Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Boys of Summer

My baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, were mathematically eliminated from making the playoffs last night. The Yankees, with their nearly unlimited payroll, simply had too much high-priced hitting talent to overcome. With only three games left in the season, I have no reason to be disappointed. Last year the Tigers made it all the way to the World Series following 12 straight seasons of playing under .500 and their usual elimination date was in August each year. With last year's team 95% intact, they made a move to add designated hitter Gary Sheffield and that should have been enough to get them back. It would have been, too, had it not been for injuries.

When the season began, pitcher Kenny Rogers was already on the disabled list with a surgically-removed blood clot in his shoulder. Backup catcher Vance Wilson had to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair damage in his elbow. Flame-throwing relief pitcher Joel Zumaya ruptured a tendon in the middle finger of this throwing hand. The hits just kept on coming. Fernando Rodney, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Andrew Miller, Gary Sheffield, all spent time on the disabled list.

As a fan, I can say that the Tigers didn't make it because of injuries, but you never heard them say that. They didn't make excuses. They played the game the right way, playing through adversity, playing through pain.

There were fantastic highlights along the way in the 2008 season. Justin Verlander threw a no-hitter on June 12 against the Milwaukee Brewers. Todd Jones recorded his 300th career save. Pudge Rodriguez hit his 500th career double and took over the third place spot for catching the most games, lifetime. Five Tigers making the All-Star Team was icing on the cake.

When Magglio Ordonez wins the American League batting title later this week, he'll be the first Tiger to have done so since Norm Cash in 1961. Simply amazing, that kind of consistency. His monthly averages were .344, .346, .421, .278, .393, and .370. He had one month, July, that I can't even call bad; it was just average. Even in that "slump," if you can call it that, he never went more than two games in a row without a hit. His average right now stands at .359 and his nearest competitor, Ichiro, is at .349, ten points back. And at over 500 at bats in the books, Ichiro would need a miracle to overcome that differential. I love having him as a Tiger!

It's ironic that the Tigers won't make the playoffs this year, but the Cubs will, despite having a worse record than the Tigers. But that's the way the playoffs work; each division winner makes it in regardless of record and only the next best record earns the wild card spot. I'll be rooting for the Cubs, since former Tiger Craig Monroe and former Tiger player and manager Alan Trammell are with that organization now. I'll also root for anyone who plays the Yankees. It was my greatest pleasure to watch the Tigers knock those guys out of the playoffs last year. It would be almost as sweet to watch anyone else do it this year. If it can't be my boys of summer, it can be someone else's!

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