Ordonez relishes AL batting crown
Slugger takes first title in fine fashion, going 3-for-4 in finale
CHICAGO -- As Magglio Ordonez readied to step to the plate one last time for the 2007 season, he looked into the stands near the Tigers dugout and saw his family. Even they might have been surprised he was still in the game.
"I saw my wife in the stands," Ordonez said, "and she said, 'Are you going to hit?' I said, 'Yes! I'm going to hit.' "
The American League batting title, his first, was already wrapped up. For all practical purposes, it was sealed on Saturday night with a lead of nine percentage points over Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki and one game to play. He didn't have to do anything to win the title. But to him, that was the point.
"I wanted to play," he said. "I have to play hard, and I have to do my best."
Ordonez finally had won it, and on Sunday, he could relax. He just wanted to go out and play, and he ended up putting up a three-hit performance to finish one of the greatest offensive seasons in Tigers history.
"He deserved it," said teammate Carlos Guillen, who poured a bottle of champagne on his close friend during the team's postgame celebration. "He's the best hitter in the American League."
With his three hits on Sunday, he's a .363 hitter for the year, the best in the Majors since Ichiro hit .372 as part of his record 262-hit season in 2004.
Those, as manager Jim Leyland observed, were two different seasons.
"He gets leg hits," Leyland said of Ichiro. "Well, Magglio doesn't get leg hits."
It's also the best by a Tiger since Charlie Gehringer hit .371 in 1937. Only four players in Major League history -- Todd Helton in 2000, Joe Medwick in 1937, Chuck Klein in 1930 and Lou Gehring in 1927 -- hit for as high an average with at least 28 home runs and 50 doubles in the same season.
"It means a lot," Ordonez said of his crown. "To tell you the truth, I don't know how I did it, but I did it. I can't explain it to you. I stayed focused and tried to get a hit every at-bat."
Of greater significance to Ordonez was what it means for his home country. He's just the second Venezuelan to win a batting title, joining Andres Galarraga. That fact couldn't be missed all weekend, as Venezuelan reporters crowded around him to track the final days of the race.
Whatever suspense was left in the batting race was eliminated in the opening inning, when Ordonez laced a Jose Contreras splitter for a drive that one-hopped the left-field fence for an RBI double. After a third-inning popout to first, Ordonez came back up in the fifth inning with two runners on.
Contreras fell behind with a 2-0 count, then tried for the inside corner with a 2-1 fastball. Ordonez, showing like he has all season that no part of the strike zone is off-limits for him, turned on it and grounded a single through the left side for another RBI.
Though the game was quickly becoming out of reach, the White Sox intentionally walked Ordonez with one on and one out in the seventh. But the way the seven-run seventh unfolded, eight more batters came up after him before the inning finally ended. It meant he would lead off the eighth.
He could've come out, but he stayed in the game for one more at-bat. Sure enough, he got another hit. This one was a line-drive single to right, the kind of opposite-field hit that has helped him make the jump from stellar hitter to one of the best overall hitters in the league.
That hit was enough for Leyland, who gave Ordonez his exit by using Ryan Raburn as a pinch-runner.
If the Tigers had finished their season at home, Leyland might have given Ordonez the opportunity to take an at-bat or two and then go out to a standing ovation. With the game in Chicago, however, it was debatable whether he'd be cheered or booed on his way out.
As Ordonez walked off the field on his way to hugs and congratulations in the dugout, he received an ovation from the remaining fans in the first-base stands. Many, but not all, were Detroit fans who likely made the trip. Some were White Sox fans who gave a show of respect for their former slugger.
"Both from Detroit and Chicago," Ordonez observed. "I wish [the game] was in Detroit, but they came here from Detroit to support me. It was a really big surprise for me."
But then, in many ways, this whole performance has been a surprise for him. He wanted to build off his 2006 heroics, when he drove in 100 runs in the regular season and then etched his name in Tigers history with a walk-off home run in the American League Championship Series.
He won't get a chance to repeat his postseason heroics this October. Short of that, he accomplished everything he wanted and more.
"Anybody who wins a batting title is impressive," Leyland said. "But when you knock in 140 runs or so and basically hit .350 the entire year, it's pretty impressive. Anybody who thinks that this isn't a well-deserved total batting champion is foolish. Period."
The season finished in much the same fashion. Ordonez went into the weekend wanting to hit .360, and he even surpassed that.
"You always have your goals, but sometimes you don't get your goals," he said. "This time I surpassed my goals. It's amazing."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.