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Thursday, September 29, 2011

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PLAYOFFS: Tigers are back in postseason for first time since 2006 Continued from Page 2 gloat, right? To say ‘I told you so’ to all his host of critics. “I just think about winning. That’s what I thought about. Ever since I’ve been manager, whether it be Detroit or Pittsburgh or anyplace else I’ve managed. My job is to try to win games and win as many as you can,” the skipper said. “I’m really not one of those ‘I told you so’ guys. Believe me, I’m not. I understand all that stuff. I think a lot of it’s fair, some of it’s unfair. You learn to live with that kind of stuff, one way or the other. But you don’t gloat about that. “I’m gloating because we won the Central Division. I’m not gloating because somebody in Muskegon, Mich., didn’t like my lineup on April 7. Believe me. I understand all that. I’m gloating because we won the Central and I think we did a DAMN good job. It’s only just beginning. But I’m not gloating about stuff like that. I could care less about stuff like that. I understand that. It goes with the territory. I’m happy because we won more games than anybody else in the Central Division and we’re going to be one of the

elite eight. “And I’m happy the way we did it. Obviously, nobody can say we backed in.” No, they didn’t. Thanks to that 12-game win streak — longer than any put together by the fabled ’68 or ’84 crews —and a 13-1 start to September, there was no swoon, no collapse. “The whole year, I talked about it, too. I kept saying, hey, we haven’t played our best baseball. I think you look around this clubhouse and you’d kind of see us get hot and cool off, hot and cool off, and we never really just played ball to our capabilities over a month or so,” Verlander said. “I think since the All-Star break, we’ve played that kind of consistent baseball. Obviously, you mix in a 12-game win streak and that helps a lot. But I think we’re hitting our stride at the right time.” Certainly a different feeling than 2009, when the Tigers’ September stride was a stumble. When the entire final month of the season was spent on eggshells, with one eye on the rear-view mirror, the constantly sinking feeling that was climaxed by the one-game playoff — the noto-

rious, 12-inning Game 163 — against the Twins. That game is rarely mentioned, but always remembered. “I think it’s just understood. Obviously, it’s mentioned, in passing here or there. That game’s talked about. We’ll realize every once in a while how good of a game 163 was, but every time we talk about 163, we talk about how we never should’ve even been there. That’s probably the most important factor out of all of them,” Inge said, noting the difference between this team’s mindset and that one’s. “We were playing the last few games ... more of watching the standings, watching the teams, and hoping that the other team wouldn’t catch us, as opposed to just burying every team we played, and that way, it would’ve taken care of that. It’s more of an aggressive outlook, as opposed to being passive, and waiting around for another team to catch you.” With that memory firmly entrenched in the mind of those players who were on both teams, there was a conscious effort not to let it happen again. By holding onto to that memory, there was a chance

AP photo

Detroit’s Austin Jackson is congratulated after hitting a solo home run against Oakland earlier this season. they could finally wash away the stain. Finally exorcise the ghosts of collapses past. And back in the postseason for the first time since 2006, maybe the view in the rearview mirror doesn’t look quite as bad. “One thing I do look at, one think I am proud of, and I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about the Tigers. In the last six years we’ve actu-

ally been to the postseason three of the six years, counting the 163rd game against the Twins. That was a playoff game,” Leyland said. “That’s not too bad. We want to do better, we want to get greedy. I wish the Tigers had 27 banners like the Yankees do but that’s not the way it is. Probably not going to happen, but the fact is it’s been pretty good.”

If the Tigers can add to their own storied postseason history with another October run — a run they fully feel they’re capable of making — they’ll more than erase any bad taste that’s still lingering from the last four years of frustration. They believe they can. And it appears that a lot of outsiders are starting to, as well.

CAPUTO: This year’s squad could provide some more great memories Continued from Page 2

season too often, but they usually do pretty well once us. It warmed our collective they get there. soul and heart. It also This version, in the playbrought intense drama. offs for the first time since Thrilled us. Gave us somethe ‘06 pennant, is more than thing to pull together for in a capable of continue that tracommon cause. Pitch-bydition. pitch. There isn’t a team in baseThis must be the only town ball which can match combiwhere this can happen: A nation of Justin Verlander crusty old manager, Jim Ley- leading the rotation and Miland, starts welling up, guel Cabrera hitting cleanup knowing what it meant to be in the batting order. A strong in the postseason to the case can be made the Tigers people, because his father have the two most valuable was a blue collar worker not players in the American so far away, just over the League. Jose Valverde had a Michigan-Ohio border. remarkable season. There One thing about the Tighas been a more consistently ers, they don’t get to the post- effective closer in 2011. Jhon-

ny Peralta has played as well as any AL shortstop, Alex Avila as well as any catcher. Victor Martinez is amazing clutch hitter. Starting pitcher Doug Fister and left fielder Delmon Young completed the puzzle when acquired in July. It’s not a fluke the Tigers won the division. They are a high payroll team with all the necessary parts to win the pennant, maybe even the World Series, although the Phillies do seem to be clearly the class of the field. Concerns? Yeah. There are a few. While the Tigers have excellent late-inning relievers in Valverde, Joaquin Be-

noit and Phil Coke, their middle and long relievers aren’t nearly as solid. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, after Verlander and Fister in the starting rotation, lack consistency. The Tigers are suspect defensively. They have really good range in center field with Austin Jackson. Avila is a marvelous catcher. After that, their range is limited especially in the corner outfield spots. In the 2006 World Series, it was the Tigers’ fielding which did them in. They not only have to get to batted balls, but catch them once there - and make good

throws. During the regular season, the Tigers were able to overcome their flaws by swinging the bat exceptionally well especially following the All Star break. It more than made up for their lack of range defensively and speed on the base paths. To win the postseason, it’s important to have unexpected heros. Lolich did not have one his best seasons in ‘68. In 1984, it was Rusty Kuntz who knocked in the go-ahead run in the deciding game against the Padres. Remember Alexis Gomez at Oakland in the 2006 ALCS.? Leyland has his detractors,

but he has captured a world championship and two pennants. It doesn’t seem likely he will be outmaneuvered. The Tigers aren’t a perfect team by any stretch, but they were better than anybody could have reasonably expected during the regular season. They are capable of producing more snaps shots we’ll all remember in the postseason, too. Pat Caputo is a columnist for Journal Register Newspapers. Contact him at” and read his blog at You can follow him on Twitter at patcaputo98

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