Tigers starting to click before postseason

October 1, 2009

The ball shot into the wide, left-center gap and didn't stop rolling until it reached October.

The fans were screaming, the bases were clearing, and Magglio Ordoñez was arriving at second base, a hero in the middle of it all. Yes, the man who had been booed, benched and dismissed by some of the same people who celebrated him as a postseason hero in 2006.

This was perhaps his most important hit for the Tigers since that pennant-clinching home run three autumns ago. This was maybe the biggest at-bat for anyone on the team this year. And this was a very strong hint that baseball observers everywhere — and the New York Yankees — must avoid the temptation to overlook an underdog that now appears destined for October.

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Detroit can clinch the American League Central with a win over Minnesota on Thursday afternoon. The magic number is two, and Ordoñez's recent hitting is a big reason why. He came to the plate Wednesday with the bases loaded and two out in the fifth, and it took only one swing for him to become a hero reborn.

Ordoñez throttled Carl Pavano's first pitch, and, for the Tigers, the timing and placement could not have been more perfect. It went for a three-run double and effectively clinched Detroit's 7-2 conquest of the on-the-brink Twins.

The radar gun at Comerica Park said the pitch traveled 91 miles per hour. That was significant. For most of the season, Ordoñez wasn't pulverizing — or even pulling — average fastballs from average right-handers.

Perhaps that is changing.

"Classic Magglio," Lloyd McClendon, the Detroit hitting coach, said of the crucial double. "If you're a baseball fan, you've got to feel good for Magglio Ordoñez.

"He's one of the most popular guys in our clubhouse. There's no question about that. You get a chill, just thinking about all the time he's put in. I know it's been very difficult for him at times. To see the joy on his face in that inning was nice."