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A sweeping beauty for the Tigers

Posted: October 18, 2012 - 11:05pm

DETROIT - Prince Fielder waved everyone back, and, defying several laws of gravity, bounced like a pogo stick as he waited for the ball to descend. When he finally squeezed it - series over! - Phil Coke threw his glove to the ground, Miguel Cabrera pointed to the sky, the Tigers raced out of the dugout, and fans went scrambling to their phones to clear their schedules for next week.

Sweeping Beauty. That was more than a victory, folks, that was a runway strut. A home run. Another home run. Great starting pitching. Great relief pitching. The Tigers kept coming, posing, displaying this, displaying that, the whole arsenal of a complete baseball team, until the final pop out of this 8-1 clincher Thursday at Comerica Park. Then, once the fireworks melted into the sky, they raced off the field, toward the bright lights of the biggest stage in baseball.

“We did it!” Cabrera hollered into a microphone.

Can’t argue with that.

Sweeping Beauty. After a soggy dress rehearsal the night before, Detroit disposed of the mighty New York Yankees on a dry afternoon that turned to a crisp evening, faster than you could say, “Where do I buy World Series tickets?” Four games. Four victories. This against the team with the best record in the American League?

Yep. Detroit, which never trailed in this American League Championship Series, is in the Fall Classic now - first in, we might add - enjoying a postseason sweet spot that’s as comfy as a couch by a fire. The starting pitching is playing beyond its billing. There’s timely hitting and surprisingly solid defense.

The Tigers won five straight in this postseason, and, if you subtract Jose Valverde’s microwave meltdown, they have surrendered exactly two earned runs in those five games.

The Tigers won five straight in this postseason.

If you subtract Jose Valverde’s microwave meltdown, they surrendered exactly two earned runs in four games against the Yankees.

“We’re gonna have to talk about those two earned runs,” manager Jim Leyland joked after the victory.

Sweeping Beauty. Yankees go home What a finish. The rain that postponed Wednesday night’s game seemed only to cleanse the daylight for this Tigers coronation. Right from the start, Detroit seemed ready to pounce. And player after player stepped up to the moment.

Here came starter Max Scherzer, striking out four of the first six batters he faced.

Here came Delmon Young, who had knocked in the game-winning or go-ahead run in the previous three games, doing it again with an RBI single in the first inning.

Here came Cabrera, the Triple Crown winner, with a lofty two-run homer to crack open a big lead, and Jhonny Peralta, who came to the forefront of age in this series, following with a two-run blast of his own that put the game safely in Detroit’s pocket.

And finally, here came Coke, the Accidental Closer, finishing his third winning game in as many tries and slamming his glove down so hard, it drew a celebration penalty from an NFL referee.

By the end of this game, the Tigers had four home runs, a postseason franchise record 16 hits (eight of the nine starters had at least one) and Detroit had turned the Big Apple into Big Scrapple.

“We didn’t swing the bats,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said after the sweep. “It wasn’t one guy, it was a bunch of guys. And it’s hard to win when you don’t score runs.”

I wouldn’t want to be a Yankees fan Friday morning. Three times since 2006 the Tigers have taken out the biggest payroll in baseball. And it seems to be getting worse. By the fourth game of this series, Derek Jeter was missing (injured), Curtis Granderson was missing (benched), Alex Rodriguez was missing (benched and hounded by the media for supposedly flirting with two female fans during Game 1) and the lone reliable superstar, CC Sabathia, would soon be on the dugout bench, staring into space.

The Yankees, remember, had been waiting for Sabathia to shine the light; instead, he was as dim as the rest of them. The dominating left-handed pitcher, last seen throwing a complete game to end the division series against Baltimore, surrendered six hits and two runs in the first three innings.

And then came the fourth. On his 82nd pitch of the game, Sabathia hung a ball over the middle of the plate that Cabrera sent out for a two-run blast.

On his 92nd pitch, Sabathia did the same to Peralta.

At that point, the score was 6-0. The crowd was on its feet. The Tigers slapped fives in the dugout. And New York, as Hemmingway once chronicled, was seeing Death in the Afternoon.

“If somebody would have told me we’d sweep the Yankees in this series,” Leyland said, “I’d have told them they were crazy.”

Did you see the crowd after this one?

It looked pretty crazy.

Sweeping Beauty. A Coke and a Smyly. How about Scherzer? Pitching after Justin Verlander easily can leave you overlooked. But Max’s strikeout ability is fantastic (he had 10 on Thursday in 5 2/3 innings) and he certainly seems over whatever health hiccups he had late in the year. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. And he exited to a standing ovation.

Scherzer was one of so many heroes from this short-but-sweep series. There were other obvious stars, like Young, with two homers, six RBIs and a .353 average (the series MVP) and Verlander, who took a two-hit shutout into the ninth in Game 3.

But there are less obvious notables as well, like rookie Drew Smyly, who held the Yankees scoreless in the 11th and 12th innings of Game 1, after Valverde and New York karma threatened to steal the night.

Think about if Smyly gives up a run instead and the Tigers lose that game. They go demoralized into Game 2. Maybe they come home down 0-2 and in a must-win position. It was only two innings, but you cannot understate what Smyly did. And if that weren’t enough, on Thursday, in the sixth inning, he got A-Rod, pinch-hitting, to pop up and end the biggest scoring threat the Yankees had all day.

Sweeping Beauty. How about Coke, who threw the slider of his life in Game 3 to strike out Raul Ibanez to end the 2-1 game? And there he was Thursday - with the crowd yelling “SWEEP! SWEEP!” - closing this one out, and later marching around the stadium with his baby in his arms, taking in the cheers. Phil Coke? Crowd hero?

How about Leyland, who not so long ago was answering questions about why his team still was trailing the White Sox? The Tigers have played better baseball than anyone these last couple of weeks. Leyland navigated the bumps and the splashes. He held the rudder when the Tigers needed a Game 5 against the Athletics. He kept his cool through the whole Valverde thing. He resisted the urge to jiggle and wiggle his lineup.

“I just reminded everybody when we took our punches all year, you know what? Let’s just wait till the end,” Leyland said. “And then, if we have underachieved, I will be the first one to admit it.”

Underachieving is no longer a relevant word. The Tigers are where many predicted them to be, and where every other team wants to be, in the Final Two. Thursday was an exclamation point, a rallying cry for a team going to its second World Series in seven seasons and its 11th in franchise history.

As the players celebrated, a 44-year-old song blasted across the loudspeakers, the one that underscored the 1968 championship.

We’re all behind our baseball team

Go get ‘em Tigers

And everything new is old again.

Sweeping Beauty.

Hope you didn’t have plans for next week.

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