Saturday, October 07, 2006

Paper Tigers No More

Jim Leyland hoisted from the ground by by his joyous Detroit Tigers team. MLB Photos

Start spreading the news. Motown mowed down Millionaire's Row, without mercy or apology.

That they did it without sneers or cockiness or disrespect should make it hard for the most disappointed New York Yankees fans to begrudge Jimmy Leyland or the young Tigers anything.

How could you not feel a tug for the grizzled manager who pulled himself off the slag heap to come back to the game and show a young team how to win? Or the impressionable youths who listened when he told them 100-loss seasons didn't have to be the norm?

Winning 95 regular-season games would have satisfied Motown. And settling for that would have fulfilled their part of what was scripted in a postseason test against the league's winningest team.

But the Tigers did not settle. Because they did not, the Tigers showed you just how much fun watching an underdog overcome can be, wearing the self-appointed label of "freshman team" but refusing to buy into the cynicism that they somehow did not belong on the same field as the mighty Bronx Bombers.

The Tigers culled a lot of karma from perceived slights.

Forced to explain their miserable crawl through a last two weeks of September time and again.

Forced to justify why they even bothered to show up to play the best team money can buy.

Forced to hotel hop in midtown Manhattan Wednesday night after a rainout delayed their getaway game.

In the end, though, there was nothing forced about the celebrating the Tigers did when they swept away the Yankees in the American League Division Series, 3 games to 1. Detroit reeled off three wins to seal the deal.

Three wins that came after the rainout and the communications snafu that went with it.

Three wins that came despite the fact that no one gave one-time Yankees washout Kenny Rogers an iota of a chance in Game 3, either against Hall of Fame certainty Randy Johnson or the Yankees' latest Murderers' Row lineup.

But Rogers and a host of young pitchers nearly young enough to be his sons stymied the vaunted Yankees' offense. They even made Derek Jeter look human after his five hits in the Yankees' Game 1 win. And they certainly made Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield, among others, look nothing short of pathetic as the Detroit staff limited New York to six runs in the final three games.

Once the clinching was done, there came the final touches, vingettes that had to warm the most jaded down-on-pro sports Grinch.

Youngsters wearing the uniforms of Kaline and Greenberg, Trammell and Whitaker, Horton and McLain, carrying Leyland off the field on their sturdy shoulders.

Those same youngsters circling the field spritzing delirious fans with champagne.

Rogers hoisting his old bones up on the dugout at Tiger Stadium to do the same champagne celebration with fans.

Baseball purists couldn't have asked for a better ending to this big-market, small-market dance. And Hollywood couldn't have topped the ending. It was downright Capra-esque.

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