10/12/06 1:30 AM ET
Tigers coming around at perfect time
Collective effort has club in enviable ALCS position against A's
On Wednesday night at McAfee Coliseum, the Detroit Tigers just won their fifth straight game in the postseason, 8-5, over the Oakland Athletics. It was not an overwhelming performance, but it certainly was a winning performance, and it was a performance in which everybody who was asked to do something said, all right, I will.
The Tigers have not only taken a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series, they have taken that 2-0 lead on the road. In the 21-year history of the best-of-seven Championship Series format, eight previous teams have taken 2-0 leads on the road. They all advanced to the World Series.
To say that things are going well for the Tigers would be to greatly understate the case. Perhaps one of the best things about this club is that it is the furthest thing from a one-man gang. It is a 25-man crew.
Placido Polanco is on base every time you look up. The Tigers moved him to third in the lineup on Wednesday night, replacing the injured Sean Casey. No problem, three hits. Craig Monroe had clutch at-bats on Wednesday night. Curtis Granderson continued to contribute. And Alexis Gomez came from deep on the Detroit bench to get a start as the designated hitter, and he responded by hitting a crucial two-run homer in the sixth.
Gomez was sent down to the Minors twice this season. But Tigers manager Jim Leyland saw the power and the possibilities, and he gave Gomez a shot when it mattered most.
"He's got big-time power," Leyland said on Wednesday night. "Unfortunately, he showed most of it in batting practice. But in fact, I guess I can kid about it now. I told him, 'It's a 5 o'clock game, and that's when you hit most of your home runs normally, so I'm going to play you tonight.' He came through pretty big."
"I know it's a joke," Gomez said of Leyland's comments. "Today, they give me the biggest chance I had in my life, in my career. I think I did my best for the team. I've been in that situation where I go down, I come up, but I never put my head down. In all the time that I [had] sitting down, I said, 'I've got to be ready for you when you need me.'"
The Tigers were down twice early. Big deal. They came back immediately. This team shrugged off a five-game losing streak at the end of the regular season. Being behind by a run or two is barely a bump in the road for them.
When it came time to protect a late lead, the Tigers did not have the invaluable services of Joel Zumaya and his 103-mph heat.
"Joel Zumaya's forearm was a little tight and I chose not to use him tonight, and that's why you didn't see him," Leyland said.
Zumaya's absence made no difference, either, because Fernando Rodney, given the eighth to pitch in Zumaya's stead, came in and struck out the side. Throw in one strikeout by Jason Grilli in the seventh and two by Todd Jones to start the ninth, and the Tigers had a League Championship Series record for consecutive strikeouts with six.
"Once you fall behind against their club with their arms, it makes it tough," said A's manager Ken Macha. "They've got a very powerful bullpen out there.
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"Even without Zumaya there, the bullpen is formidable. Not only do they have a good bullpen, but they've got depth. All the guys are good."
The Tigers are clicking now, seemingly with all 25 portions of the roster.
"The bottom line is the guys in the clubhouse, there's  other guys in there that believe in our lineup and in our bench guys," Monroe said. "These guys have continued to come up with big hits and that's what you're going to have to do in this atmosphere in the playoffs to win games, and that's what we're doing."
This all has the marks of a team that is peaking at exactly the right October moment. This may have been a team that seemed to be evaporating at the end of September, but that might as well be ancient history now. You don't put five winning performances together in the postseason if you're fretting over what happened in the previous month.
Nothing has been clinched here, but the Tigers have put themselves in the best possible position by getting contributions from everybody who has been asked to contribute. This is one very viable route to October success. It is looking increasingly like October will once again be the season of celebration in Motown.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.