GO GET EM TIGERS!
1968 Tiger Warm ups
October 24, 2012
Tigers ready for prime time
- By BOB WOJNOWSKI
San Francisco — They have MVP and Cy Young trophies. They have batting titles and home run titles and RBI titles and enough All-Star appearances to load the pages of recent history.
The Tigers have accomplished plenty, and it means plenty. It only means everything if they take the last step. They need to win this now, after all they’ve spent financially, physically and emotionally.
The Tigers have been here before, but not really. The team that opens the World Series tonight against the Giants is almost entirely different than the group that lost the 2006 World Series. Heck, it’s considerably different than the team that lost in last year’s playoffs.
These Tigers are star-heavy favorites, desperate to deliver Detroit’s first World Series title since 1984. Just getting here isn’t the point anymore, not that it ever was. But when you have Miguel Cabrera in a Triple Crown season and Prince Fielder in his prime and the best pitcher in the game in Justin Verlander, you don’t tiptoe into baseball’s grand classic.
It’s different this time. It’s less fanciful, less frightful, and much more urgent.
“That (favorite’s tag) is more for reading material than anything else,” Jim Leyland said. “We’re not dumb, we do learn from the past. Even though a lot of people thought we just became fat cats in 2006 and said, ‘Oh well, we’re in it, what’s the difference,’ that wasn’t it at all.”
Not that it really matters because only three players from the ’06 Tigers — Verlander, Omar Infante, Ramon Santiago — are on this team. But Leyland and management adjusted to another lengthy layoff after an ALCS sweep, working out daily at Comerica Park, thanks to good weather.
And now their pitching staff looks sufficiently primed, starting with Verlander, naturally. He opens Game 1 with loads of rest, while the Giants counter with revived lefty Barry Zito, who didn’t even make the postseason roster two years ago when the Giants won the World Series. It should be an early advantage for the Tigers because Verlander is on yet another mission, and it’s not a mission of mercy. He’s different this time, translating regular-season dominance into postseason success.
But as the game’s quirks repeatedly show, it’s never as simple as matching up the rosters and lining up the stars. Ask the Rangers, who lost the past two World Series, then were drummed in the wildcard round this year.
Favored but wary
All the spectacular individual performances wouldn’t necessarily be wasted if the Tigers didn’t win it all, but they’d be assigned a humbler place in history. Most odds and experts favor the Tigers, who just swept the Yankees, while the Giants rallied and won a Game 7 after trailing the Cardinals three games to one. In fact, the Giants have won six straight elimination games this postseason, which shows they know how to find danger — and find their way out.
The Giants do prefer things the difficult way, apparently. They hit the fewest home runs in the majors, but have a terrific road record. In the narrow view, this is Tigers power versus Giants pluck, sizzle versus spunk, although it’s worth noting the Giants actually won 94 games to the Tigers’ 88.
“We’re definitely playing our best baseball, but it’s always tough to play a team that never gives up,” centerfielder Austin Jackson said shortly after the Tigers arrived Tuesday. “They’re able to come back at any time, at any point in a game. They showed they weren’t done when people thought they were done. We’ve had our struggles and been able to do the same thing.”
The opponent sort of looks the same as the Cardinals in ’06. San Francisco is a spirited bunch putting pieces back together, and rebounding again and again. The Giants have done it with rejuvenated pitchers such as Zito and Tim Lincecum, and resurrected scrappers such as Marco Scutaro.
They’ve been rolling in front of their loud, giddy crowd at AT&T Park, outscoring the Cardinals by an astonishing 20-1 the last three games. And the Tigers still have their standard concerns, the ones that surfaced during an unsteady regular season — defense, the bullpen, the hitting.
Leyland doesn’t know how he’ll use closer Jose Valverde, and it’ll be interesting to see if Delmon Young can continue the hot streak that landed him the ALCS MVP. But the Tigers have experience everywhere it matters, from the deep, powerful starting rotation, to the front office in Dave Dombrowski, to the manager, to 83-year-old owner Mike Ilitch. It’s not necessarily a one-shot deal because the Tigers have a talented core, but the longer you wait, the tougher it gets.
“I don’t know if we’re the favorite, because they’ve been playing the last couple games and we’ve been off for about five days,” said catcher Gerald Laird, who won the World Series with St. Louis last season. “Honestly, there’s no clear-cut favorite in my eyes. But if our pitching does what it’s capable of doing like it did last series, I like our chances.”
A lot of people like their chances. It’s the Tigers’ opportunity to go from gaudy oddity to worthy champion, and they won’t get many better chances than this.
Series: Best-of-seven format, tonight-Thursday and Wednesday, Oct. 31-Thursday, Nov. 1, AT&T Park; Saturday-Monday, Comerica Park
First pitch: All games 8:07 p.m.
TV/radio: All games on Fox/WXYT
Series probables: Tonight — RHP Justin Verlander (3-0, 0.74 ERA) vs. LHP Barry Zito (1-0, 1.74). Thursday — LHP Doug Fister (0-0, 1.35) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (0-2, 11.25). Saturday — RHP Ryan Vogelsong (2-0, 1.42) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (1-1, 1.35). Sunday — RHP Matt Cain (2-2, 3.52) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (1-0, 0.82). Monday* — Matchups to be determined. Wednesday, Oct. 31* — Matchups to be determined. Thursday, Nov. 1* — Matchups to be determined
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