The Score

Tigers Have Baseball's Surprise Tale

By Fred Bowen
Friday, July 21, 2006

The biggest surprise of the baseball season is definitely the Detroit Tigers. Three years ago the Tigers almost set a mark for the Major Leagues' worst record in 100 years, with 43 wins and 119 losses. The next two seasons the Tigers got better, but still lost more than 90 games each year. Now the Tigers have the best record in baseball and are in first place in the tough American League Central Division.

What's the difference? For starters, the Tigers have a new manager, Jim Leyland. And the team got some new players over the three years, including catcher Ivan Rodriguez, shortstop Carlos Guillen and outfielder Magglio Ordonez. And some younger Tigers, including center fielder Curtis Granderson and first baseman Chris Shelton, got better and developed into solid major league starters.

But most of all, the Tigers have some terrific young pitchers. Jeremy Bonderman, 23, who had a record of 6 wins and 19 losses in 2003, is now 10-4 and among the American League leaders in strikeouts. Nate Robertson, 28, has been solid, and 23-year-old Justin Verlander has been so spectacular, with a record of 11-4, that he might be the league's Rookie of the Year. Reliever Joel Zumaya, 21, has a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and averages more than one strikeout per inning.

Add veteran Kenny Rogers and the Tigers start a good pitcher almost every game. That means they can put together some big winning streaks. Detroit has had seven streaks of at least five victories this season.

Of course, things might get tougher as the season drags on. Those young pitchers might get tired as they pile up more innings than ever before. The Tigers still have 10 more games with the defending world champion Chicago White Sox, as well as 10 with the red-hot Minnesota Twins.

Whether the Tigers make the playoffs or fall short, they still are a big surprise and a good lesson for kids. Lots of kids size up their rec league or camp teams and think, "Oh no, we're gonna stink." And, who knows, maybe they will.

It's easy to get discouraged after a few losing seasons. Even the biggest Tigers fan didn't think before this season that the team would have the best record in baseball after more than 90 games. After all, the Tigers have not had a winning season since 1993.

But that is why you play the games: to see if the teams that look so good before the season are really the best. Sometimes things happen that no one could have predicted. Teams can't just say they're the best -- they have to prove it by playing the game.

The surprising 2006 Tigers have shown they can play the game.

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's sports opinion column and is an author of sports novels for kids.

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