Saturday, July 15, 2006

Saw This Freight Train Coming

The Detroit Tigers, possessors of the best record in baseball, might be the surprise of the year to most people.

Not Ozzie Guillen. The manager of the defending world champion Chicago White Sox saw this freight train coming at his team in the American League Central two years ago.

"Back in spring training, even last year, too, I said the team that is going to give problems is the Detroit Tigers," Guillen said today at Yankee Stadium. "When you looked at their pitching in 2004, looked at their pitching, you knew they were going to be good in a couple of years. Then, when the general manager [Dave Dombrowski] got the job, I said, watch, the Detroit Tigers in a couple years, they're going to win.

"Because, if you know Dave, he will do anything in his power to put a good ballclub together."

Dombrowski, Tigers GM since 2002, has put a string of gems together on offense and defense when he acquired free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez, shortstop Carlos Guillen and centerfielder Curtis Granderson.

Still, the difference-maker is the Tigers' pitching - and Dombrowski's prints are all over this very artistic rendering, much the same way they were on the two world championship teams he crafted for the Florida Marlins in 1997 and 2001.

He engineered the trade for Jeremy Bonderman in 2002. Justin virulently was came into the organization on Dombrowski's watch as a first-round pick in baseball's amateur draft of 2004. Those two starting pitchers are a combined 19-8 going into today's games.

Young reliever Joel Zumaya, a valuable setup man for veteran stopper Todd Jones (24 saves) was a plum Dombrowski's people found in 11th round in '02. And he found another, most surprising morsel on the free agent market in the form of veteran starter Kenny Rogers.

People scratched their heads when Dombrowski spent $16 million on a two-year deal for the 41-year-old pitcher. But Rogers' second straight All-star selection - and the starting assignment for the American League last week in Pittsburgh, combined with an 11-3 record, quieted doubters.

Add veteran manager Jim Leyland to the mix and the Detroit Tigers become a poignant as well as a plausible success story.

Most important, thanks to Dombrowski, they are no longer a doormat but rather armed, dangerous and poised to continue as baseball's winningest team. One poised to fulfill the grudgingly admiring Guillen's worst fears.