DETROIT (AP) — Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is spending a lot of his money to chase a World Series title.
Thanks to Detroit’s surge and the Chicago White Sox’s slump, the Tigers have a shot to give Ilitch a return on his investment.
“He’s been trying to bring a winner here and to know the joy it would bring him to win a championship is another driving force,” Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said in a telephone interview Thursday. “In fact, I can’t think of a better one.”
When Victor Martinez had a season-ending knee injury last winter, Ilitch gave Dombrowski the OK to replace him with Prince Fielder even though that meant adding a $214 million contract to the books. That ballooned the team’s payroll to $139.6 million to rank fifth among baseball’s big spenders.
“He’s given us everything it takes to win,” Dombrowski said.
The AL Central champions won eight of their last 10 games while Chicago collapsed, lifting Detroit to the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 1934-35. The Tigers won the division by three games after trailing the White Sox by three games just two weeks ago.
“We’re peaking at the right time as a ballclub,” right-hander Max Scherzer said. “We’ve had our ups and downs this year, but we believe in our talent. It’s all culminating right now at the right time.
“We believe we’re just as good as any team in the American League right now.”
First, Detroit will have to be better than the AL West-champion Oakland Athletics.
The A’s are on a roll of their own, rallying from being 13 games back on June 30 and overcoming a five-game deficit over the last nine days of the regular season to top Texas with a sweep.
“It’s a great story and I just tip my hat to Bob Melvin and the Oakland A’s,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday night after ending the season with a win at Kansas City. “It’s going to be two good teams trying to advance to the big prize.”
The Tigers will host the first of two games Saturday night before the best-of-five series shifts to Oakland.
Detroit might be tough to beat in Game 1 with Triple Crown slugger Miguel Cabrera at the plate and reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander on the mound.
Cabrera hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs, leading the American League in all three statistical categories. He’ s the first to achieve the feat since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
“I got a lot of messages from Venezuela, everyone, my friends,” Cabrera said. “They’re all happy at home.”
Everyone also seems pleased with Cabrera’s choices off the field these days.
On his way to spring training in Lakeland, Fla., last year, Cabrera was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving when he refused to cooperate, directed an obscene gesture at police and even dared them to shoot him, according to authorities in St. Lucie County, Fla.
Two years ago, Cabrera got drunk enough between a Friday night game and the morning to have what police said was 0.26 blood-alcohol reading and a bruised and cut left cheek. Authorities said he got in a fight with his wife, who called 911. He was taken to a police station, where Dombrowski picked him up.
As part of Cabrera’s program to stay sober and out of trouble, former major leaguer Raul Gonzalez has been at his side all season.
“Miguel has worked hard and with a supporting cast, his maturity level has continued to grow and you have to tip your cap to him,” Dombrowski said. “He needs to continue to work on it for the rest of his life.”
Dombrowski also raved about the “tremendous job” Leyland did in the dugout this season in the last year of his contract, but wasn’t ready to talk about whether he’ll be back with the franchise next year.
“We’ll discuss that after the season,” Dombrowski said.