Classic a privilege for comeback Tigers
Verlander, Inge, Jackson have perspective after down year
ST. LOUIS -- Justin Verlander led the American League in losses last season. Brandon Inge was out of a starting job for most of the year. Edwin Jackson tied for the lead in wins on the American League champion Rays, yet didn't get anywhere near the postseason rotation.
It's only fitting that a worst-to-first team like the Tigers would have a comeback story to tell at the All-Star Game, but the Tigers have three. While last season began with high expectations and ended in supreme disappointment, Detroit quietly escaped the attention of most preseason predictions, even in the muddled AL Central.
Whether they're the best of the AL Central bunch or a team riding a hot start, the Tigers have four All-Stars, more than the Yankees and Dodgers. Only the Red Sox, Rays and Phillies have more.
"It's cool to walk into this room and look and say, 'Wow, there's Old English D," Curtis Granderson said during the American League media session. "And there it is. And there it is. And there it is, a fourth time. Nothing against Andrew Bailey over there, but he's the only guy here from Oakland. He was joking around, saying, 'Man, I'm sitting here by myself.' And when he said that, I was like, 'Wow, I've got three other guys that are right next to me.'"
The only Tigers All-Star who has been there before is Verlander. The other three are first-timers. And with the possible exception of Granderson, none of them could've projected to be here when the season began.
"To come in here and see us lined up, I think it says a lot for our organization and what we've been able to do," Verlander said. "Last time I was here, it was similar, but I think it says a lot that this time it's three totally different guys with me."
For that and many other reasons, these Tigers are going to enjoy their couple days in the Gateway City.
"What's going on, Brandon? Nice to meet you," Jackson jokingly said as he shook hands with Inge, a few feet to his left.
"Man, you should see the monsters I was sitting with in the Home Run Derby [news conference]," Inge said.
Later, as Jackson scanned the room of players, he smiled. He couldn't believe the number of reporters around Ichiro Suzuki.
"You look around," Jackson said, "and everybody is somebody."
When the Tigers had this many All-Stars in 2007, many of them were veterans who had been there before, from Ivan Rodriguez to Magglio Ordonez to Carlos Guillen. The two first-timers on that squad from Detroit were Verlander and Placido Polanco, who cracked the starting lineup at second base.
Now, not only is Verlander the veteran of these things, but only Inge among the All-Star Tigers is older than 28 or more experienced than five Major League seasons. While Rodriguez and Ordonez took their spotlights to Detroit, as did Polanco to a degree, these guys are building theirs, even after some growing pains.
To Granderson, it's more of a building block than a destination, and it's an individual honor in a season in which the Tigers are regaining respect.
"I think it's the push to continue to try to get respect. I like the fact that you get doubted," Granderson said. "I think that always motivates you to play a little harder. You never want anything handed to you, no matter what the situation is. We're in first place, but that has no correlation to what's going to happen in September.
"I think that's great, the fact that Edwin comes in and he's a guy who [supposedly] throws hard but he's inconsistent. Or Justin [supposedly] is losing a little bit, he may not be the No. 1 [starter], and Edwin might be No. 1. Inge, same thing: Great defensive guy, can't hit. Now, he's in the Home Run Derby, getting a chance to do some great things and showing guys that not only is he athletically talented, but he can also produce. We've won some ballgames up to this point."
Granderson's motivation this year was to improve defensively and answer the question of whether he could cover center field at Comerica Park with different players on the corners. Fittingly, his game-saving, highlight-reel catch in May to steal a potential game-winning home run from Grady Sizemore left an impression around baseball.
Now he'll be back on the national spotlight on the same field where his slip in the 2006 World Series on a cold, rainy night became a Fall Classic highlight.
"You look at the biggest stage possible to have that happen," Granderson said. "Nothing from that point on can be any worse. And I think that's a good thing. There's always going to be a high and a bottom, and I think that was one of the bottoms I had. I got a chance to go from '06, when that fell, to getting a chance to play [Wednesday]. I think that has helped me out a little bit."
Verlander and Jackson, meanwhile, mark the first pair of Tigers pitchers to make the All-Star team in the same year since Willie Hernandez, Jack Morris and Dan Petry did it in 1985 -- the year after Detroit's last World Series title.
All three were voted in on the players ballot. Inge, though, might best be able to appreciate being here as the last player to arrive. He still hadn't found Phillies outfielder and fellow All-Star Final Vote winner Shane Victorino, the other half of the "Bran-Torino" ticket, but he was planning on it.
"I keep hearing stories -- he's saying I rode his coattails," Inge said. "I'm like, 'Wait a minute, he rode my coattails.' It's going to be fun."
This group of Tigers All-Stars seemingly carried each other into St. Louis.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.