It took 163 games for it to happen, but the dullest baseball season in recent memory got a jolt to its system with Minnesota’s epic 12-inning, 6-5 win over Detroit in a one-game playoff for the AL Central Divsion title.
And no, I am not just accusing this baseball season of being mind-numbingly dull just because I’m a Cubs fan. There were no real signature moments outside of Mark Buehrle’s perfect game, and just about every playoff race was decided by mid-September. That includes the Central, which was apparently won by the Tigers since Fox Sports has not even been including footage of the Twins in its promos for the ALCS. But somehow, in the final week of the year, everything unraveled horribly for the Tigers.
According to the fine researchers at Stats LLC, Detroit became just the third team in big league history to squander a three-game lead with only four games left on the schedule. But the other two teams that did so — the ’80 Astros and ’82 Brewers — still managed to win the final game of the year to squeak into the playoffs.
For Tigers fans, the question is simple: who the hell can we blame for this? In Game 163, there were plenty of culprits afoot, with an easy argument being that Jim Leyland left Fernando Rodney in the game an inning too long. But the Tigers never should have been playing this game in the first place, so I offer you two other scapegoats: Miguel Cabrera and Fat Todd.
Cabrera is the obvious and most deserving choice. To be out drunk until 6 in the morning with your opponents during the final series of the season — which you ABSOLUTELY MUST WIN — is the very definition of unprofessional. (Unless, of course, you are Snoop Dogg. Or you can channel Max McGee’s hungover magnificence in Super Bowl I. But going 0-for-11 while losing two of three to the White Sox to put yourself in that bind doesn’t really qualify as answering the bell). Cabrera should pay every dime that he earned in 2009 back to Mike Illitch. No matter what he does the rest of his career, his legacy was cemented this weekend.
I’m guessing that just about every Tiger fan alive wishes they could get as many cracks at Miguel as Mrs. Cabrera did when he came stumbling home Saturday morning. But on a sidenote, who the hell were these bartenders that were still serving him? This series was in Detroit! Didn’t they realize the stakes? Did no fans see him out and say “Yo, Miggy, what the f*ck are you still doing out?” Everyone who contributed to this mess that calls themselves a Tiger fan should probably be fired. Or arrested.
Which brings us to Fat Todd. A good friend of mine, Todd decided that he would head to the Tigers-Twins game at Comerica Park last Thursday to see the Tigers clinch the division. Thing is, Todd is not actually a Tiger fan. He just wanted to witness a team clinching a division title so he could check it off his life’s “Great Baseball Events Witnessed in Person” list.
I assured Todd that his presence would most certainly mean that the Tigers would lose that game, which they did — as well as three of the next four games after that, which brings The D to its current sad state. Well, presuming that things could actually get sadder than they already were.
OK, so maybe blaming Todd is a stretch. I just figured Detroit could use a Bartman-figure to ease its pain.
As for Minnesota… well, the Twins have proven what I have long believed: the book “Moneyball” never should have been written about Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s. The true model for building a successful small-market team is the Twins, who have won five division titles since 2002 despite working on a fairly shoestring budget.
It should be noted that there is no team in baseball with a greater home-field advantage than the Twinkies, who have consistently made the Metrodome a house of horrors for anyone who visits. To see how insanely loud the place was on Tuesday night, just watch the video.
The fact that the Twins are doing away with the Dome and heading to an open-air stadium next season makes you wonder if they will still be able to keep up their current rate of success, but we’ll have to answer that question in future seasons. Even though this season is likely to end at the hands of a Yankee sweep, the Twins’ remarkable consistency as a franchise since being rumored for contraction in 2001 is certainly one of the most underappreciated elements of baseball in the past decade.
-Despondent Aubrey Huff photo courtesy of The Detroit News.