10/12/06 10:45 PM ET
Polanco brings postseason pop
Casey's absence pushes infielder into greater offensive role
By Jack O'Connell / MLB.com
Polanco was moved into the three-hole to replace Sean Casey, who will likely be out for the rest of the series because of a torn left calf muscle. The third spot is usually reserved for a club's best hitter, which is precisely what Polanco has been in games against Oakland.
This postseason has been a showcase for Polanco, who had three more hits in Game 2 to lift his average in the playoffs to .440. Polanco's continued assault on A's pitching followed a regular season in which he batted .516 with a double and seven RBIS in 31 at-bats against them. That improved Polanco's career numbers against Oakland to .493 with two home runs and 12 RBIs in 67 at-bats.
"Tough at-bats," Polanco said, trying to explain his remarkable success against a tough pitching staff. "Not giving up any at-bats, except that last one -- no, I'm just kidding. If you have tough at-bats, you can make it hard on any pitcher."
Polanco's fifth plate appearance, a strikeout by Huston Street, was the only time he was retired in the game. Polanco got the Tigers' first hit, a single with two out in the first. His second hit, another single, started the fourth in which the Tigers scored four runs to regain the lead, 4-3. He singled to right in the fifth, but was erased on a double play. In the seventh, after Neifi Perez advanced Curtis Granderson to second with a sacrifice, Polanco was walked intentionally.
Polanco considers his contributions just part of the mix. He cited the way journeyman Alexis Gomez came off the bench as a good example of the way the Tigers have been able to depend on their entire roster. Gomez, a powerful left-handed hitting outfielder who had been designated for assignment twice this season, drove in four runs with a two-run home run and a two-run single.
"I'm very happy for him," Polanco said. "He didn't get to play much, but he did a great job for us. It shows what kind of talent we have off the bench. Anybody can come in and help us. In the playoffs, if you win a game, everybody contributed. Going up 2-0 is important, but we're not going to rely on that. We turn the page after this game and try to win this series at home. Hopefully, we can get the same kind of pitching we got against the Yankees."
Polanco's value to the Tigers this year was evidenced by how they slid in the second half when he was out of the lineup for 34 games because of a separated shoulder sustained Aug. 15 at Boston. Detroit was 13-21 in those games. Polanco returned for the Tigers' final eight games, but they continued to struggle in losing the last five games of the season to fall out of first place in the AL Central and enter the playoffs as the Wild Card team.
"Polanco is a gamer," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said recently. "He's a catalyst for us and makes a big difference. We're happy to have him back."
Polanco hit .308 with one home run and eight RBIs in seven games the last week of the season to finish at .295 with four home runs and 52 RBIs. With only 27 strikeouts in 461 at-bats, Polanco was the toughest batter in the AL to strike out, averaging one every 17.1 at-bats. Against the Yankees in the AL Division Series, Polanco hit .412 with a double and two RBIs in 17 at-bats.
Not bad work for an athlete who was actually more acclaimed as a basketball player in high school back in his native Dominican Republic. Twice he was named the most valuable basketball player for Santa Clara High School in Santo Domingo. He also played baseball and was an infielder at Miami Dade Community College when he was drafted by the Cardinals.
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Polanco, who turned 31 on Tuesday and still makes Miami his offseason home with his wife Lily, daughter Aide Rose and son Ishmael, played for Cardinals teams that made the playoffs in 2000 and '01. Polanco went to Philadelphia in the July 29, 2002, trade that sent Scott Rolen to St. Louis.
While with the Phillies, Polanco was a teammate in 2004 and '05 with Cory Lidle, the pitcher who was killed in an airplane that crashed into a New York apartment building on Wednesday.
"Very sad news," Polanco said. "I was very sad and a little worried before the game, but I said to myself I have to forget about it for a little bit and just focus on the game. I know his family, his wife and kid. He was a great teammate, a great guy. It was a terrible thing to happen."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.