On the 22nd anniversary of their 1984 World Championship, the Tigers needed one more victory to get into the 2006 World Series. Due to a previously scheduled engagement, I spent much of this game on the road hoping to get back in time to see the last couple of innings. As I drove across Massachusetts, I heard Jon Miller's voice fade in and out between static on radio 890 out of Boston. Having spent much of my youth listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey speak through static, I am pretty skilled at this sort of thing. My girl friend Simona could not hear a word that Miller was saying and was amazed that I was able to figure out what was happening. Sometimes, I actually heard his words and sometimes I just knew from his tone and the crowd noise.
I heard Jeremy Bonderman struggle a little bit early and Jay Payton's home run came through loud and clear. The Athletics were up 3-0 after 4 innings. Miller's voice completely disappeared in the 5th. I heard crowd noise briefly and knew that something good was happening. It was not until later that I learned that Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe had doubled in runs to make it 3-2. In the 6th inning, right about the time we were passing through Mark Fidrych's home town of Northborough, I heard the game tying home run but didn't know it was Magglio Ordonez.
Thankfully, I got home in time see Tiger history take place. Walker relieved Bonderman and got the last out of the 7th. Jason Grilli loaded the bases on 12 consecutive balls in the 8th. Finally Jim Leyland took him out and Wil Ledezma got Marco Scutaro to pop to the catcher to end the inning. Ledezma also pitched a scoreless 9th as Joel Zumaya was resting his ailing wrist and Leyland seemed to be saving Fernando Rodney until he was absolutely needed.
It was still tied 3-3 in the 9th as Oakland closer Huston Street entered his 3rd inning of work. He was able to get pinch hitter Marcus Thames and Granderson on fly balls. Craig Monroe then singled to center and Placido Polanco (16 for 33 in post-season) singled to left center. Ordonez came up with a chance to be a hero for the second time in the game. He crushed it to left and there was never any doubt. It was a majestic 3 run walk off homer and the Tigers were the American League Champions.
This is the same team that had not had a winning season in 13 years; the team that had lost 119 games 3 years ago; the team that had lost over 400 games over the past 4 years. Even their most optimistic fans doubted they would be anywhere near post-season this year. A .500 season would have been good for most. Then, after an amazing 76-36 start, they stumbled down the stretch and the whole nation doubted them again. Nobody gave them a chance to make the World Series especially after losing game 1 to the Yankees. But now 7 consecutive victories later, they are American League Champions for the first time since 1984.