Blue-collar Detroit Tigers have the ethnic edge


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Detroit gets the ethnic edge for Fiesta Tigres.

Even though it’s mid-October and the baseball postseason is building to a climax, I haven’t been a happy camper.

I know it’s important for a journalist to be neutral in thought, but I was less than pleased when the New York Yankees fizzled last month, denying Mariano Rivera the opportunity to pitch one last time when it counts the most. Maybe I was being too selfish.

With the Bronx geezers gone, I shifted my attention to the underdog teams. It sure would have been interesting if Terry Francona’s Cleveland Indians had forced a powwow with the Boston Red Sox, Tito’s former employer, for the American League championship.

And what about those Pittsburgh Pirates, playing extra games for the first time in more than 20 years? Pedro Alvarezshared the National League home run crown, and Francisco Liriano racked up numbers worthy of Cy Young Award consideration. Sadly, both of those “Cinderfella” clubs bit the dust early on.

Let’s face it. The cream rose to the top, and baseball’s four best teams — the Detroit Tigers, Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals — are the finalists in the 2013 tournament. So, I have adjusted my priorities again and have made the “Tigres” my adopted team. I know Boston has David “Big Papi” Ortiz, the Cards rely heavily on Yadier Molina and Carlos Beltran, and the Dodgers boast the services on Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig.

It’s also a fact, though, the Detroit Tigers’ ethnic edge features Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, a reinstated Jhonny Peralta, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez and new closer Joaquin Benot. All totaled, the Detroit Tigers have 15 Latinos on their postseason roster. They also have Prince Fielder, Tori Hunter and a true, blue collar mix of talent. The Detroit Tigers came so close in 2012, but they won’t be denied this time around. They’ll put it all together for crusty skipper Jim Leyland, and the emotions will pour like champagne. That’s my call and I’m sticking to it.

Clutch performances

A journeyman catcher and a pitcher in the twilight of his career were unlikely heroes in the playoffs, giving their respective teams a fighting chance to succeed. And both men are from Venezuela, a country that seems to have a knack for producing players who excel this time of year.

Jose Lobaton, a backup receiver for the Tampa Bay Rays, had only nine home runs in his big-league career. But his walk-off bomb off Red Sox closer Koji Uehara with two outs in the ninth inning in game three gave the Rays a chance to play another day. Lobaton, 28, had a couple of game-winning hits in the regular season too, but those weren’t nearly as important as his blast that landed in the rays tank at Tropicana Field.

“Jose does seem to have a flair for the dramatic,” deadpanned Tampa Bay boss Joe Maddon.

Lobaton said the feeling he had after crushing the ball was hard to explain.

“It was so weird,” he recalled. “I was running the bases like a kid.”

Freddy Garcia must have felt like a kid again when he was given the ball in game four of the NLDS with his latest team, the Atlanta Braves, facing elimination against Los Angeles. Released by the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles, and spending most of the season in the minor leagues, the veteran Garcia went toe to toe with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Despite giving up two solo shots to Carl Crawford, the 37-year-old Caracas native gave his club six strong innings, exiting with the score deadlocked at 2-2. And although Atlanta faltered in the end, Garcia was satisfied with his performance in the face of critics who thought he was washed up.

“I want them to feel that way, so I can prove them wrong,” smiled Garcia.

I would like to see Garcia savor his superior outing this winter, and allow his distinguished 15-year career come to a close on a high note. He has a lot to offer young Hispanic pitchers as a coach and instructor, while giving his tired right arm and shoulder a well-deserved rest.

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