Detroit spent over a decade in the baseball wilderness. The team had not experienced a winning season since 1993. Ten years later, they set an American League record with 119 losses. In 2006, the team came from nowhere to make the playoffs. After defeating the Yankees in the Division Series, they swept the Athletics to clinch the franchise’s tenth pennant.
The media celebrated the “Moneyball” Athletics for the team’s ability to contend despite a small budget. However, the A’s have yet to win a title. In 2006, the Tigers downed the A’s in four straight in the ALCS. Brandon Inge set the tone with a third inning home run off former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito. Magglio Ordonez added a two-out RBI single for a 2-0 lead. The Tigers blew it open in the fourth with three runs. Oakland continued to threaten, but went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Detroit won the game 5-1, but lost first baseman Sean Casey with a leg injury. He would not return until the World Series.
The Tigers started rookie right hander Justin Verlander in Game 2 against the A’s Esteban Loaiza. The Athletics’ starter surrendered seven runs with Alexis Gomez hitting a key sixth inning home run. Verlander struggled surrendering four runs in 5 1/3 innings, but got the win. Todd Jones allowed three hits in the ninth, but no runs, and Detroit took a two-games-to-none lead with an 8-5 victory.
Detroit won Game 3 behind Kenny Rogers. Although the final score looked close, the A’s were never in the 3-0 contest. The Tigers ambushed Rich Harden with two in the first. Craig Monroe homered in the fifth to cement the victory. Rogers proved unhittable for the second game in a row. He allowed two hits in 7 1/3 innings. Jones and Fernando Rodney finished up for a commanding three-games-to-none lead.
Despite the large deficit, the A’s refused to roll over. The Red Sox came back from a three-games-to-none deficit in 2004 against the Yankees. With that example in mind, they raced out to a 3-0 lead on Jeremy Bonderman and the Tigers. The Tigers rallied for two off Dan Haren in the fifth. Ordonez tied the game with a solo shot in the sixth. The game remained tied until the ninth. Huston Street entered the game in the seventh to keep the A’s season alive. With two out in the ninth, Monroe and Placido Polanco singled. Detroit needed a hit to win the pennant. Ordonez came to the plate and launched a Street pitch into the darkness for a three-run walk off home run. It was the first pennant clinching walk off since Aaron Boone in 2003. It was the first Tiger pennant winning home run since Hank Greenberg in 1945.
Ordonez’s blast made the Tigers the fourth American League franchise with ten pennants. Placido Polanco was named ALCS MVP with a .529 average and 1.167 OPS. Craig Monroe hit .429 with a home run, four RBI, and 1.286 OPS. Brandon Inge went 4-for-12 for a .333 average with a home run, three RBI, and 1.104 OPS. Curtis Granderson also hit .333 and had a 1.140 OPS. The Tigers hit .285 as a team compared to Oakland’s .221. Kenny Rogers led the pitching staff with 7 1/3 scoreless innings. Todd Jones saved two games.
The Tigers won their first pennant since 1984, but lost the World Series to a weak Cardinal team. However, that does not discount the amazing turnaround. The team lost 119 games in 2003 and rebounded for an amazing 2006 season. The Tigers would not return to the postseason again for five years.