World Series bound and all’s forgiven

By MICHAEL J. HAPPY
FOXSportsDetroit.com

DETROIT — How many times did you give up on them, turn the TV off in disgust and spit out expletives along with your bedtime toothpaste?

You can admit it now that they’ve killed off the New York Yankees again and earned a spot in the World Series for the first time since 2006. It wasn’t easy falling or staying in love with the Detroit Tigers this season.

Like a dysfunctional relationship, the peace and harmony never lasted very long because the Tigers’ excellence and flaws seemed to switch places on alternate nights.

For every Miguel Cabrera three-run homer, there was a Ryan Raburn O-fer. For every clutch single by Austin Jackson, there was a Jhonny Peralta double-play grounder. For every sweet Jackson catch in center, there was a Prince Fielder bobble at first base. For every Justin Verlander gem, there was a bullpen collapse.

Plus there was that whole Brandon Inge saga.

Up and down, back and forth, one step forward and one step back.

So it went throughout April, May, June, July, August and even into September. The Tigers never really lived up to their lofty expectations, but were fortunate enough to play in a division, the American League Central, that lacked firepower and kept them in the race.

Suddenly, when all seemed lost after a crushing 5-4 defeat at Chicago on Sept. 17, dropping the Tigers three games behind the White Sox with 16 to play, the excellence started to show up more often than the flaws. While the White Sox went into a free fall, the Tigers finished 11-5 to win the division by three games.

Epic failure averted.

The Tigers got it done, but it wasn’t as easy or pretty as everybody thought it would be when they signed Fielder.

On that cold January day, the consensus opinion about the Tigers — who only months before had advanced all the way to the AL Championship Series — was World Series or bust. Fielder’s bat would more than make up for the one lost in Victor Martinez’s likely season-ending Achilles injury.

Then there was their stellar starting rotation, anchored by AL MVP and Cy Young winner Verlander. It also included Doug Fister, who was lights-out after the Tigers acquired him from Seattle, and Max Scherzer, who had an awkward motion but sometimes looked like an authentic ace.

With the three of them leading the way, and a more seasoned Rick Porcello in the No. 4 spot, the Tigers — on paper — looked like they would score a lot and give up a little.

Instead, inconsistency became their only consistency. Sometimes when they hit, they didn’t pitch. At other times, they pitched but didn’t hit.

And they left men in scoring position … and committed errors at an alarming rate … and closer Jose Valverde, 51 for 51 in save situations in 2011, was far from perfect … and set-up man Joaquín Benoit gave up homers like a handbill vendor in Times Square.

And often you went to bed angry enough to call the best divorce lawyer in town the next morning.

None of it matters now. The Tigers’ rotation, bolstered by the addition of Anibal Sanchez, is exceeding expectations in these playoffs, and they’ve been scrappy and opportunistic enough at the plate to win tight games.

In Game 4 of the ALCS, the Tigers’ offense went kaboom, hitting four homers in an 8-1 rout of the Yankees, completing the four-game sweep.

Making you go to bed happy now, just like on that magical night six years ago when Magglio Ordonez launched a three-run homer into the left-field seats at Comerica Park.

As the Tigers’ 1968 anthem goes, they’re “World Series bound and picking up steam.”

“I said all year long that we got a good team, and at some point in time, we’re going to play good,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Here we are, and we’re still playing.”

Still playing — and finally like a team you can totally fall in love with.