP, 5H, 2R, 1BB, 4Ks, 99 pitches (70 strikes). This kid was totally unflappable, and when he walked off the mound after getting out of a tiny jam in the 8th to the roar of the crowd, he didn't so much as pump a fist, bat an eyelash, or high-five a teammate- it was all business, all intensity, and all composure. Pretty impressive from a young pitcher who was ridiculed when he lost 19 games 3 years ago for that horrid 119- loss team.

Bonderman would get all the support he needed when the Tigers got to Stankee starter Jaret Wright (yup, they had to rely on HIM to start their elimination game- nice) for 3 runs in the 3rd on homers by Mags Ordonez & Craig Monroe. Then they kept tacking on runs- an RBI single & sac fly from Pudge-less, a double by Mayor Sean Casey, a Carlos Guillen double- while Bonderman kept putting up zeros. By the time you knew what happened it was 8-0 after 6 and the Stanks looked like they knew it was over; they didn't know HOW, but they knew. New York broke the shutout in the 7th on a fielders choice grounder after Jeter & Abreu singled, then made the score less severe with a 2-run HR by Georgie in the 9th. But that was way too little too late for a team that struggled mightily to put up runs despite the depth and quality of the lineup. Their inability to score will have experts scratching their heads for months: this is a team that led the majors in runs scored by 60 (930) and was 2nd in MLB in avg (by .002 pts) at .285. The same team, with all of its offensive weapons in place mind you, hit .246 in the 4 games and scored 14 runs, but 8 of those came in their sole victory in Game 1; since that win they scored 6 runs in 3 games, a paltry 2 RPG compared to their 5.7 regular season average and batted .095 with runners in scoring position- holy Devil Rays, Batman! The usual suspect, ERod (who did make another error) is an easy taget after his putrid 1-14 showing and he was embarrassingly dropped to 8th today, but almost everyone in the lineup contributed to this loss.

So the Tigers will celebrate for a couple of days before they take on the A's in the ALCS starting Tuesday in Oakland. And party they will. One of the better celebration scenes in recent memory occurred after the Tigers had retreated to the clubhouse to spray each other with champagne and jump around like little kids.The raucous and still-remaining crowd went wild as the players returned to the field, magnums in hand, and took a victory lap around Comerica, high fiving fans along the way. Well it didn't take long for that high-fiving to turn into high spraying as the players soaked the fans with the bubbly as if to welcome them into their celebration as a way of saying thanks for being with them all year. It got so festive that Kenny the Cameraman Crusher climbed atop the dugout, sprayed two bottles and dumped part of one over the head of one of Detroit's finest. Quite a scene and quite a night in Motown, where the hits keep on coming, but not for the team expected to come out of this series a winner.

Why say it when you can spray it, right Pudge?

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