12/27/10 10:00 AM EST
Tigers endure emotional 2010 on, off the field
Near-perfecto, Harwell, Anderson deaths among key moments
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
The tears were still fresh from Harwell's battle with cancer and the touching tribute to his life the Tigers conducted at Comerica Park when fans nearly witnessed perfection on the strength of Armando Galarraga's right arm. Umpire Jim Joyce's missed call made it a more memorable performance than it would've been had it actually turned out to be a perfect game, but the life lesson of forgiveness and learning from mistakes proved timeless.
After all that, there was still two-thirds of a season left to play, not to mention a summer flirtation with a playoff race to play out. Injuries eventually took care of those dreams, but they couldn't diminish the memory of an incredible, emotionally draining year.
Here's a look at the top 10 stories from 2010:
10. Jose Valverde signs a two-year contract to close in Detroit
If the first half of last offseason raised question whether the Tigers could compete anymore on the Hot Stove market, the Valverde signing in January restored the faith. Detroit passed on giving long-term deals to keep relievers Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon a month earlier, but their patience was rewarded with one of the game's best closers as the lone free agent left on the market. Valverde matched his All-Star pitching with a stellar personality, complete with save celebrations.
9. Max Scherzer blossoms into a front-line starter
The Tigers believed enough in Scherzer's ability that they had insisted on him as part of last offseason's trade that sent Edwin Jackson to Arizona, but Scherzer's early-season struggles had to raise some doubts. A mid-May demotion to Triple-A Toledo made the concerns more serious, but they also gave Schezer a chance to work out his kinks in a low-pressure situation. He posted 11 wins and a 2.46 ERA after his recall to Detroit, and made those early struggles a distant memory.
8. Johnny Damon's career makes a stop in Detroit
His courtship took six weeks and several public testimonials from agent Scott Boras, but once Damon finally signed a one-year deal, he fit in like he had been a Tiger for years. He couldn't duplicate his power-happy numbers from the Yankees, and he ended up more of a designated hitter than an outfielder, but his ability to advance baserunners and provide a long at-bat didn't go unnoticed. His mentoring of Austin Jackson could leave his impact in Detroit for years to come.
7. Victor Martinez brings his bat to Detroit
The lack of a proven hitter to protect Miguel Cabrera in the lineup became almost too difficult to watch down the stretch, leaving a run-producing bat as the Tigers' top offseason priority. Detroit moved aggressively to fill it with arguably the team's biggest free-agent signing since Magglio Ordonez six years earlier. Martinez, whom Tigers fans watched for years as an opponent in Cleveland and Boston, talked about his admiration for the club's aggressiveness to win, and pundits talked about Detroit's offseason moves the same way.
6. Brennan Boesch rides a rookie roller coaster
When manager Jim Leyland talks about the way Boesch broke into the big leagues as almost unprecedented, he's talking about the impact he made upon arrival in late April. Boesch literally slugged his way out of his intended role as injured Carlos Guillen's stand-in and into a full-time spot in the lineup. He entered the All-Star break in the thick of the AL batting race, hitting .342 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs in just 65 games. Then the bottom dropped out: a .163 average and two home runs the rest of the way left everyone scratching their heads, Boesch included.
5. Ordonez bounces back, then slides out
All those questions in 2009 about Ordonez's aging bat vanished once the former batting champ went to work in 2010. Not only did he raise his OPS around 50 points from his previous season, he topped his home run and RBI totals from all of 2009 before '10 even hit the All-Star break. If that wasn't enough for Tigers fans to appreciate his value, the team's plummet out of the playoff race once an awkward slide and a broken ankle ended his season certainly was.
4. Jackson has an incredible rookie season
Tigers officials knew Jackson was ready to be a big league center fielder when they acquired him from the Yankees, but they didn't know what to expect from him as a hitter. From the moment Jackson walked into Spring Training, he went about surprising everyone in both regards. Taking over the leadoff spot, he enjoyed a .300 average or better every day from April 12 until Sept. 21, an amazing feat for someone who didn't have a plate appearance in the big leagues going into the year.
3. Cabrera nearly slugs his way to an MVP Award
There are plenty of ways to describe what Cabrera meant to the Tigers this year. Statistically, he either scored or drove in 26 percent of Detroit's runs. Opponents found it fit to intentionally walk him 32 times, most for an AL player since 1993. Award-wise, he nearly became the first player since A-Rod to win MVP on a team that didn't finish with a winning record. Pragmatically, he drew fans to the ballpark, home and road, to see him hit. And he made a lot of people forget about that final weekend last year.
2. Harwell passes away from cancer
Everyone knew it was coming once he announced his terminal illness to the world the previous summer, but few seemed prepared for a world without Ernie. So when news of his death spread just before the Tigers took on the Twins on an early May evening in Minneapolis, suddenly the AL Central race became an afterthought. A public viewing at Comerica Park drew more than 10,000 people to pay their last respects, and a pregame tribute a few days later drew Jose Feliciano back to perform the National Anthem.
1. Galarraga pitches a perfect game ... no, wait
How big of a deal can one missed call become? Time magazine named it the top sports moment of 2010 -- all of sports, not just baseball, beating out LeBron James and The Decision. Joe Posnanski made an eloquent case that Galarraga deserved to be named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year for his grace and understanding, though Drew Brees won out. Galarraga retired the first 26 Cleveland batters he faced on June 2, and had gotten the 27th from Jason Donald before umpire Jim Joyce called him safe. Joyce realized his mistake as soon as he saw the replay. Galarraga accepted his tearful apology. The rest is history.