There will be time for more specific analysis and commentary in the weeks ahead but with a win on Sunday, the Tigers secured their fourth straight American League Central crown. It wasn’t as easy as 2011 or 2013 and it wasn’t as spirited as 2012, but they saw it through to the end. The Tigers are going back to the postseason, starting Thursday in Baltimore.
It was certainly a year of transition for the proud franchise with a new manager and a few new cogs in the machine. Some of the changes worked, others didn’t, but the team on balance was always destined for this. A Central Division crown and a shot at a pennant. And a World Series, the goal that’s escaped them for three decades.
Three long decades.
It’s easy to be swept up in the Royals return to prominence but they actually have a more recent championship than the Tigers by a season. The playoffs are a regular event in the Motor City these days, but winning it all is not. They still haven’t won those extra eleven games.
In other words, today’s clincher is a rebirth of sorts. The bottles of champagne will wash away the doubts of the regular season, the consternation over the choices of the front office and the manager, and the general sense of panic to which we’re all accustomed. Man, your college lit professor would eat this up. They’d probably die if it started raining because the symbolism would be too much.
They avoided the coin-flip game and found their way to the ALDS. Sure they could have home-field advantage, but other than that the slate is wiped clean. It’s a chance for this team, this group of players, to make their mark on Tigers history. Only three of them have a ring, so they’re plenty hungry, even if the fans are starving.
I think it’s natural that the fan base in general was a little less happy with these Tigers than the 2011, 2012, or 2013 versions. Change is difficult and accepting a new cast of characters during a less than stellar summer isn’t the easiest thing to do. It certainly didn’t help that the guy we hoped might bring new thinking to the bench turned out to be more reactionary than his one-million year old, cigarette smoking predecessor. It also didn’t help that Nathan acted like a jerk while also pitching like a Double A nobody.
It didn’t help that Cabrera was hurt and Verlander never really got going. There were bright spots, for sure. But on their own, the 2014 Tigers don’t seem destined for a place in the team’s oral tradition. There were some big moments, but not ones I expect to carry with me forever. Yet.
The playoffs are a fresh start and a chance for that all to change. That’s the magic of the high leverage nature of postseason baseball. Everything can become that moment or “The Moment” as we call it at New English D.
The Tigers are eleven wins away, even if it felt at times like a million. It hasn’t been pretty, but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to work.