Sweep doesn’t define impact of these Detroit Tigers

Guest Editorial
For the last month, headlines and televised news centered on less-than-inspiring topics: nasty election campaigning, discouraging economic news and troublesome — sometimes fatal — developments on foreign soil.

For Michiganders, though, there was a welcome relief — the Detroit Tigers.

The Tigers were primed to be a runaway title-winner this year, particularly after owner Mike Ilitch opened his checkbook to sign slugger Prince Fielder to join a team that — with stars like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera — had already won the 2011 Central Division title in the American League.

But the summer was more drowsy than inspiring as the talent-rich Tigers struggled at bat and on the field. In September, though, the story changed. The starting pitching upgraded from good to great, and the timely hitting finally made an appearance.

The result was a stretch drive in which the Tigers raced past the fading Chicago White Sox during the last two weeks of the season, winning their second straight division crown. In the meantime, Cabrera batted his way to baseball’s triple crown, leading the league in home runs, batting average and runs batted in. Such a feat had not been accomplished in 45 years and should earn Cabrera his first Most Valuable Player award — and the second straight for the Tigers, as Verlander was last year’s MVP.

Then it was on to the playoffs. Considered one of baseball’s original 16 franchises, this was the first time in 77 years that the Tigers had appeared in postseason play for two straight years.

It started out well — the Tigers ousted the red-hot Oakland A’s in five games. Then it got even better, as Detroit knocked out the hated New York Yankees in a satisfying four-game sweep. That’s the third time in seven years that the Tigers have eliminated the Bronx Bombers.

Detroit fans were excited. The outstanding pitching by the Tiger starting pitchers had most convinced that this year’s outcome would be far different from the 2006 World Series, when the St. Louis Cardinals put down the hometown heroes in five games.

But it was not to be. An outstanding San Francisco Giants team jumped on the Tigers in the first inning of the first game and never let up. Other than Game 1, the Tigers pitched well; the Giants just pitched better. And the Tigers couldn’t hit. They were shut out in back-to-back games — the first time that has happened in a World Series since 1966 — and only scored six runs while finding themselves on the wrong side of a four-game sweep.

Disappointing? Of course. Although it’s a setback, it has to be kept in perspective. The Tigers were for too long a joke in professional baseball, losing 119 games one season, a whisker from matching a low mark for a Major League team.

Those days are well behind the Tigers. They’ve been a relevant part of big-league baseball the last seven years, winning two division titles, two league championships and five of six American League playoff series. Another divisional title slipped through their fingers in 2009 in a thrilling, extra-inning, one-game playoff to break a regular-season tie with the Minnesota Twins.

The fans have responded, putting life into the relatively new Comerica Park in a way that has convinced most old-timers to quit longing for Tiger Stadium. Attendance this year again topped 3 million.

And the Tigers appear to be good guys, appreciative of the privilege of playing America’s pastime in a city that is passionate about its baseball.

The season ended in a disappointing way. But that’s just a moment.

There’s always next year.