Tigers Playoff Preview: Deadspin
Detroit, September 2005:
Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski surveys another disappointing season in Tigertown from his luxury suite high above Comerica Park. A season that started with so much promise has fallen into disarray. High priced free agent additions Troy Percival and Magglio Ordonez and fellow All-Star Carlos Guillen represent the walking wounded, the clubhouse has split into warring factions after former Tiger's great and current manager Alan Trammell's authority was undermined publicly by malcontent catcher Ivan Rodriguez, the pristine Comerica Park, which shines as a beacon of hope and revitalization, within the post-apocalyptic surroundings of downtown Detroit sits half empty on this cold and drizzly early autumn night, and fans are so disenchanted after over a decade of losing that they openly lament losing Ugueth Urbina, who set his ranch hands on fire and threatened them with a machete, in a trade deadline deal. Things are bleak. After watching Nook Logan unsuccessfully attempt to bunt for a basehit for a third consecutive time Dombrowski retires inside his suite, checks the waiver wire and pours himself a snifter of brandy before settling in for the evening. While mulling over whether he should place a claim on Vic Darensbourg, Dombrowski realizes its getting increasingly chilly inside his luxury box and walks over to turn the heat up and finds, much to his horror, that the thermostat is turned to 80 degrees. Oh no. Behind him the doorknob turns slowly and in walks pizza mogul/owner/vampire Mike Ilitch followed by his pack of snarling wolves. Dombrowski doesn't have the courage to turn around but he can feel the icy breath of Count Ilitch on his neck. "I brought you here to change this." Mr. Ilitch whispers in a raspy snarl as one of his wolves walks menacingly through Dombrowski's legs. "You've got one year to fix this" and with those chilling words Mr. Ilitch disappears to his lair in the deep recesses of Comerica Park. Shaken, Dombrowski puts down his snifter and walks towards the field only to witness Carlos Pena strike out for the fourth time. He knows there's only one man who can help him.
Just outside Pittsburgh a man whose looks belie his age gets up to greet a beautiful crisp, early October morning with his first flavorful Marlboro of the day. He's 61, married to a young nubile wife, two beautiful children, had a successful career, and is wealthy beyond his wildest imagination. Life is good. Bang! Bang! Startled the dashing gray haired man answers the door to find a disheveled teen with an ashen face. "There's an urgent telegram for Mr. Leyland s-s-s-sir," the kid stammers. "Thank you." Leyland says as he turns the blank envelope over and opens it to find this message.
Detroit need you.
He takes a long drag from his cigarette, puts it out and wakes up his wife Katie. "I'm going to manage, Dave needs me," he tells her. "But we've settled down, the kids are young and......," she doesn't finish, knowing its futile to protest to a man of such strong convictions. Leyland, knowing the game and players have changed dramatically in the few years he's been away, wants to communicate with his new charges in a way that won't seem archaic and out of touch, so he sits down in front of the most modern machine in his house, and after much frustration and manual consultation, bangs out a letter on his brand new Remington Model 17 typewriter, makes thirty copies with the mimeograph machine and mails them on the first zeppelin out of Altoona.
Sorry for the lengthy introduction but in my years as a Tigers fan I've always found it easier to dramatize the events surrounding the organization, in this case turning Jim Leyland into a Rex Banner-esque savior, then to face the actual truth that the Tigers were rotting from the inside out and were years away from contention, (another example is just across the street at Ford Field where I imagine a world of front office intrigue and politics, rivaled only by Tsarist Russia, when the painful reality is Matt Millen is functionally retarded, but I digress.) But this season, for the first time in my conscious memory, there will be no need to make up fictitious tales because the Tigers have qualified for the playoffs. A.L. Central Division Champions no less. Woo-hoo!!! Bring on Oakland. Avenge the loss of the '72 ALCS. Joe Rudi can go to hell. Comerica will be rocking for it's first ever playoff game just like those Mark Fidrych games on ESPN Classic where Tiger Stadiums foundation was shaking, and Barry Zito doesn't have a chance in Game 1. He'll leave the field having made Rick Ankiel look like Greg Maddux. And to celebrate this return to glory we'll dance on Charles O. Finley's grave. Ha ha ha! Wait, someone trying to tell me something, this had better be important........uh huh.......My friend T.J. went 3 hours without making a racist joke?........oh no......well that changes everything. I've just been informed that the Tigers didn't win the A.L. Central because they failed to beat the Omaha Royals ONE TIME this weekend, so that lenghty A's-Tigers preview I spent all of Friday writing becomes moot, can I still post it, it was really good. No. O.K. (Thinking of gimmicky/formulaic article........what would Mitch Albom write.............or worse Rob Parker...........I got it best/worse case scenarios for key members of the playoffs.) So without further ado, the preview.
