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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Tigers Walk Off With a Sweep

Ordonez's three-run homer in the ninth beats the A's, 6-3, and puts Detroit in World Series.

October 15, 2006|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — Pretty good night for Magglio Ordonez. All the slugger did, with one mighty swing of his bat, was thrust a downtrodden franchise to its first World Series in 22 years, send a Comerica Park crowd of 42,967 -- and most of Southeastern Michigan -- into delirium, and magically heal the torn calf of his team's first baseman.

What next, Middle East peace?

Ordonez blasted a Huston Street fastball into the left-field seats for a two-out, three-run, walk-off home run Saturday night, lifting the Detroit Tigers to a 6-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics and a four-game sweep of the American League Championship Series.

There was a no-doubt-about-it feel to Ordonez's shot, his second home run of the game and the first walk-off homer in an ALCS clincher since Aaron Boone's blast that lifted the New York Yankees over the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of 2003.

Craig Monroe, whose two-out single to center field sparked the ninth-inning rally, took one glance from second base toward left field and started dancing his way toward third and home.

Placido Polanco, who followed Monroe's hit with a single to right field, which capped a .529 (nine for 17) series that earned him ALCS most valuable player, shot his arms into the air and began trotting from first base.

Ordonez, whose solo shot to left field tied the score, 3-3, in the sixth inning, walked several steps out of the box as he admired his shot, knowing there was no need to hurry. With the stadium quivering with energy and excitement, Ordonez glided around the bases and crashed into a bouncing ball of Tigers at the plate.

And on the Detroit bench, first baseman Sean Casey leapt into the air and didn't feel so much as a twinge in his injured calf, which sidelined him for three games.

"The feeling you have when you see the ball off the bat ... you go numb with excitement and joy," Casey said after the Tigers extended their playoff winning streak to seven games. "It touches your heart. You play your whole career to get to the World Series, and when you see that ball off the bat, you know a lot of guys' dreams are realized."

And what about that calf?

"I didn't feel a thing," said Casey, who expects to return for the World Series. "I feel 100%."

Ordonez, who signed a five-year, $75-million contract with the Tigers in 2005 that was ridiculed by many in the industry, had a tough time finding words to match his feelings. He had two hits in 15 ALCS at-bats before his sixth-inning home run against starter Dan Haren and got all of Street's 1-and-0 fastball in the ninth.

"I wish I could describe that moment for you, but I can't," Ordonez said. "Right when I hit it, it was like, 'It's gone. We won. We did it.' "

With an emphasis on "we." Though Polanco won MVP honors, it was a hero-a-night kind of series for the Tigers, who got three hits and two runs batted in from Brandon Inge and two shut-down innings from reliever Fernando Rodney in Game 1, two hits and four RBIs from seldom-used reserve Alexis Gomez in Game 2, 7 1/3 shutout innings from Kenny Rogers in Game 3 and Ordonez's power surge in Game 4.

"It's been a total team effort, different guys doing it every night," Casey said. "Whether it's the hitting, the bullpen, the starting pitching, the defense ... the chemistry on this team is second to none."

Detroit endured 12 consecutive losing seasons, including a 43-119 mark in 2003, one game short of a major league record for futility, before a confluence of power arms, power bats, superb defense and a new attitude under first-year Manager Jim Leyland pushed the Tigers into the playoffs this season.

As he stood in the infield, soaking in the postgame scene, Inge, one of a handful of holdovers from that 2003 club, was asked what his response three years ago would have been had someone told him he'd be standing in this spot, three years later, celebrating an American League pennant.

"Yeah, right," Inge said. "From where we were in 2003 to where we are now ... it's such a rewarding experience."

Closer Todd Jones spent 4 1/2 losing seasons (1997 to 2001) in Detroit, and while he missed the 2003 debacle, bouncing from Detroit to Minnesota, Colorado, Boston, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Florida before returning to Detroit this season, he knows the depths from which the Tigers have risen.

"When you're the butt of everyone's jokes and the opening line on the Letterman and Leno shows, it makes this night feel pretty good," Jones said. "To be in this clubhouse, with these guys and going to the World Series ... it's almost hard to believe. It's a great honor for me."

In the visiting clubhouse, there were hugs of a different kind, designated hitter Frank Thomas, who was hitless in 13 series at-bats, going around the room, clutching and consoling his teammates.

Milton Bradley, who on Saturday had three hits, including a run-scoring double, and hit .500 (nine for 18) with two homers and five RBIs in the series, sat in front of his locker, his head in his hands, a towel draped over his head for about 10 minutes, before finally standing to address reporters.

"Everybody left it out on the field," Bradley said. "It's tough to get swept, but the Tigers are an outstanding club. I hope they win it all, because if you're going to get beat, you want to get beat by the best."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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