Detroit rejoices in its first postseason since 1987

Updated: September 25, 2006, 12:43 AM ET
Associated Press

ROMULUS, Mich. -- The Detroit Tigers returned home Sunday night about four hours after they clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 1987.

After drinking champagne and pouring a lot of the bubbly on each other following an 11-4 win in Kansas City, the Tigers soaked up their accomplishment on the flight home aboard the private plane they share with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings.

A four-piece band, plenty of food and drinks and about 100 people -- family and friends of the Tigers along with employees of the organization -- were waiting in a hangar at Detroit Metropolitan Airport to keep the party going well into the night.

"Since we went into that clubhouse in Kansas City, knowing what we had done, I've had the most exciting experience of my career," said pitcher Nate Robertson, in his fourth season with the Tigers and his fifth in the majors. "We've had a good time, we're going to keep having a good time, and I'm glad we've got the day off Monday."

Detroit is assured of at least the AL wild-card berth and has a 1½-game lead in the AL Central heading into the final week of the season -- a homestand that starts Tuesday night against Toronto and ends with the Royals on Sunday.

"This is a wonderful feeling -- pure jubilation," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said.

The Tigers (94-62) regained the best record in baseball by winning seven of 10 games, ending talk of a possible collapse that was sparked by a slump that lasted longer than a month.

Just three years ago, they lost an AL-record 119 games and were 71-91 last season leading to the firing of manager Alan Trammell and hiring of Jim Leyland.

Leyland helped Florida win the World Series in 1997 and led Pittsburgh to three straight division titles in the early 1990s while picking up two NL Manager of the Year awards. The veteran manager is credited with Detroit's turnaround but deflected praise to owner Mike Ilitch, Dombrowski, his players -- and Trammell.

"You can't forget Alan Trammell and his staff," Leyland said. "My staff got to cut the yellow ribbon, but everybody else did the work."

Leyland wanted to enjoy celebrating, putting off any discussion about the balancing act of going for a division championship while resting his banged-up players and setting up his rotation for the postseason next week.

"I'm going to wait till Tuesday," he said. "We'll have a pretty good plan."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press