TIME TO CLOSE IT OUT!

The Tigers cannot say they are going to the World Series.

But you can.

The Tigers cannot say that they are sprinkled with pixie dust.

But you can.

The Tigers, careful and humble, cannot say the 2-0 lead they bring into this afternoon’s Game 3 at Comerica Park is like a 60-yard lead in a 100-yard dash. They cannot say they have momentum the way a cheetah has momentum.

They cannot say they have demoralized the once-plucky Oakland Athletics, leaving them, at last glimpse, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth and a third out falling harmlessly into Curtis Granderson’s glove.

They cannot make bold statements.

But what’s stopping you?

“W-w-w-w-w-w …” you stutter.

World?

“S-s-s-s-s-s-s …”

Series?

You can say it. It’s not illegal. True, it has been 19 years since the Tigers made the playoffs and 22 years since they won a round. True, Detroit is used to lousy endings. True, Detroit is used to things going wrong and it can’t get used to – as Paul Simon once sang – something so right.

But on the other hand.

On the other hand, you have the glaringly obvious. The Tigers went to Oakland to start the American League Championship Series and whacked every mole in every hole. They hit big when they had to hit big. They pitched big when they had to pitch big. The stuff they did right, they did really right, and the stuff they did wrong – they did right, too.

Now they are home for three games, and they need only to win two of them to end this thing this weekend.

When lights keep turning green like that, it usually means you are bound for glory.

The Tigers can’t say that.

But you can.

“W-w-w-w-w-worr …”

That’s good. Now try for the “l.”

From Granderson to Gomez

The Tigers cannot say that their pitching seems impervious to defeat. They cannot brag about surprising Nate Robertson in Game 1. They cannot boast about the rebirth of Fernando (Smokin’) Rodney. They can’t even wink about Todd Jones on Wednesday night, striking out the first two batters in the ninth inning, then loading the bases, then ending it against the biggest, baddest bat on the Oakland roster, Frank Thomas.

How frustrating that must have been to the A’s, to get that close and to go home empty. The Tigers know it, but they can’t say it. They cannot be so brazen.

But you can.

“Worl-worl-worl-worl …”

There you go. Now make a “d.”

The Tigers cannot brag about their offense. They cannot brag that sometimes it’s the No. 1 hitter, like Granderson, and sometimes it’s the No. 9 hitter, like Brandon Inge, and sometimes it’s the No. 327 hitter, like Alexis Gomez, who two months ago had a better chance of seeing a solar eclipse than the starting lineup – and there he was, Wednesday night, with four RBIs.

The Tigers cannot declare their manager, Jim Leyland, is now, officially, Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings,” a white-haired wizard on his second life. They cannot admit that even his shakiest moves seem brilliant. They cannot acknowledge that when Leyland talks to his pitchers, it is like Fred MacMurray talking to “My Three Sons.” Everyone calms down. Everyone does the right thing.

They can’t say that.

But you can.

“World-world-world-world …”

Good. And what comes next?

Do you believe in miracles?

The Tigers cannot talk about what comes next. They won’t even boast about what has happened, the week that just was, after Justin Verlander clamped down in Game 2 against the Yankees, and then Joel Zumaya dropped the hammer, and Kenny Rogers, last Friday, gave a sermon on the mound, and Jeremy Bonderman, last Saturday, led the final charge to a champagne shower, and Tuesday, in Oakland, the Tigers won from ahead and Wednesday the Tigers won from behind.

They cannot talk about that. They cannot admit that, right now, a beer vendor could pull on a Tigers uniform and smack a two-run double. They cannot say that 19 years of baseball cobwebs are being cleared away, and every day they look more and more like a sure thing for the Fall Classic.

But you.

You can say whatever you want. You can call the talk shows, fly your flag on your minivan, sing that hokey “Go Get ‘Em Tigers” song, call your friends in New York and say, “We did your Yankees, and we’ll be back to do your Mets!”

You can remind yourself that stories like these really do happen in sports – they happened to 1969 Mets, the U.S. hockey team, Joe Namath’s Jets, the Villanova Wildcats.

You can believe your eyes. You can feel the momentum. You can say that a five-game playoff winning streak is as hot as you can get – except for a six-game playoff streak.

You can think “World Series.”

You can say “World Series.”

The only thing you can’t do is win two games to get there.

But the Tigers can.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.

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