Sunday, September 06, 2009

Could it be? The Detroit Tigers Are Six Games Up?

Could it be?

I seem to have to keep looking at my newspaper this morning.

The sports section. The Major League Baseball standings tucked in the top left corner of the second page of the sports section.

There, in black and white – with the authority of an official news organization behind – sits the standings of the American League Central.

My beloved Detroit Tigers are leading the American League Central division by six games.

Holy mackerel!

I have watched every game on television or listened to every game on the radio. So I don't know why I am in such a state of disbelief. Joyous disbelief, but disbelief all the same.

Pat Caputo is on the radio again this morning urging people to finally believe in this team. With a team leading their division by six with twenty seven left to play. The magic number now set to twenty two games – combinations of Tigers Wins – or losses of Minnesota and Chicago. Pat can't understand why Tiger fans have been hesitant to believe the Tigers will win the American League Central pennant and have a spot in the 2009 playoffs.

Well, to start with, the Tigers were supposed to be a poor team this year – chosen by the pundits of national sports to finish near the bottom of the division. But we Tiger fans knew the boys wearing the old English D were not as bad as they appeared to be last year – when they did finish in the basement after being picked by those same national media pundits to win the World Series.

We knew our starting pitching rotation would not stink this year like they did last year. We knew guys like Polanco, Inge, Guillen, and Thames would step up to fill the shoes of game-by-game heros when our superstars like Cabrera, Ordonez, Granderson, and Verlander faltered. And we knew that the Tigers farm system was deep enough to supply great temporary support by sending up newcomers like Raburn, Thomas, and Avila would step into roles and play significant parts – before we even knew their names.

But the problem was the Tigers couldn't win on the road.

Their road record was atrocious until the last two away game series. They hadn't won a road series since May, until taking the Angels in Anaheim last week and know their current series with the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend. The final game of that series about to start in a few minutes.

But while the Tigers played poorly on the road, the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox played worse.

Nobody beats Tampa Bay at Tropicana field.

But the Tigers have. And came from behind to do so.

The bats that were quiet are now awake.

The players that were slumping in clutch situations are now getting key hits. The pitching – when failing – has received enough run support to surpass the opposition. The defense has been tighter – and the Tigers Catchers – Laird and Avila – have been surpising in their ability to handcuff base runners by throwing laser accurate ropes to second – to the perfect spots where the runners slide into waiting gloves of Polanco, Everette, and Santiago.

A new confidence has arisen from the Tigers when they sit in the visiting dugouts.

If they score first they taunt the opposition to catch them if they can. If they fall behind in the course of a game, they charge back with determination and conviction to take the lead in the eighth or ninth innings.

And Tigers closer Fernando Rodney gives you tingles of fear comparable to a bungee jump made at a county fair – walking men or giving up hits to allow the tying run coming to the plate – only to get the poor bastard to swing at strike three and get out of the self-imposed jam. Rodney has scared us to death with every save opportunity appearance – but the statics show that in thirty something such opportunities – he has only let one slip through his split fingers.

But I am superstitious when it comes to baseball. I believe in jinxes.

And so that is why I still hesitate to declare decisively as Pat Caputo insists – that the Tigers will win the AL Central division.

Six game leads seem like a lot. Especially in September.

But there is a very scary road trip coming up – to visit both Minnesota and Chicago – at fields they don't typically do well in … so I reserve my right to hedge my complete and utter faith in the Tigers winning the pennant. Six games can dwindle quickly – especially if Minnesota and Chicago get hot too.

So I am still nervous. That's what makes a true pennant race like this one so exciting. I am hopeful – and trying desperately to be faithful. But I don't yet know for sure where things will sit when the fat lady sings in the first week of October.

I do know this. I will be at that final regular season game in October – against the White Sox. And whether it is a game of formality to simply cheer the Tigers into the post season – or whether it comes down to that final game to win our way into the post season – I don't know.

But it will be a great day that day.

Perhaps I will venture up to the press box to track down Caputo – and shake his hand – and share with him how truly great this season has been – pretending to be a pizza delivery guy – or a writer for the Schwartzville Times – Gazette – and simply point a thumbs up at him as he keys in his thoughts on the season.

Who knows.

But it has been a terrific ride that I hope continues strong for another twenty seven game days.

And I can honestly state that I am now a true believer – with only the fear that I am jinxing my beloved Detroit Tigers.

Could it be?

Yes it could.

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