The Tigers were extremely disappointed by their showing in 2008.
They had, on paper, a team that many thought would run away from the American League---certainly the Central Division. But too many of their key players suffered from dry spells. The result was a 74-88 record and a last place finish.
So as 2009 approached, the Tigers couldn't wait to wash the bad taste of 2008 out of their mouths.
SS Edgar Renteria left via free agency, replaced by slick-fielding but light-hitting Adam Everett. Ivan Rodriguez was traded in July 2008, and his spot was taken by another good field/no hit player, Gerald Laird.
On the mound, the Tigers tried to shore up their rotation in the winter by acquiring righty Edwin Jackson from Tampa for OF Matt Joyce. In the bullpen, the Tigers added set-up man Brandon Lyon, a right-hander signed as a free agent from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
As the season wore on, the moves seemed to work. Slowly but surely the Tigers began pulling away from the rest of the division, despite getting next to nothing from lefty Dontrelle Willis (again) and reliever Joel Zumaya (again) due to mental (Willis) and physical (Zumaya) ailments.
On September 6, a six-game winning streak gave the Tigers a 75-61 record and a seven-game lead on the Minnesota Twins with just 26 games to play. Talk of playoffs heated up.
But the Twins, despite an injury to 1B Justin Morneau, got hot---red hot. The Twins went 13-5 after September 6 to pull within two games of the Tigers.
Then came a key four-game series at Comerica Park, the Twins in town, in the season's final week. The Twins won the first game of a day/night doubleheader to inch within one game of the lead. But the Tigers won the next two games, opening up a three-game lead with just four games to play.
On Thursday, October 1, all the Tigers needed to do was beat the Twins to clinch the division. But the Twins rolled, 8-3. The Tigers' lead was two, with three games to play.
The Twins hosted the last-place Royals and swept them, while the Tigers could only manage to beat the Chicago White Sox once over the final weekend, forcing a one-game playoff in Minnesota for the division title---otherwise known as Game 163. It would become an instant classic.
The Tigers sprinted to an early 3-0 lead but the Twins roared back, edging in front 4-3 in the seventh inning on 34-year-old Orlando Cabrera's home run. But 35-year-old Magglio Ordonez slugged a home run of his own in the eighth inning to tie the game.
In the 10th, the Tigers got a run when Brandon Inge doubled home pinch-runner Don Kelly. But in the bottom of the frame, Kelly misplayed Michael Cuddyer's hit into a triple. Cuddyer would eventually score on a single, re-tying the epic game.
In the bottom of the 12th, Alexi Casilla singled home Carlos Gomez with the division-winning run as the Tigers suffered one of their most gut-wrenching defeats in recent franchise history.
The Twins had erased a seven-game lead after Labor Day to snatch the division from the Tigers, similar to how they did so in 2006. But in 2009, there was no Wild Card for the Tigers to fall back on.
Washburn and Huff were complete busts. Washburn had a bad ankle when he was acquired, and he posted a 7.33 ERA in eight Tigers starts. Huff provided nothing, batting under .200 with just two homers after the trade.
Slugger Miguel Cabrera led the team with 34 homers and 103 RBI, while batting .324. Curtis Granderson broke out with 30 home runs at the leadoff position. Inge slugged 27 homers, though most came before the All-Star break as Brandon battled two bad knees the rest of the way.
Justin Verlander bounced back from an 11-17 2008 to go 19-9 with a 3.45 ERA. Jackson did his job, winning 13 games with a 3.62 ERA. And 20-year-old rookie Rick Porcello chipped in with a 14-9 record and a 3.96 ERA.
More news was made on the final weekend when it was learned that slugger Miguel Cabrera was busted for a domestic dispute in which he was intoxicated. This occurred late Friday night; still, Cabrera played Saturday. Also troubling was the fact that the Tigers appeared to try to cover up the incident.By GregEno
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- Aubrey Huff, Brandon Inge, Curtis Granderson, Detroit Tigers, Edwin Jackson, Jarrod Washburn, Justin Verlander, Michael Cuddyer, Miguel Cabrera, Minnesota Twins, Rick Porcello