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Sunday, October 15, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Larry Stone

Tigers take fairy tale to Series

Seattle Times baseball reporter

DETROIT — The swing was pure power, the connection completely unambiguous.

There was no need for one of those classic Carlton Fisk gyrations, to will the ball fair enough, or deep enough. This one was a fait accompli from the moment Huston Street threw it and Magglio Ordonez hit it, hit every inch of it, sending the Detroit Tigers — the Tigers! — to the World Series, with a quick detour to delirium.

Ordonez knew. He stood and watched, walked the first few steps down the line, raised his right arm and began the 360-foot jog into history that only a rarefied few get to experience.

"It was like I was running on air," Ordonez would say afterward, after he had been pummeled by his jubilant teammates waiting at the plate and serenaded by the stupefied fans at Comerica Park.

In the bullpen, Joel Zumaya knew, even before the ball sailed over the heads of the Tigers relievers, sailed to its final resting spot deep in the left-field bleachers to give the Tigers — the Tigers! — a 6-3 victory and a sweep of the Oakland A's in the American League Championship Series on Saturday.

"I was already running in," Zumaya said. "I knew that ball was completely out when he hit it. That ball sounded so clean, I ran so hard. I was already out of the gate before that ball landed."

In the dugout, Sean Casey knew, and having toiled without postseason reward for so many years in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, he also knew instinctively what it meant, and would keep meaning, to the players on the formerly beleaguered Tigers.

"The feeling you have when you see the ball off the bat ... you go numb with excitement and joy," Casey said. "It touches your heart. You play your whole career to get to the World Series, and you see the ball off the bat and a lot of guys' dreams are realized."

Curtis Granderson knew, because he had seen all evening, from his spot in center field, the flags whipping out from the steady wind.

"I just said, 'Get up, get out!' The way it ended, this is the way you write it up when you're a little kid," said Granderson.

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Ivan Rodriguez, whose signing in 2004, followed by Ordonez a year later, started the Tigers' renaissance, flashed immediately on the handful of players still around from the nightmare season of 2003, when the Tigers needed to boost their image just to qualify as a laughingstock.

"I tell you what, when you're in the World Series, it's awesome," Rodriguez said. "I feel very happy for some of my teammates that were here when they lost 119 games, and they're all part of this celebration. This World Series is for them."

Brandon Inge, one of the hardy ones there for both the hell and the heaven of Tigers baseball, knew the ramifications of Ordonez's drive. But Inge was so moved by the moment that he was tongue-tied.

"It's a funny thing," Inge said. "I used to always make fun of all those people you see saying it's indescribable and they can't put it into words. But you really can't. It's just so exciting you can't realize it. It's just an unbelievable feeling."

Almost unbelievable in the literal sense. It tests plausibility that an organization so putrid it set an all-time standard for futility could find itself, three years later, having outclassed the Yankees and dismantled the A's with seven straight victories en route to the World Series.

"I know how far we've come from, and I went through that agonizing season," Inge said. "We played hard. We didn't give up. We just weren't a very good ballclub. But we took that same work ethic. We have better players. We have a new manager [Jim Leyland], and we're going to the World Series. That's all you need to know."

The Tigers knew all they needed to know when Ordonez whipped his bat around and caught it square on the sweet spot — sweetest of all for a region that could use some vicarious escapism.

"This is one of the toughest times this city has been through since probably the race riots in the '70s," reliever Todd Jones had said a day earlier. "There's companies based in Michigan that are laying off 50, 60, 70 thousand people. You know, that's real life.

"This whole summer we've had the chance to take three hours out of their day and have them turn on the TV and cheer for the Tigers. I think that's pretty important, because this is a tough time, and it's a tough time to be a Michigan advocate, with all the stuff that's going on. But hopefully they can find some time to enjoy each Tiger win we get."

Which is one big reason why Kenny Rogers, when he saw Ordonez's ball take flight, felt one thing: "Pure elation."

Explained Rogers: "You can't go anywhere without fans acknowledging the appreciation they have, the pride they have in the organization now and the team here. It's restored a lot to this city. As players, maybe we don't understand that completely, but we sure appreciate that, without a doubt."

Magglio Ordonez connected, and the Tigers knew.

"Magglio's now my Tiger, my hero," Jones gushed.

Around here, the Tigers are now everyone's heroes.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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