No Cirque du Trop in this round. No fish tank in right-center, no Catwalk B overhead, no new-age manager wearing trendy eyeglasses and reinventing baseball with sabermetric shifts and conga lines of relievers.
Welcome back to old-school hardball for the American League Championship Series.
In this round, we get a chain-smoking manager who wears rubber-spiked baseball shoes. We get the best home uniforms in all of sports, and all games played in the heart of real American cities. Uncle Bud Selig is also giving us 34-year veteran umpire Joe West and a couple of day games for the kiddos.
Playoff baseball in October sunshine. Imagine.
Tigers-Red Sox. If this were hockey, it would be an Original Six matchup. Too bad Detroit demolished Tiger Stadium in 2009. The ancient yard at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull opened the same day as Fenway in 1912.
Ball clubs from Boston and Detroit have been playing against each other since the McKinley administration (1901), but this is the first time the Red Sox and Tigers have met in any playoff game or series.
How much do I love Detroit and the Tigers?
This much: Watching the A’s and Tigers play in Thursday’s winner-take-all Game 5, was I rooting for a four-day, all-expenses trip to San Francisco? No. I was hoping to go to . . . downtown Detroit. This is when you know your priorities are sports-centric.
There’s much to love about this matchup. Start with the Tigers manager. Jim Leyland is a 68-year-old man who hits fungoes and chain smokes Marlboro Reds. Leyland grew up in Ohio, respects the plight of the hard-working people in his bankrupt city, and once stood up to a cocky young superstar named Barry Bonds.
He is married to a New Englander and has been known to complain about the cost of modern-day college tuitions. He did not read UZR reports to prepare for the Red Sox.
Detroit’s home uniforms are the white tuxedos of sport, but the 2013 Tigers could really use some slimming pinstripes. The Tigers have hefty sluggers who hit homers. In an era of conditioning, they look like a slo-pitch softball team. No six-pack abs; just six packs on the team charter.
They have Miguel Cabrera, who last year won the first Triple Crown since Yaz in 1967. Cabrera is probably going to win his second consecutive MVP even though he is diminished since aggravating an abdominal muscle late in the season.
Here is how Cabrera was described in a recent New York Times Sunday Magazine profile: “He is 6-foot-4 with massive arms and torso, but also a noticeable paunch of fluctuating size and, God bless him, well-articulated man-boobs.’’
The Tigers also feature widebody Prince Fielder at first base and possibly Jhonny Peralta in left field. Peralta is an infielder by trade, but Leyland wants his bat in the lineup and Fenway’s tiny left-field space stands to minimize Peralta’s weakness at the position.
The Tigers also have a couple of lean starting pitchers who can occasionally go nine innings. Justin Verlander (quick, name another professional athlete from Old Dominion) looked like Bob Gibson Thursday, and Max Scherzer is certain to be the 2013 American League Cy Young winner. Check out Scherzer’s eyeballs: the right one is blue, the left one is brown. Right out of a Stephen King thriller.
You’ll recognize Detroit’s shortstop. Jose Iglesias managed to keep his average above .300 after he was sent to Motown in the deal that brought Jake Peavy to Boston. This swap will be debated for the next 10 years, and the 2013 ALCS is going to make an early case for somebody.
You might also remember sweet-swinging switch hitter Victor Martinez. The Sox acquired Martinez for Justin Masterson in 2009, and Martinez delivered the goods before opting for free agency after the 2010 season.
Given the fact that the Tigers and Sox have been league rivals for 113 years, there’s remarkably little pennant-race history involving the two clubs. Through the decades, it’s been rare that both teams are good at the same time.
But the Tigers were a big part of the 1967 Impossible Dream season in Boston.
Along with the Red Sox, White Sox, and Twins, the Tigers were part of a four-team pennant race that was not settled until the final pitch of the regular season. The Sox clinched at least a tie for the AL pennant by beating the Twins early on the final Sunday of the season, then waited in their Fenway clubhouse to see if the Tigers could sweep a doubleheader at home.
Listening to a crackling radio in their home clubhouse, the Sox heard Dick McAuliffe ground into a game-ending double play against the Angels in Motown. Detroit’s Game 2 loss vaulted the Sox into the 1967 World Series against the Cardinals.
Five years later, the Sox and Tigers took it down to the wire again in a battle for the AL East title. Going into the final three games of the season, the Sox went to Tiger Stadium needing two of three to win the division.
Boston’s lineup featured AL Rookie of the Year Carlton Fisk and 20-year-old outfielder Dwight Evans. The Tigers still had Al Kaline and Willie Horton, stalwarts of their 1968 championship team.
The Sox lost the first game of the series when future Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio — a man who made it to Cooperstown thanks largely to his great base running — tripped while rounding third base on a double by Carl Yastrzemski. Portly southpaw Mickey Lolich picked up the win for the Tigers. One night later, the Sox were eliminated when Woodie Fryman beat Luis Tiant.
The Tigers and Red Sox continue to honor their past. Tiant, Fisk, and Evans are still presences around Fenway, and a Yaz statue was dedicated outside Fenway last month. Kaline and Horton will be back in the Tigers dugout when the series moves to Detroit and maybe we’ll see a first pitch tossed by Lolich.
Red Sox-Tigers. It’s baseball. It’s history. And it’s old school. Again.