Six years isn’t that long, so I’m sure we can all remember what 2006 was like, right? The last time the Detroit Tigers won the American League pennant before this season?
Let’s review and see how 2012 has in many eerie ways proved to be a mirror image of the ’06 season.
In 2006 the Tigers were a young team with little expectations. They were coming off of a 4th place finish in which they lost more than 90 games.
In 2012, the Tigers are a veteran team who came into the season as the prohibitive favorites to win the AL Central. They are coming off a season where they captured the AL Central crown and won more than 90 games.
In 2006 the Tigers had a new manager, in his first season with the team, a grizzled baseball lifer who hadn’t managed a team for seven years after practically walking out on the Colorado Rockies after a miserable season in 1999.
In 2012, the Tigers have a grizzled veteran manager in his 7th season with the club. He’s resurrected his career after guiding the team to the post-season three times and a winning record in six of seven seasons in their dugout.
In 2006 the Tigers moved to the front of the pack, played great baseball all season long, and had the best record in the game for most of the year. They faltered in September and wasted a lead in the division, making the playoffs as a wild card team.
In 2012, the Tigers played mediocre baseball from April to mid-August, at one stretch going two months (!) without winning two games in a row. Picked by most experts to challenge for the #1 seed in the league, Detroit finally caught the White Sox to win the division title with less than a week to go in the season.
In 2006 the Tigers first baseman was a guy named Chris Shelton, a red-headed minor league veteran who nobody really expected to do anything. He got red hot and belted 10 homers in April.
In 2012, the Tigers first baseman is a dreadlocked superstar named Prince Fielder who signed a 9-year, $214 million contract. After struggling a bit to acclimate himself to the American League, Fielder made the All-Star team and won the Home Run Derby.
In 2006, the Tigers faced the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series and the Oakland A’s in the ALCS.
In 2012, the Tigers faced the A’s in the ALDS and the Yankees in the ALCS, an exact reverse of ’06.
In 2006, in the ALCS, the Tigers beat up a star closer in Huston Street, walking off to a pennant-winning victory on Magglio Ordonez’s home run.
In 2012, in the ALCS, it was the Tigers who had closer problems, with Jose Valverde blowing a save in Game One when he surrendered a homer to Yankee Raul Ibanez.
In 2006, the story for the Tigers in the playoffs was the performance of their young, hard-throwing bullpen that featured rookie Joel Zumaya.
In 2012, the story for the Tigers in the playoffs has been the glittering performance of their starting pitchers.
In 2006, the Tigers pitcher in Game One of the World Series was a rookie named Justin Verlander. He pitched okay, but was obviously fatigued and a little overwhelmed in that spotlight. He went 1-2 in the post-season with an ERA over 5.50.
In 2012, the Tigers pitcher in Game One of the World Series will be a guy named Justin Verlander. He won the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player Award in 2011, and has pitched like the best pitcher in baseball in the post-season, going 3-0 with an ERA under 1.00.
In 2006, the Tigers squared off against the St. Louis Cardinals, a wild-card team, in the World Series.
In 2012, it’s possible that the Tigers will once again face the Cardinals, who are again a wild-card team. (Some things haven’t changed that much).
Yes, there are some crossovers from the 2006 team and the 2012 club. Verlander is still here and he’s matured into the best pitcher in baseball. Leyland and infielders Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago are back in the Fall Classic as they were back then. This time, Infante is a starter, whereas in ’06 he was a utility player.
The record books show that the ’06 team lost the World Series to the Cards in five games. What would a mirror image be of that result? A title in five? Tigers fans will take that sort of reflection.