Last night, with the score tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth, Magglio Ordonez, with one swing, put the Detroit Tigers into the World Series for the first time since 1984.

It’s been 22 years in the waiting. Sure, there teams with longer stretches without a title, but few cities are more appreciative of the accomplishment.

We’ve been waiting, relatively patiently, since 1984, the year Jack Morris, Kirk Gibson, Willie Hernandez and the rest led Detroit to a World Series victory, for it to happen again.

I certainly didn’t think it would be this year. Just three years ago, the Tigers lost 119 games — one short of the all-time record, and the team was scored on like Paris Hilton in New York during Fleet Week.

How things have changed. There are only a couple of players left from that demoralized 2003 team, and management has done a bang-up job of filling so many holes that the Tigers looked less like a baseball team and more like a hunk of Swiss cheese wearing an old English “D.”

What was the key? The hiring of manager Jim Leyland, who looks and talks like a hardware store clerk in cleats and a cap, and the acquisition of some key players during the off season by GM Dave Dombrowski, who worked with Leyland during their stints with the Florida Marlins in the late 90′s, made all the difference.

What makes this accomplishment even sweeter for Tiger fans is that, a mere couple of weeks ago, we thought the team was sinking like a tiny kayak carrying Michael Moore and Ted Kennedy. I went to Comerica Park on a cool Thursday afternoon, just a few games before the end of the season and with the division title on the line, and the Tigers made more errors than Captain Hazelwood in Prince William Sound. They didn’t look good at all. I thought that maybe we had the wrong Kenny Rogers on the mound, wondering that perhaps, by cosmic accident, our pitcher was taking the stage at a Vegas casino to sing “You decorated my life.”

The season ended like a bad sexual encounter — so much promise and excitement that quickly culminated in a pitiful, “it’s okay, it happens to everybody.” Several consecutive losses and a divisional title that slipped away on the final game of the regular season would have had the Tigers heads down, but Jim Leyland would have none of that.

Driving home from the game, down Woodward Avenue, passing the intersection at 8-Mile and throwing a wave to Eminem, I must admit that I thought the Tigers were toast. I was comforted in the knowledge that they had even made the playoffs, which was a prospect that was, seven months earlier, seemed unthinkable.

Detroit slipped into the playoffs as a wild card team, and had to play the legendary New York Yankees. After an 8-4 loss in game one, something happened. The Tigers suddenly remembered what had perched them comfortably at the top of the division for the first 2/3 of the season. After the game one loss, the Tigers managed to make a noose out of the Yankee pinstripes, and skillfully executed three straight wins.

Next up, the Oakland A’s had swept the Minnesota Twins, and were looking tough. Well, the Tigers made the A’s look more like D-minuses by taking care of them in four straight.

The Tigers now await either the New York Mets, or a rematch of the 1968 series with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Why so much glee from Motown? Because, dammit, it’s not often that we can say “I’m proud of Detroit,” and we’re going to relish in it for a long time.


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