On the 31st of July, the great city of Detroit hosted the most hyped baseball game of the season. Tigers vs. Angels. Verlander vs. Weaver. The two front-runners (at the time) for the AL Cy Young Award squared off on the beautiful green grass of Comerica Park. At the time, us Tigers fans questioned whether we’d win this game. The Tigers were 1-2 in the series so far and were looking for a much needed split, with their ace on the mound.
Since the 7th of May, when Justin Verlander threw his 2nd career no-hitter, every start he had wasn’t a question of whether we’d win, it was a question of how many runs we’d win by. But in this particular game, that wasn’t so much the case. Jered Weaver came into the game leading the majors in ERA (1.79), and had become only a handful of pitchers to face Verlander who had pitched near or on his level this season. We had no idea it would be the turning point for the season.
The final of this game was 3-2 in favour of the Tigers. Two things happened on this day. First off, Justin Verlander set himself apart from every pitcher in the American League as the best pitcher this season. He brought a no-hitter into the eighth inning (which is almost expected) and completely outmatched Weaver and the Angels. Weaver acted childish by becoming upset because of Magglio Ordonez supposedly showing him up, when we all know Ordonez can’t even run well anyways. He then proceeded to throw at Alex Avila’s head and enrage the Tigers dugout and all of Comerica Park. He also proceeded to go 1-2 with a 4.28 ERA in the month of August while Verlander continued to cruise, and hasn’t lost since the 15th of July. Verlander is also guaranteed to win the Cy Young Award now, and is receiving serious MVP consideration.
The second thing that happened on this day was only noticed by die-hard Tigers fans, but in a subtle way. The Tigers got on a roll. Not the kind of roll they’ve been on in the month of September that involves 12 game winning streaks. But the kind of roll that had this city starting to believe that they might just win the AL Central for the first time in franchise history. Their last division title was in 1987, back when they were in the East. Now, they’ve clinched the Central, and are on their way to the Postseason for the first time since the magical 2006 season.
There are a few games you could point to for being the turnaround mark for the Tigers, and the realization of the possibilities of this team. One could’ve been August 21st when Austin Jackson delivered an amazing throw to home plate for Avila to place the tag on Kosuke Fukudome, complete the game-ending double play, and sweep the Indians in a 3 game set to help distance themselves from Cleveland. Yeah, that game could be pointed out.
How about September 3rd against Chicago? Anybody remember that game? On a nationally televised game on FOX, this one included a 8-2 White Sox lead at one point, a rain delay, many fans leaving, and an incredible Tigers comeback for a 9-8 win that could only send chills down your spine. A 3-run ninth inning capped an eventful night at Comerica. Ryan Raburn hit a 2-run shot to tie it at 8, and who else but the “Big Man” Miguel Cabrera hit a monstrous solo shot on the following pitch to send everyone home and the Tigers into a frenzy on the field.
Don’t you see? Other than JV’s gem on May 7th, the 31st of July was when all the magic began to happen for this team. Fans were left thinking “wait, this isn’t supposed to happen to us, what’s going on here?” That’s when we realized that we actually belonged on baseball’s big stage, and that we could actually play with the best, and that we wouldn’t be overlooked this year.
The MLB Postseason starts on September 30th on TBS, and whether the Tigers play the Red Sox, Yankees, or Rays, the opposing team is going to have their hands full. The Tigers have two dazzling pitchers as their 1-2 tandem in Verlander and Fister. Oh and by the way, the Tigers hit lefties well. So should they get to the World Series and play those scary Phillies, guess what? Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are both lefties.
Back in May and June, we never thought we’d be having these kinds of conversations at this time of year. July 31st made it possible.