The 2011 American League Championship Series is but one game old, and yet it has already turned into a nightmare for the Detroit Tigers, with the loss of Magglio Ordonez as just the latest sign of bad times to come for the Motor City.
First came Delmon Young's rib injury, which forced the Tigers to rule the young outfielder out for the series before ever seeing a single pitch from the Texas Rangers. Then came a 3-2 defeat in a rainy Game 1, in which staff ace and likely AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander struggled, giving up three runs on five hits in four innings.
Now comes the news that Ordonez, a key cog in the middle of Jim Leyland's lineup, will miss the rest of the postseason after re-fracturing his right ankle in Arlington on Saturday night. According to Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, the 14-year Major League veteran will consider retirement as a result of this latest setback, though he'll consult with doctors before make a final decision.
Ordonez's absence is both troubling and tragic for him and the Tigers alike. Detroit is woefully thin in the outfield without Ordonez, Young and Brennan Boesch, whom the Tigers lost to a thumb injury back in August.
Leyland will have to lean on the young trio of Don Kelly, Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn to man the outfield full-time. If need be, he could potentially move Miguel Cabrera back to the outfield, though the slugger hasn't played anywhere beyond the infield since 2005, when he was still with the Florida Marlins.
Defensively, then, Detroit will be at a serious disadvantage, especially against a batting order that sports as many sluggers as the Rangers' does and on a field as expansive as the one at Comerica Park.
Offensively, Ordonez's presence in the middle of the order will be missed. He'd notched five hits in 15 at-bats this postseason while serving as protection in the lineup behind Victor Martinez, who's had a rough go at the plate thus far. Ordonez was no longer the big-time slugger he had once been earlier in his career, but he remained a solid contact hitter and a veteran presence on a team peppered with youngsters.
Ordonez's absence also leaves Leyland with less leeway to tinker with his lineup, something that he'd done quite liberally this month. The Tigers certainly could've used the Venezuelan's right-handed bat against the Rangers' stash of lefties, including CJ Wilson and Derek Holland.
Most importantly, though, Detroit will miss what Ordonez brought to the table as a leader on the field and in the locker room. "Mags" played an integral role in the Tigers' run to the World Series in 2006, slugging a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 of the ALCS to beat the Oakland A's and send Detroit on to its first Fall Classic in 22 years.
If Ordonez does, indeed, opt for retirement, he will be remembered as one of the consummate talents of the AL Central over the past decade. He came so agonizingly close to realizing championship glory for himself, leaving Chicago for Detroit just before the White Sox slugged their way to the World Series in 2005 and nearly making amends for himself the very next season.
The Tigers can only hope that the rain that postponed Game 2 will be the last thing to dampen their parade this postseason.
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