Best Case: Goes 4-0 with an ERA of 2.00, establishes himself as one of the premier young pitchers in the A.L. and signs a long term extension to anchor the Tigers rotation heading into the next decade.
Worst Case: One error behind him leads to an unearned run and his implosion. Screams into his glove so much his ears start bleeding, throws 30 straight sliders in the dirt. Arm detaches from his body at the elbow, enrolls in Steve Blass recovery center.
Best: Finds a reliable fastball to go with his devastating change-up and, combined with Zumaya, shuts down the late innings and bridges the gap to Todd Jones.
Worst Case: Comes into a two run game lead at Yankee Stadium, hits six straight batters, paces around infield, squats down, soils himself, walks off mound, through the clubhouse and into the ether only to resurface 15 years from now in the Mexican League as Rodney Fernando.
Best Case: Becomes a young, dominant late innings, post-season sensation in the line of Mariano Rivera and K-Rod. Sets record for most shattered bats in a post-season.
Worst Case: Lets fame from local Comcast High Speed Internet commercial go to his head, shows up to Yankee Stadium in a fur coat surrounded by floozies and tells Tigers he's leaving team to pursue acting career in Ron Popeil infomercials.
Best: Hits two walk-off homeruns in the playoffs establishes himself as the most clutch fourth outfielder in all of baseball.
Worst: Ventures into a Macy's while in New York puts on 10 really nice belts, walks out the door without paying, tackled by security, scuffle, scuffle, attemps to grab gun, spends night in the pokey.
Best: Has a breakout post-season and establishes himself as one of the top shortstops in the A.L. along side Derek Jeter, Michael Young, and Miguel Tejada. Re-ups with Tigers this off-season for reasonable price.
Worst: Really inconvenienced that he has to play for two more weeks in October and since he can't help but hit .300 starts throwing potential double play balls into rightfield.
Chien Ming Wang
Best Case: Gets the free swinging Tigers to pound EVERY SINGLE sinking fastball he throws into the ground, never reaches a 1 ball count, and throws a complete game, shutout, 3 hitter in 61 pitches.
Worst Case: N/A. The best case scenario I laid out above is happening, there's no stopping it nor denying it. He could be carried off the mound by a decrepit Yogi Berra, he has that much Don Larsen potential against this Tigers team.
Best Case: Gets Yankee fans off his back with a big playoff series that includes a clutch hit in Game 5 that ends in a long meaningful embrace with Jason Giambi at home plate.
Worst Case: Goes 3-4 in Game 1 rout at Yankee Stadium but strikes out once with two outs and a guy on first, which leads to a chorus of boos and a shower of D batteries. Suffers psychotic break and plays the rest of the series with purple lipstick smeared all over his face, holding his bat upside down and crying.
Best: Leads Yankees to World Series victory and further cements his status as one of the greatest Yankees to ever put on the pinstripes.
Worst: Goes 0-22 as Yankees are eliminated in first round. Still universally loved by Yankee fans. Sleeps on a pile of money with many beautiful ladies. God I hate this man.
Best: Plays great and gets rid of past playoff ghosts. Proves a set-up man is really worth 18 million dollars.
Worst: Called on to pitch a day game while still hung over from partying the night before. Let's up 3 run homer after throwing cute breaking ball that ends up in the black seats. Leaves mound breaks both hands punching the air conditioner, throws chairs onto the field, tries to goad Nate Robertson into a fight before setting himself on fire.
Finally, I think it's great for baseball that the Tigers and Yankees are meeting in the playoffs. Two of the traditional baseball teams, both steeped in history, in amazing sports towns squaring off against each other for the first time in history. The Yankees an organization known for it's winning and epitomized by legendary alcoholics like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Billy Martin against a Tigers franchise with a history of upstanding charachter guys like Ty Cobb, Ron LeFlore and Denny McLain will finally play meaningful games against each other in October. All the celebrities will be out to witness this historical clash from Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Spike Lee in New York to......ummm.....does Jeff Daniels count? yes Jeff Daniels in Detroit. My prediction, Tigers in 5.