My Twitter followers know how much I dislike the Detroit Tigers. My poor brother has been a sports radio guy in Detroit since 1996. He is known as a big time Tribe homer by listeners of his station. Its a stigma he has carried since he arrived on the scene there. He makes no apologies for it and never hides from it. See, my brother truly only loves one team – The Indians. So imagine being him, working for the Tigers flagship station, and having to deal with Tiger fan callers day in and day out, especially these last two years. So when the Indians and Tigers square off during the season, the games are a lot more meaningful than any others throughout a 162-game schedule. He will go to Comerica Park and listen to the taunts from Tiger fans. He takes abuse on the air, but he doesn’t care, he just loves his Wahoos.
This collapse has been even more painful for him because since the July 26th comeback win against Justin Verlander, he has had to sit and watch his team fall deep into the abyss while the team in the city he lives in has stayed in the race. So now September has rolled around and all he and other Tiger haters like me have is the hope that the Motor City Kitties and their crusty old billionaire owner (aka Scott Boras’s puppet) Mike Illitch don’t make the playoffs and become the biggest disappointment in baseball.
Let us not forget that everyone and their mothers had picked the Tigers to not only win the AL Central, but to do so with ease. I remember listening to ESPN Radio the first week of April and hearing how Detroit would have this division wrapped up by the end of August. In the meantime, they haven’t been able to get ahead of the Chicago White Sox (and the Indians for that matter earlier in the season) for more than a few days at a time.
But here we are in the middle of September and every single one of these games for both the White Sox and the Tigers mean so much. Detroit headed into Sunday’s game in Cleveland a game back of Chicago for first place with just over two weeks remaining. They had already taken the first two of the series and were primed for a sweep.
Let us fast forward to the good parts. The Indians held a 5-3 lead with two outs in the seventh inning. Joe Smith had come on to relieve Ubaldo Jimenez. It is not as if the back end of the Tribe bullpen has been used much of late with a lead, but they were in the type of situation that worked so well for them through the end of July. Smitty put two on with two out and was forced to face his personal nemesis, Miguel Cabrera. Heading into the at-bat, Miggy was hitting .368 in 19 at-bats against Smith in his career. Acta could have gone to Vinnie Pestano (0-6 lifetime) to clean up the mess; you want your best out there against the best if you can. But he chose to stick with the side-arming righty.
In a true MVP moment, Cabrera crushed a Smith pitch deep to left for what seemed to be a back-breaking three-run homer. The thousands of Tiger fans that inhabited Progressive Field this weekend went crazy, chanting “M-V-P…M-V-P…” the way we used to for Albert Belle in 1995. Lefty Drew Smyly retired the Tribe 1-2-3 in the seventh, righty Brayan Villareal and lefty Phil Coke did the same in the eighth and things looked all but over at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. But then again, did anyone think that the Arizona Cardinals would beat the New England Patriots yesterday?
That is why games are 27 outs long, not 24.
Detroit closer Jose Valverde was perfect in 2011. His antics on the mound annoy every opponent. He dances around like a clown after every strikeout he records. He is a power-armed strike thrower. Needing one run to tie the game, the Indians had the right part of their lineup facing Valverde. Jason Kipnis greeted him with a double to deep center, putting the tying run on second with nobody out. Asdrubal Cabrera weakly flied out to center, failing to move Kipnis to third for the first out. This brought Carlos Santana to the plate.
A day before, it was Santana who ended Anibal Sanchez’s no-hit bid in the seventh inning with a triple off the wall in center. It was his first of the season. Just as he did Saturday, Carlos got a pitch he liked and drove it deep, this time to right. Defensive replacement Don Kelly made a leap for the ball and got leather on it, but it popped off the lip of his glove as he crashed into the wall. Around came Kipnis to score and Carlos sped into third for his second triple in as many days.
Two intentional walks later, it was Lonnie Chisenhall’s turn to play hero.
The Chiz Kid had his season ruined by a broken forearm just as it was getting going in the bigs. He worked his tail off to get back before the end of the season, defying the odds. And here he was with the winning run on third base in the bottom of the ninth against the contending rival Tigers.
Chisenhall took Valverde’s first pitch and lined it to right-center for a walk-off winner. It was the first of many big hits to come for the third baseman of the present and the future.
“I came back for the at-bats,” said Chisenhall.
While the Tribe is truly playing out the string, beating the Tigers and potentially ruining their chances at the postseason will always be enjoyable for the players and the fans.
Especially for my brother in Detroit.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)