Monday, October 23, 2006

Tigers' Monroe Flexes Surprising Muscle

ST. LOUIS - His is not the first name to come to mind when one sets out to put a human face on the saga of the 2006 Detroit Tigers.

That line, that very long line, forms to the right of Jim Leyland. And Kenny Rogers. And Ivan Rodriguez. And Placido Polanco. And . . . well, you get the idea.
Yet, if Craig Monroe keeps traveling the lofty path he's been on since starting his first postseason, the youthful leftfielder will soon be able to tell those who wish to excel on baseball's biggest stage to line up after him.

For Monroe not only has played a large role in the Tigers' surprising overall success this October. His booming bat also has made it possible for the American League champions to be even with the National League pennant winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, after the first two games of the 102d World Series.

When the best-of-seven Series resumes tonight at Busch Stadium, Monroe and company will be challenged by a former Cy Young Award winner, Chris Carpenter. The Tigers' Nate Robertson will start the first of three games at the home of the National League champions.

The fact that the Series has been reduced to best of five has much to do with the personable, 29-year-old Monroe, who has enjoyed his turn on the big stage as much as any player in uniform in the Fall Classic.

Generous with his time and thoughtful in his interpretation of this unfolding October pageant, Monroe has made his locker a necessary stop for those in the national media.

His performances have increased the necessity to stop, look and listen to this Fall Classic World Series surprise. For example, on Sunday, Monroe used a first-inning home run in Game 2 - his second long shot in two Series games - to stake Rogers to a lead the lefthander never relinquished in a 3-1 victory in Detroit.

In a Series dominated by talk of Albert Pujols' batting prowess, it was Monroe who staked his claim to a bit of Series history after just two starts. He is the first player to homer in his first two career games in the Series since Barry Bonds did so for the San Francisco Giants in 2002.

What makes Monroe's accomplishments all the more impressive is that he has made this postseason thing look easy. Witness his five-game hitting streak dating back to Game 2 of Detroit's sweep of Oakland in the American League Championship Series.

"Not being in this situation before," he had been "shocked sometimes" by himself, he admitted. "I'm relaxed and having fun, and I'm staying focused on one thing, and that's trying to be a good player. I think the big thing for me is trying to compete and do everything that I possibly can to help this team win."

He has done so. Yes, most of the postmortems of Sunday's game at Comerica Park concentrated on whether Rogers was using an illegal substance on his pitches. But Monroe muscled his way into the spotlight by clobbering a Jeff Weaver pitch into the left-field bleachers with one out in the first inning.

"To see him jump-start us like that obviously made me feel pretty good," Leyland, the Tigers' manager, said of Monroe, who had been 0 for 6 with four strikeouts against Weaver in his career.

The night before, Monroe had homered in the ninth inning of a 7-2 loss, showing reticent Tigers bats the possibilities.

Monroe has five home runs among his 12 playoff hits, equaling a franchise record for post-season homers held by none other than Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg.

Greenberg, whose name and retired number adorn the backdrop at Comerica Park much the way they did for so long at venerable Tiger Stadium, built his home-run total in 85 at-bats over four World Series.

Monroe caught Greenberg in 37 at-bats through the course of eight American League division and Championship Series games and the two contests against the Cards.

"Wow," Monroe marveled at his production. "That's something I'll have to really reflect on down the road, not now, because I can't even process that kind of stuff right now. . . . I'm focused on one thing, and that's to help this team win games."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning Placido Polanco. Too bad the Phils didn't pay him another million or two, get down on their knees and beg him to play third base when they wanted to bring Utley up. Imagine the batting order then!