Guillen taking it one step at a time
Shortstop's bat, glove a big reason why Tigers moving on
DETROIT -- While the Tigers sprayed champagne all over their clubhouse after Saturday's win to finish their American League Division Series victory over the Yankees, Carlos Guillen quietly stood back in a hallway and answered one question after another. He'd had his fun already.
When the Tigers had taken their playoff celebration onto the field at Comerica Park, Guillen was like a rock star, standing on top of the home team dugout and spraying champagne around to fans in the stands. That's about as close to a star as he behaves. Instead, he simply plays like one.
No matter how many questions reporters asked about his own performance, Guillen wasn't going to say much about his own performance. The only personal satisfaction he allowed himself to take from this was a 5-year-old score he had to settle.
"I'm very happy," Guillen admitted. "When I was in Seattle, they beat us twice in the playoffs. I said, 'This is our time. This is our chance. We've got to take it.'"
The Mariners made the playoffs as a Wild Card team in 2000, Guillen's first full season in the big leagues, but lost in the AL Championship Series to the Yankees. A year later, the M's won 116 games, only to fall one step shy of the World Series again -- and again to New York. Each time, the Mariners became part of the postseason mystique of the Yankees. The face of the mystique is Guillen's counterpart, Derek Jeter, who was on his way to earning his title as the next Mr. October.
It took half a decade and a move back east, but Guillen finally had his rematch against the Yankees. It was Jeter who received the MVP chants during the ALDS, but it was Guillen who played like one on the winning side.
Lost amid Detroit's dominant pitching, Guillen went 8-for-14 at the plate with three doubles, a home run and three RBIs. Guillen was one of six Tigers with three runs scored. He reached base safely in 10 of his 16 plate appearances. It wasn't flashy, but it was the best performance by a Tiger in a postseason series since another shortstop named Alan Trammell was the MVP of the 1984 World Series.
"Unbelievable," Brandon Inge marveled.
It was a lot like Guillen's performance all season.
Guillen has been consistent for just about his entire three years when healthy. Injuries have always been his question. In his first year in Detroit, he became the first player in club history to put up a .300 season, 30 doubles, 20 homers, 10 triples and 10 stolen bases in the same season -- this coming for the same franchise that has such all-around hitters as Ty Cobb, Charlie Gehringer and Harry Heilmann in its history.
After knee and leg injuries hampered Guillen last year, he spent the offseason working out in his native Venezuela, came back healthy and picked up where he left off. He fell one home run shy of a 20-homer, 20-steal season, but he topped 40 doubles for the first time in his career.
Still, when the Tigers reached the ALDS, the talk centered around Guillen's counterpart, Jeter. Their regular-season offensive numbers were very similar, and Guillen actually put up a higher combination of on-base and slugging percentages, but Jeter had the durability edge and the better defensive numbers.
Their offense was just about as similar this series -- both with eight hits and a homer, while Jeter added a fourth double. This time, however, it was Guillen advancing.
"We've got nine guys, not only myself," he said. "We believe in our players. That's the most important. They throw strikes, and we've got nine guys out there trying to make an out, trying to make a play. We've got nine guys out there with bats that can do some damage."
Nobody will tout Guillen as an MVP, certainly not Guillen himself. Yet on the team that advanced past the Yankees and into the ALCS, Guillen is playing a pretty similar role.
"He's a leader," Inge said. "I really look up to him as a fellow infielder. The way he goes about his business, I'm glad to have him on my team. He has led very well."
Now, he's leading them on to Oakland.
"This game is not about where you start, but where you're going to finish," Guillen said. "We celebrate here. Hopefully the next celebration, we're going to celebrate the same way.
"We've got eight more games to win. Every celebration is going to be better. But it's one step at a time."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.