10/15/06 2:00 PM ET
Tigers triumph with a Latin vibe
Hispanic players make impact in ALCS
By Angel Rodríguez / MLB.com
The party in the clubhouse had a distinct Latin flavor, and one only had to take a look back at the previous four games to see how important the Latin players were to the outcome of the series.
The winner of the ALCS Most Valuable Player was Placido Polanco from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
The winning pitcher of the deciding Game 4 was Wilfredo Ledezma from Guarico, Venezuela.
The two most dominant relievers in the series were Fernando Rodney from Samana, Dominican Republic and Joel Zumaya, a Mexican-American from Chula Vista, California.
The hero of Game 2, with a homer and four RBIs, was Alexis Gomez from Loma de Cabrera, Dominican Republic.
The leader on and off the field was Carlos Guillen from Maracay, Venezuela.
The guy behind the plate who handled a dominant pitching staff was Ivan Rodriguez from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico.
And the player that sent the city of Detroit into baseball heaven was Caracas, Venezuela's new favorite son, Magglio Ordonez, who will never have to pay for a drink in the state of Michigan again after hitting one of the most memorable postseason homers in history.
If the Major Leagues needed another example of the impact of players from all corners of Latin America, then this ALCS can be used as a highlight film.
"This is very exciting, and this is the best moment of my life, by far," Ordonez said after hitting two homers in the deciding Game 4, including the game-winner with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning that will send the Tigers to the World Series for the first time since 1984.
"This moment is unforgettable. The city, all my teammates, the manager, the owner, they all deserved this win," Ordonez said.
Even though los Tigres wasted several opportunities late in the game to take the lead, the players had a feeling that they would pull this win off and that Ordonez would be a hero at the end of the day.
"Wow," was all the MVP Polanco could get out of his mouth when asked about seeing Ordonez's homer clear the wall in left field. "Magglio had been looking really good the whole series and he picked the perfect moment to get hot."
Polanco, who battled shoulder injuries late in the season, finished with nine hits in 17 at-bats in the four-game series and played sparkling defense throughout to be the clear winner of the MVP award.
While the strong presence of the Latin players was clearly obvious on and off the field for the Tigers, assistant general manager Al Avila said that the key to the victory in the series was the unity among all the players.
"Obviously, we have a lot of Latins on the team, and they are all great guys, but this is a complete team that was all pulling in the same direction," Avila said. "All the players believe in their teammates and this is one big family."
Avila should know. His father, Ralph Avila, was one of the pioneers of the Latin movement in the Major Leagues as he played a major part in the creation of the Dodgers' academy in the Dominican Republic over 30 years ago.
With Saturday night's win, the Tigers have a little time to rest as they wait on what happens in the National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Mets, two teams that have a roster filled with Latin stars as well.
Amidst the celebration in the Tigers clubhouse, the players said they didn't care who they faced in the World Series because they will be ready to face either one of the two teams.
"Not too many teams can beat us when we are ready to play," said shortstop Ramon Santiago, from Las Matas de Farfan, Dominican Republic. "We need to keep playing as a team, and that is how we are going to win the World Series, God willing."
But the quote of the night might have come from Gomez, who summed up the whole evening while sipping champagne and puffing on a cigar.
"This is a dream come true and not many people get to live this," Gomez said. "Thank God we are here and we are going to try to bring home the World Series title."
With the Tigers earning one of the slots in the World Series and the Mets and Cardinals battling it out in the NLCS, this October Classic will be played to the tunes of reggaeton and with a Latin vibe that will be reminiscent of a Caribbean World Series or a World Baseball Classic.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.