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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Maybe some of the season's scapegoats had pulled the wool over our eyes

DETROIT —Maybe they did have us fooled, indeed.

With the Detroit Tigers underperforming for much of the regular season as a team, many individuals became targets of fan ire for their respective struggles.

No better time than the playoffs for redemption, as a few of those scapegoats have become the postseason heroes, as the Tigers roared through the American League Division and Championship series.

Delmon Young’s been hitting like the player the Tigers traded for late last season, to add one more bat to the end of the lineup. Jhonny Peralta has been playing stifling defense at shortstop. And Phil Coke, who admitted he wasn’t doing very well at his own job at times, has been stellar being one of the fill-ins for the struggling closer, Jose Valverde.

Even the defense, rightfully maligned for much of the season, has been exceptional.

No one has an answer, necessarily for why the turnarounds have occurred, though.

“I really don’t. I don’t. Things happen, and I wish I could put my finger on it, but I think Peralta, for whatever reason, is moving better. He seems lighter on his feet than he has been all year,” manager Jim Leyland said.

“You know what? Maybe there is some type of a better focus that I missed during the year. I can’t really swear to that. But maybe the focus is a little bit better. But I don’t really have a clear answer for that.”

As much as credit for those kind of turnarounds often go to coaches and managers, sometimes the best traits of those leaders is just to get out of the way.

“I just think that’s their space. I think, you know, you kind of try to orchestrate everything, but I think you give the players their space. You trust your players. You trust their ability. You trust they will have themselves ready to play,” Leyland said.

“And you try to stay out of the way. I mean, they’re the show. That’s the way it is supposed to be. So I try to show them that respect.”

He’s had that trust validated, particularly by his designated hitter.

Young came into Game 4 of the ALCS as the most potent playoff bat, hitting .308 with a pair of home runs in the series — extending his franchise record for postseason runs (seven and counting). His homer in Tuesday’s Game 3, which put the Tigers ahead for good in the game, marked the third straight game he’d recorded the game-winning RBI, becoming the first MLB player to do so in a single postseason, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

He had three homers in last year’s ALDS meeting with the Yankees, making him one of only five players — George Brett, Juan Gonzalez, Duke Snider, David Ortiz — to do so in consecutive postseason series.

And he’s another guy that Leyland just lets do his own thing.

“Delmon kind of beats to his own drum. .... I kind of stay out of his way. We have a very good relationship, but I kind of stay out of his way because he knows much more about hitting than I do, and he knows what pitchers are trying to do to him. And I respect that. He knows guys that he can hit, and he knows guys he can’t hit, and he’s up front about it. And he has a real good plan about how to go about it. And, you know, he’s done a very, very, very good job for us,” said Leyland, who credited much of that knowledge to coming from a baseball family that includes older brother Dmitri, a former Tiger himself.

“Dmitri is a pretty smart hitter. And Delmon is, too. Like I said, Delmon has a pretty good idea, and when he stays in the strike zone, he’s very, very dangerous. You know, most people that get Delmon out is when he is not swinging good, is when he is swinging at stuff out of the strike zone, which happens to most players.”

Young wasn’t necessarily as enmeshed in the fabric of the team a year ago, as he arrived mid-way through August in a trade from the division rival Twins.

This year, he’s much closer to his teammates, although it might not come across to the casual observer.

“He has been phenomenal for us on the field and in the clubhouse. He keeps the mood light. I mean, he’s a good dude. I enjoy Delmon as a teammate and as a person, and I don’t know why it’s really a question,” said Coke, when asked about Young’s personality. “Maybe it’s just because he is good at pulling wool, man, right over your eyes.”


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