The wait is over, and Detroit is buzzing
DETROIT -- Get ready to be whacked over the head with obvious World Series story lines in the next week. Among other things, you'll be hearing a lot about how Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa are good buddies with a world of mutual respect and how the Tigers and Cardinals both overcame dreadful Septembers to win pennants.
For the record, this is the first time in World Series history that two teams with losing records after the All-Star break are meeting for a title. It's time to scratch that assumption that momentum is a clear determinant of postseason success.
Oh yeah. There's also the big-market, Eastern elitist television angle. The Tigers and Cardinals are perfectly aware that sports fans in New York and Boston are now in full-fledged NFL viewing mode -- not that they care a whole lot.
Although the Tigers and Cardinals both regard themselves as the great unwashed crashing a cotillion, they're markedly different in one respect. St. Louis comes in dog-tired and reeking of champagne, and Detroit approaches Game 1 rested, refreshed and heavily reliant on muscle memory.
The Tigers, who swept Oakland in the American League Championship Series, were home watching on television when St. Louis eliminated the Mets late Thursday night. They were also home as the NL clubs endured a second rainout, as they played Games 4, 5 and 6, and as Mets manager Willie Randolph made the momentous call over whether to give Oliver Perez or Darren Oliver the ball with the season on the line.
"I told my wife, 'It's funny. They only played three more games than us, but it feels like our series was over a month ago,'" Detroit catcher Vance Wilson said. "It was really strange. We had two days off and came back, and we felt like we hadn't done anything in two weeks."
In reality, the Tigers have spent part of the last week rediscovering how it feels to be human beings as well as baseball players. Wilson went shopping with his wife at a local mall and killed some time playing video games at Dave & Buster's. When Adam Wainwright struck out Carlos Beltran to end the National League Championship Series, Wilson was watching on TV at Morton's Steakhouse with teammate Brandon Inge.
The Tigers also have been busy arranging for World Series tickets and family flights. It was a juggling act, given that they had no clue about their upcoming opponent until late Thursday night.
"I feel like a travel agent for the most part," center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "But I'd rather have this stress and pressure than be home with nothing to do."
Will the Tigers be rusty for Game 1? Leyland did his managerial part by coming up with drills and refresher courses to make sure his team stayed sharp. When it rained Tuesday, the Detroit Lions made Ford Field available, and the Tigers worked on bunt plays and pickoffs under the roof. On Thursday, they graduated to cutoffs and relays at Comerica Park.
And when the workouts got boring, the Tigers found ways to raise the stakes. One day this week, the Tigers had two pitchers throwing simulated games. The hitters tossed a few bucks into a hat, Wilson said, and placed a friendly wager on which group could amass the most hits.
Detroit's six days off gave Leyland an opportunity to arrange his pitching rotation to his satisfaction. The Tigers will go with Justin Verlander in Game 1 and Kenny Rogers in Game 2, with Nate Robertson and Jeremy Bonderman to follow in St. Louis. Leyland likes the thought of Rogers going twice at Comerica Park, where he was 7-3 with a 3.26 ERA during the regular season and has 15 straight shutout innings in October.
The Tigers also had a chance to get healthy. Reliever Joel Zumaya, who missed three games in the Oakland series with a wrist injury, is ready to go, and first baseman Sean Casey has made progress from a hamstring injury. Casey is expected to be the designated hitter for the first two Series games in Detroit and to play first base when the games shift to St. Louis.
The Tigers couldn't have been any looser when they arrived for their pre-Series workout Friday. While Jones shared his thoughts on the importance of exercising caution with Albert Pujols, Detroit first-base coach Andy Van Slyke held court on a number of topics. Among other things, Van Slyke cracked a few jokes about Leyland's cigarette consumption.
"You would think the lungs only have so much capacity for smoke when a person is in their 60s," Van Slyke said. "He's got great genetics. If I come up with lung cancer in the next five years, I'm suing Jim Leyland for secondhand smoke."
After 21 years without a World Series, this entire city will be smoking Saturday night. It's hard to imagine Comerica Park getting louder than it was for the ALCS clincher against Oakland, but the locals are working on it.
"This place didn't have a soul until Maggs hit that three-run homer to put us in the World Series," Jones said. "Now, it finally has an identity of its own."
The local fervor for baseball is apparent to the Detroit players when they go around town and see Tigers bumper stickers on cars and so many people -- male and female, old and young -- dressed in Tigers apparel. Granderson appeared at hockey hero Chris Chelios' restaurant downtown for a radio spot Friday, and he had to stop and have his picture taken with more than one fan holding a baby.
Detroit outfielder Craig Monroe picked up teammate Placido Polanco on his way to the park, and he immediately could sense Polanco's excitement about playing his former team, the Cardinals. After so much free time, most of the Tigers are just glad to have a World Series opponent, period.
"I could tell when the guys came in today," Monroe said. "There's a good buzz going around."
The Tigers are a little bit rusty, and the Cardinals just might be a tad hungover. We'll find out starting Saturday which team has the advantage.
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