Yesterday afternoon, I got the gift of attendance at Game 5 of the Detroit Tiger's baseball quest to make it to the World Series. My friend, Sally called and had an extra ticket. Did I want to go with them? Are you kidding? But its Standing Room Only. Are you kidding, I don't care, and yes count me in.
And so we met at Sally's on noon of a Thursday. The day before the game had been delayed over two hours due to rain and so the game could go off uninterrupted. It still managed to mist on and off throughout the early evening and most of the fans and spectators looked wet and miserable. I'm guessing losing another extra inning game against Texas didn't make them any happier. I debated what to take to wear as rain was still in the forecast though the morning here had been dry if cloudy. I finally took an extra sweater, rain coat and rain poncho, deciding I would decide when I got to Comerica and viewed the Detroit weather up close and personal.
Five of us headed to Detroit. Sally, me, her daughter, son in law, and his son. We were a disparate but happy group. Upon parking and walking to the ball park, we talked to ushers about where the SRO spots were and then decided where we wanted to stand in the great areas surrounding the diamond. Getting there over two hours early allowed us to pick where we wanted to stand. We chose a shoulder high wall on the top of the bottom section down the third base line. From where we stood we had a great view of Justin Verlander pitching and the batter, catcher and umpire. We staked our claim by standing in the spot and spent the intervening two hours, going singly or in two's to get beer, use the bathrooms and of course get ball park food, leaving at least 3 to keep our spots.
The stands looked slightly empty in this do or die game for the Tigers and Detroit and the larger state of Michigan, but by the time the National Anthem was finished, the stands were full and we were all ready to rumble. JV didn't have his best stuff and that was evident in the first inning when Texas scored on a couple of hits. Our turn came and we went down, 1,2, and 3. Manager Jim Leyland had pretty much the same line up just tweaked here and there by moving some around, nothing major. We all hoped that we could somehow keep Texas at bay while waiting until we could score. The atmosphere was electric but there was an air of trepidation because this was it for Detroit. Win or go home for the winter.
I went out for a bathroom run and to stop for a beer. While waiting in line, a roar went up from the crowd, and sure enough I had missed a home run by Alex Avila, our poor, beat up catcher. His first of the playoff series, in fact pretty much his first hit. Before I could get to the counter another roar went up and another hit. When I got back to our spot, I was told I needed to go on a beer run every time we batted. I told them the beer was too over priced for that to happen, but I did practice turning away at key times and come the 6th inning after we had gone a run ahead, we broke the game wide open. A single by Raburn, a double by Caberra, a third base line grounder that should have been a double play but hit the third base bag and took a wicked hop right over Beltrie's head. Next up "V-mart" took an at bat to be proud of and ended up hitting a ball into the right field corner, a diving Cruze couldn't come up with. A triple and then Delmon Young with seemingly no effort put one over the wall. So, a single, a double, a triple and a homerun to cap it off. Four runs and an add on homerun in the 7th had us up 5 runs going into the 8th. JV took the mound with an already high pitch count into the over a hundred pass, and getting two outs, allowing a single and then Cruze, the newly minted Tiger killer with two strikes put one out of the park, shaving our lead down to 3 runs. Justin was pulled and Phil Coke came out to be the relief and would be the set up man and the closer for this game. The 9th inning came and a tense couple of batters as Coke battled through a homerun, now we had just a 2 run lead, a man on and the tying run up to bat, but he got the ground out. Comerica erupted....
What are the memories from this magical win that allowed the Tigers and all of us to smile another day and hope for a few more minor miracles from our beat up, "Boys of Summer". I will remember the people stopping in their travels across our path at the wall and smiling when a hit was made or the roar of the crowd signaling a homerun. The waving white towels we were given, and the usher, gleefully high fiving all of us after every run was scored. High fives were everywhere. Paws, the costumed Tiger mascot, stopping and allowing picture after picture and a pat on the head for me after. The "Tiger girls" who worked the crowds, cheering us on to cheer on our Tigers and handing out smiles and Verlander capes at the end of the evening. People laughing and talking to one another. The wonderful gentlemen behind us with the season ticket seats who warned us to keep our eyes on the lefties batting as their foul balls would land right in our vicinity, and many did come close though no real cigars to catch. The nice young man I stood next to from Grosse Pointe, quiet and alone, he none the less, smiled and laughed along with our crazy group.
We hung around to see the crowds disperse after, happy and tired. We watched the ground crews come out and took final pictures of the huge scoreboard lit with the next game, date and time in Texas. We knew we had encountered a magical time. The night had remained mild and rain had held off until we walked back to the parking ramp, our Tigers had won, and while we knew it was still an uphill battle to win two games in Texas, we were given that chance.
As Victor Martinez said later that night, "what have we got to lose?" Indeed what have we got to lose. The Detroit Tigers will play that kid's game of the ultimate stick and ball again, and as we drove north home through the rain slicked night, we all considered ourselves the lucky ones. We had reached for the stars for that one evening and been awarded one more day...