Milestones all around in Tigers' victory
Ordonez takes title, Polanco hits 200, Granderson attains .300
CHICAGO -- When Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett passed away in Spring Training of 2006, Tigers manager Jim Leyland met with his players before their morning workout and gave them a speech about what it means to be a good teammate.
Eighteen months later, this is what it means.
On a day when all the Tigers had left to play for were individual honors, they made it a team celebration. One by one, the honors fell. Each time, the dugout went crazy, hugging players as they walked off the field and slapping hands on their way to a 13-3 victory over the White Sox.
Short of a playoff berth, this is about as big a day as the Tigers could have to end their season.
"It might've been the strangest day ever," Gary Sheffield said. "I'd never seen so many guys do something on a particular day that could've been done two days ago. Just to do all these types of things, it was just crazy."
They knew that Magglio Ordonez would be finishing up a batting title, the first of his career. They were expecting that Carlos Guillen could get to 100 RBIs and Placido Polanco would slap out his 200th hit of the season. They were hoping that Curtis Granderson could get the hit or two he would need for a .300 average, and they wanted Sean Casey to end his Tigers tenure with a base hit.
Mike Rabelo's first Major League home run, well, that wasn't on the itinerary. But that made it an even bigger day.
"The thing I liked about their reaction," Leyland said, "and it sounds corny, but they reacted the same for Polly. They reacted the same for Carlos. They reacted the same for Magglio. And also the same for Rabelo. That's how I know we've got good teammates. It's pretty impressive."
Even if Ordonez had gone hitless on Sunday, Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki would've needed at least seven hits in as many at-bats to pass him. But once Ordonez doubled in Granderson with a double in the opening inning off White Sox starter Jose Contreras (10-17), the hitless part was out.
As if for effect, Ordonez added two singles to put a punctuation mark on his incredible season. The digits after the punctuation were all the more impressive; Ordonez's .363 average for the year is the highest by a Tiger since Charlie Gehringer batted .371 in 1937.
It ended a batting race that Ordonez commanded for much of the season. Behind Ordonez and Ichiro, however, was Polanco, whose career-best .341 average earned him a third-place finish. If not for Ordonez's season, Polanco would've owned the highest average by a Tiger since Alan Trammell batted .343 in 1987.
Once Polanco lined a single into right field in the third inning, he had his first 200-hit campaign. He teamed with Ordonez as the team's first pair of 200-hit players since that aforementioned 1937 season, when Hank Greenberg, Gee Walker and Pete Fox joined Gehringer in the club.
Once he got it, it wasn't so much the feat as the response.
"When you retire, that's what you take home with you, your friendships," Polanco said. "My friends, my teammates showed that they really wanted me to get it so bad. They stood up, and when I got the base hit, [Chicago's Paul] Konerko told me at first base, 'I can tell your teammates don't like you.' Because everybody was up in the dugout cheering for me. I started crying."
Two batters later, another feat brought him home. When Guillen drove a 1-1 pitch from Contreras into the right-field seats, he had triple digits in RBIs for the first time in his career. He also became the first Venezuelan shortstop to reach the mark, marking his name in his country's rich baseball history.
"It's big," Guillen said, "because it's big for the family, for Venezuela. I'm very happy."
Because Granderson has accomplished so much in his second full big league season -- he was the first since Willie Mays with 20 home runs, doubles, triples and stolen bases until Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins tripled on Sunday to join the club -- his quest for a .300 average had gone largely unnoticed. But it had been an ongoing flirtation. His average in September was never lower than .296, and never higher than .305.
After going 1-for-4 on Saturday, it was down to .299.
"I didn't think too much of it until the last couple of days," Granderson admitted. "A lot of people were talking about it. And then, after yesterday, I was hoping I had enough at-bats to still be at the .300 mark. Sure enough, my first at-bat, I'm able to see the board and it says .299, so I've got to get one."
A 1-for-3 performance would have rounded it up to .300, and it seemed likely once he lined a single to left in the opening inning. After popping out to short in the third, Granderson removed any lingering drama when he beat out a ground ball to third base, then added a solid line drive to right in the ninth.
"Got that one, even though it wasn't the best," he said. "And then the second one wasn't a smoked ball, but they're still hits. [I] finally got the best with the last one off a lefty, to carry that confidence, hopefully, into the offseason."
Rabelo's quest for a home run was also a lengthy pursuit, but it was more to avoid the abuse the rookie backup catcher was taking from teammates. Before the game, he received Ordonez's permission to pick out a bat from his bag to take to the plate. He got a hit out of it, a ground-ball single to right, but he needed something more.
"It felt heavy. It's a big bat, man," Rabelo said. "So I used the smallest bat I had, choked up and just hit a ball right in my swing path."
It was a first pitch from Mike MacDougal, and it was a no-doubter into the right-field seats near the Tigers bullpen.
The relievers all but begged the fan who had it to give it to them so they could hand it to Rabelo once the dugout was done mobbing him.
"It was relief more than anything," Rabelo said. "Everybody can leave me alone. [Infield coach] Rafael Belliard said I'm one behind him now. Lord knows I've wasted enough at-bats trying to hit one."
All in all, it was a good day. It wasn't the ending that the Tigers wanted, because they're still going home, but it was a reward nonetheless. And to Leyland, it was a lesson about his club.
"It's pretty impressive," Leyland said. "We'll see how it all works out, but they've learned what it is to be a good teammate."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.