I thought I had jinxed the Detroit Tigers by writing this tribute to their amazing turnaround following their dreadful 2003 season. When I wrote the piece, they were playing .667 baseball and had the best record in the game. Almost immediately, they went into a tailspin and blew a massive lead over the Minnesota Twins, who overtook them on last day of the season after the Tigers lost three straight to the lowly K.C. Royals.
The Tigers thus limped into the playoffs as the wild card team, and had to face the mighty New York Yankees. After losing the first game, they fell behind 3-1 in the second. But from that point on they shut-down the Yanks and their star-studded lineup, and won three straight games in the pocess. The Yankees went 20 innings without scoring a run, breaking through only after Detroit had built an insurmountable lead in the final game.
The Tigers now face Oakland, victors in three straight over the Twins (sorry, guys). This is a rematch of the 1972 AL Championship series. That year, an over-the-hill Tiger club, inspired by Billy Martin, won the old AL East with a record of 86-70. They benefited from a little remembered quirk — in a strike-shortened season, the Boston Red Sox, with a record of 85-70, were not allowed to play the extra game (whom would they have played?) they needed to catch the Tigers.
In the Championship series, the Tigers extended the powerful A’s to five games (the max in those days). The A’s won the decider 2-1. As I recall, Reggie Jackson scored the tying run by stealing home. He injured himself in the process and missed the entire World Series. The A’s nonetheless upset Cincinnati to win the first of their three straight championships.
Oakland and Detroit seem more evenly matched this year, but we’ll be lucky if they produce a series as exciting as the one 34 years ago.
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