No superstar? No problem for Tigers
Collection of overachievers credited with World Series berth
DETROIT -- When Placido Polanco was traded to the Tigers in June 2005, it seemed a great opportunity for him to get a chance to showcase his individual skills, even if that meant sacrificing an opportunity for team success.The second baseman was going from a Phillies club that many believed would soon reach the postseason to a club that appeared far from being close to making the playoffs. Yet Polanco, who voiced his opinion of wanting to play for a winning club, was with the Tigers just two months when he signed a contract extension that would have him remain a part of the team through the 2009 season. There was something that Polanco noticed that many others had been unable to see. "All you had to do was look around and see the talent here," Polanco said. "You knew we just had to take that talent and use it on the field." It's been that kind of hidden talent that has led to the amazing transformation of the Tigers this season -- from the club's 119-loss season just three years ago to securing the franchise's first World Series berth since 1984 on Saturday night with a 6-3 victory over the A's. Never has that range of talent seemed more evident than over the four-game American League Championship Series. A different set of players stepped up every game for the club. From the starting pitching performances that the Tigers received to the various hitters who provided the spark over their four-game sweep, it was a combined group effort that led to the victories. "That's what good teams do," starter Nate Robertson said of the effort. "I think we had three All-Stars at break, and we felt we had even more than that. But the biggest thing for us, especially recently, was that we had cumulative All-Star performances." On Saturday, it was Magglio Ordonez who stepped up with two key home runs to help the Tigers clinch, but again, it wasn't he alone. Polanco delivered another strong night at the plate with a three-hit performance to earn MVP honors for the series. And while it was Ordonez who came up with the big hits on Saturday, it may have been the underscored effort of some of the club's relievers that truly signified just how much each of the players on the 25-man roster has had an impact. With the game still knotted at 3 in the eighth inning, Tigers manager Jim Leyland chose to go with some of his lesser-known relievers to try to keep the game tied. It was Jason Grilli and Wilfredo Ledezma who were able to sidestep trouble and keep the game tied until Ordonez's walk-off homer won the game. And even when Grilli saw his control waver as he walked three straight batters to load the bases with two outs in the eighth, it was Ledezma who came in to get the big final out. "Grilli did an unbelievable job getting the ground ball, and then I think he just got a little too excited," Brandon Inge said of the right-hander. "But you know what? You've got another guy that came in and stepped up. It's the way it's been all season with us. If one guy doesn't get it done, the next guy steps in and does the job."
And Saturday's multitude of contributors for a "W" illustrates the type of all-team effort that the Tigers got over the past week. From Alexis Gomez delivering a four-RBI night in Game 2, helping carry the club to victory, to Inge carrying Detroit in Game 1 at Oakland, there seemed to be handfuls of players who got the job done to get the Tigers to this point."It's teamwork," Polanco said. "Everybody did their part. You look at Santiago, who played a couple of games and did great [and] Neifi Perez stepping up in the one game, it really has been everybody doing something for us." On a club that has been overlooked all season long in terms of respect from outsiders, it's no surprise that the Tigers came together over the common bond of trying to prove everyone wrong. For a game in which payroll seems to get so much attention and superstars are the ones whose faces surround the league, it's often the teams with the most notoriety that achieve success. But this Tigers club is proving just the opposite -- that it's all about the team instead. "You can't find really many superstars in here," first baseman Sean Casey said. "In fact, you can't find any. I think that's the great thing about it. It's really a team, and it's a team doing it every night. That's what is so special." All season long, there has been a feeling of destiny for the group, and from the results they have seen over their seven-game winning streak to earn the AL pennant, it's something that they believe can carry them through all the way to the finish line. "There's not one person on this team that has done anything extraordinary -- it's been a team effort all year long," starter Justin Verlander said of his club. "Hopefully, that's what gets us to a World Series title." If the past four games are any indication, then it appears that a World Series title for the Tigers will be an all-out team endeavor.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.