As a fan of all the pro sports teams in Minnesota, I feel the pain of the Detroit Tigers devotees.
The Tigers were in first place since May and had a double digit lead in the American League Central for most of the Summer. It started to whittle away when Detroit, after a scorching 76-36 start, began to come back to the pack. Injuries to second baseman Placido Polanco and rookie phenom pitcher Justin Verlander seemed to stymie their momentum. Their once insurmountable lead vanished resulting in a tie with the Minnesota Twins going into the final game of the season. However, all it would take would be a win over the lowly Kansas City Royals and the Tigers would be the 2006 AL Central division champs. This is the same Royals team that had lost 15 of 18 contests to the Tigers in ’06.
Detroit had a nice 6-0 lead early in the game. However, as the game progressed, the pesky Royals chipped away at the lead, eventually forcing extra innings. With the score tied at 8 in the bottom of the 11th inning, the Tigers had the bases loaded and only one out and Brandon Inge at the plate. A medium deep fly ball would be all that it would take to push across the winning run. After missing a walk-off grand slam by mere feet, Inge struck out. With two out, Curtis Granderson when down on strikes as well. The Royals took advantage of the Tigers’ missed opportunities to push across two runs in the 12th to win 10-8.
The Tigers four-month stranglehold on the division had dissipated on the very last day of the regular season.
Rewind to the 2003 NFL season.
My favorite squad, the Minnesota Vikings, started the ’03 campaign with a 6-0 record. However, a slump in mid-season saw the Vikes’ once-comfortable lead in the NFC North division dwindle to just a game or two.
Nonetheless, with a 9-6 record going into the final game of the regular season, the Vikings merely needed to defeat a pathetic Arizona Cardinals team to clinch the division and a spot in the playoffs. The Vikes had a comfy 17-6 lead in the fourth quarter.
The Cards scored a late touchdown to make it 17-12.
No worries. Just recover the onside kick, fall on the ball and it’s off to the playoffs.
Inexplicably, Arizona recovers the onside kick.
The Cardinals are driving toward the goal line with less than a minute to go when Vikings rookie sensation Kevin Williams sacks Cards QB Josh McCown. Arizona then scrambles to run one final play. They get the snap off in time. McCown manages to elude the Vikings pass rush and roll to his right. With no time on the clock he fires toward the far right side of the end zone. Someone named Nathan Poole manages to snag the ball despite two Vikings defenders nearby.
Vikes lose 18-17.
A division they lead literally every second of the season was lost. Worse yet, the Green Bay Packers snatched a playoff birth as a result while the Vikings stayed home for the 2003 post season.
I remember the absolute sick feeling I had after that game, Tigers fans. I know what you’re going through.
However, take solace in this: Your club at least has itself a berth in the playoffs.