Detroit — The Tigers know this race is over no matter what the magic number says. After a 12-5 pounding of the Chicago White Sox on Friday night, the clubhouse sounded like a Las Vegas night club.
Instead of dancing, several Tigers kicked a soccer ball around in the middle of the dressing room and grooved to the beats of disco, salsa and house music.
Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Bryan Pena and Matt Tuiasosopo showed off their best moves. They laughed and joked and showed off for teammates.
They are already celebrating a third straight American League Central Division title at Comerica Park. Officially, the magic number is three after the Tigers beat the White Sox and Cleveland won a rain-shortened game over Houston.
The magic number will be flashed in every newspaper, radio broadcast and television sportscast. This magic number does not matter because this season is not about the Tigers making the playoffs or winning a division title.
It is about winning the World Series.
We knew months ago the Tigers were going to win this division and make the playoffs. They have done it the last two seasons and remain the class of the division. This is an all-or-nothing season for the Tigers.
It is World Series or bust.
Been there, done that
The Tigers are like the Red Wings who pile up victories with little fanfare and admiration. The Wings’ success is based on winning Stanley Cups. Anything short is not good enough. The Pistons went through this stage when they advanced to six straight Eastern Conference finals. Fans were disgruntled with the team because it was not good enough to win another title.
Sometimes success spoils things.
Let me take it a step further. The Tigers shouldn’t even celebrate winning the division outside of a few handshakes and hugs. They’ve been there and done that. This is one of the premier franchises in baseball. When all is going well and they are on their game, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder are top-30 players in the league.
In the last three seasons, the Tigers (273) have won more games than any other American League team, produced two MVPs in Justin Verlander and Cabrera and a Cy Young winner in Verlander. And before the season is done, Cabrera could repeat as MVP and Max Scherzer, who became the league’s first 20-game winner on Friday, could win the Cy Young this year.
However, the Tigers won’t take my advice.
“Hell yeah, we will celebrate,” pitcher Justin Verlander said. “This is a hard season and it is an accomplishment. It is for the older players. You never know when you will be in a position like this. We deserve this.”
Clinching a division title over the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians is not reason to celebrate. When they finish this they should not jump into the center field fountain as the Los Angeles Dodgers did the other day when some jumped into the pool in the Diamondbacks’ stadium. This is a division that the Tigers have been 39 games better than the next best team over the last three seasons.
“We will celebrate but we have a long way to go,” infielder Ramon Santiago said. “There is so much that we want to accomplish. But yeah we celebrate this. This is a long season and you go through so much. At the end you celebrate with teammates.”
I call for a low-key celebration because this is old hat for the Tigers. The focus should be the playoffs and the World Series where the Tigers are just 1-8 in their last two appearances (2006, 2012).
Now if the Lions jump up and beat out Green Bay and Chicago and win the NFC North Division, then they should pop champagne from Ford Field all the way to the Detroit River.
The Tigers are different because they’ve accomplished so much. But you can tell it will be a wild party in Detroit, Minnesota or Miami when they officially put this puppy to bed.
Watching Cabrera head soccer balls to teammates on a rainy night in Detroit was proof of that.