2013 was going to be the year of the Tiger. All the pieces seemed to be in place. They had five batters who hit over three hundred, five pitchers with at least thirteen wins, two AL Cy Young winners, an ERA champion, and the MVP. The Bullpen, which had been a concern all year, seemed to have stabilized ever since Joaquin Benoit had taken over the role of closer. Despite stumbling down the stretch, the Tigers won the AL Central for the third straight year and entered the playoffs as baseball’s most experienced bunch. Their championship hopes seemed to be fading fast after a game three loss to the A’s in the ALDS. Down 3-0 in the fifth inning of game four, their defining moment came. The Tigers rallied to capture the lead in the seventh. Max Scherzer was brought out of the bullpen and, with the Tigers clinging to a one-run lead, miraculously pitched out of a bases-loaded, no out jam. Detroit hung on to win and flew back to Oakland for game five. In a stunning case of deja vu, Justin Verlander shut down the A’s…again. The Tigers went on the road and won a decisive game five…again and went to the ALCS…again. This time it was the Boston Red Sox that stood in the way of the Tigers and the fall classic.
Anibal Sanchez toed the slab for the Tigers in game one. He struggled with his control, walking six but also striking out twelve and surrendering zero hits. Detroit’s pitching staff hurled a combined one-hitter on their way to a game one win. Game two featured Max Scherzer at his very best. Seven innings, two hits, one earned run, two walks, and thirteen strikeouts. Scherzer’s ace performance along with a sixth-inning explosion gave the Tigers a 5-1 lead going into the bottom of the eighth. The Sox were dead in the water. Detroit was going to finish off game two, go back home, complete the sweep and then face off against the Cardinals in the World Series. At least that’s what should’ve happened. In the bottom of the eighth, Jim Leyland got a little too smart for his own good. Jose Veras, Drew Smyly, and Al Alburquerque combined for the first two outs. With the bases loaded, Leyland decided to call upon Benoit for the four-out save. David Ortiz came to this dish and, on the first pitch, parked a grand slam to right field, just out of the reach of Torii Hunter. In the ninth, the Red Sox completed the comeback and walked off the Tigers, knotting up the series at one game apiece.
Like I said before, I have zero doubt that the Tigers would’ve swept Boston if they would’ve held on to take game two. Yes, the Tigers did lose games three and five at home and yes, the Red Sox bullpen only allowed one earned run the entire series, but let’s assume the Tigers bullpen pitches out of the jam in game two. I have a hard time believing that John Lackey, one of baseball’s biggest head cases, pitches the game of his life in game three. Verlander would’ve continued to dominate and the Tigers would’ve captured game three. In game four, the Tigers would’ve rocked Jake Peavy, who is historically one of the worst postseason pitchers the game has ever had. Going up against a hungry Tigers team, Jake would’ve been D.O.A. Detroit would’ve swept to Red Sox and gone to their second straight World Series. The 2013 World Series would’ve been a rematch of ’06. Once again, the Tigers would’ve had home field advantage and once again, they would’ve been the favorite. The biggest concern for Detroit would’ve been a long layoff. But after coming up short and losing focus in two previous World Series, I can’t imagine that this team would’ve suffered the same fate. Verlander wins games one and five, Fister wins game four, Scherzer wins the sixth and final game. Benoit goes one, two, three in the ninth, Victor Martinez wins the MVP, and Detroit parties like it’s 1984.
A world championship in 2013 would’ve changed the entire outlook of the franchise. Jim Leyland would’ve gone out a champion. Brad Ausmus is still brought on as manager but with less pressure to win a World Series. Doug Fister definitely doesn’t get traded. Maybe Max Scherzer takes the one hundred and forty-four million. It’s all a guessing game, and it shouldn’t have been. We have a tendency to glamorize things in sports. No team is ever truly “dominant” all season. Every team has their ups and downs, but no one remembers that if you’re a champion. The ’98 Yankees won one hundred and fourteen games en route to a title. A lot of people would consider them to be the best baseball team in the last half century. Three years later, the Mariners won one hundred and sixteen, but no one mentions them when they discuss the greatest teams. The reason for that is simple, they weren’t champions. If the 2013 Tigers would’ve won the World Series, they would’ve gone down as one of the best teams of all time with one of baseball’s most dominant rotations. As a fan, it’s painful to know what could’ve been. To this day, I’ve never watched the replay of Ortiz’s grand slam. I’ll watch every second up to Benoit’s first pitch, then I’ll turn it off and make up in my mind what happens next. If only it were that easy….
Thanks for reading and I want to wish everyone a happy Fourth of July. What do you think about the Tigers? Do you think the championship window has shut? Tell me your thoughts on Twitter @Castellani2014