Sunday, October 15, 2006

Polanco: Ex-Phil Shines For Tigers

DETROIT - Call the Phillies' efforts to turn a new leaf the gift that keeps on giving - to other clubs. Never was that more true than yesterday.

Placido Polanco, onetime infield cog turned dispensable commodity in Philadelphia, helped the Detroit Tigers complete their four-game dismantling of the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series.

The 31-year-old veteran second baseman did so with such authority by going 9 for 17 with two runs scored and an RBI, he was named the most valuable player of the series.

How do you become a series MVP on a team that seemed to trot out hero after hero to the mound and the plate?

How about getting three of your nine hits in the finale? How about continuing a two-out rally in the ninth inning of a taut 3-3 game by following a Craig Monroe hit with your third single, extending the inning for cleanup hitter Magglio Ordoñez?

Polanco's good work once again out of the three-hole in the lineup paid the best dividend to date for Detroit, because Ordoñez followed Polanco's hit with his second home run of the game.

Just like that, the Tigers walked off with a 6-3 victory.

"I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it," said Ordoñez, who was mobbed by his teammates at home plate. "This is what I've dreamed about my whole career, my whole life. I don't even remember running around the bases."

Just like that, a storied franchise nestled in this once-again baseball-mad city had its first World Series berth since 1984. And just like that, Polanco sat atop the baseball world.

"This is by far the best moment of my career," said Polanco, who was traded by the Phils to Detroit in June 2005 for Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez.
On Saturday, the Tigers will host the opener in the Series, against the National League champion, yet to be determined in the series between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.

No matter who wins, Polanco will be in an exclusive club within a club, because he will face off against other notable ex-Phillies, either Scott Rolen (Cards) or Billy Wagner (Mets).

Just knowing he will make his Series debut did not cause Polanco to gloat. Rather, it seemed to humble the player.

"It's hard to make the playoffs. It's hard to win. It's harder to do this," he said. "So it makes it special, very special."

That seemed all the more so when Polanco turned to the Tigers' coaches and trainers personnelwho nursed him back from a shoulder separation, one he once stated would cost him the season. He was out "I have to thank the hitting coaches who really worked hard with me," said Polanco, who was outfrom Aug. 16 to Sept. 22.

"When I came back, I had to take so many extra swings. I thank them. I thank the trainers. I thank everybody."

Such stories of redemption and rehabilitation abound among the veteran Tigers interspersed among Detroit's impressive, talented young team.
Manager Jim Leyland. The 41-years-young Kenny Rogers. All-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Former Phillies pitcher turned invaluable Tigers stopper Todd Jones.

And finally Polanco.

"He's a great player. He's awesome, a guy who loves to play and comes ready to play every day," Rodriguez said of Polanco. "He deserves the MVP."

"He's a special player," agreed Rogers, the Game 3 starter and winner.
"I kind of got that about him early on. But what he did in this series was just spectacular - always being a tough little out, doing the things that he needed to do.Said Rogers, "It was something marvelous to watch."

Detroit's resiliency was proven when the Tigers came back from a 3-0 deficit in the fifth. Ordoñez hit a solo home run off A's starter Dan Haren in the sixth to knot the score and set up a battle of the bullpens.

No reliever was more valiant than A's closer Houston Street, who came on with one out in the seventh and the bases loaded. He ended that threat by inducing Carlos Guillen to hit into a double play.

But Street could not get past Polanco, or Ordoñez, in the ninth. Because he could not, the Tigers had their pennant. And Polanco had the most cherished moment of his career.

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