THERE was no joy in Motown when the Detroit Tigers' Brandon Inge struck out in St. Louis to end the Tigers' dream of a world championship. "We just didn't play well enough to win a World Series," Jim Leyland, their glum but gallant manager, told reporters that night.
But, as he added, the real story was that the miracle Tigers got there at all. Six months ago, nobody in the nation thought Detroit would be anywhere near the fall classic. The team hadn't had a winning season since 1993.
Three years ago, they came close to the worst record in baseball history. Last year, they lost an embarrassing 91 games. This year, they astonished the sports world twice.
First, when they had the best record in baseball for nearly the entire season, and again when, emerging from a bad slump, they beat the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics in seven straight playoff games. Many thought the magic would continue. But with hindsight, the Cardinals' four games-to-one victory shouldn't have been surprising at all.
St. Louis is a team that, for decades, has been in the playoffs year after year. They were in the World Series two years ago. The Cardinals are a team accustomed to the unique pressures of the post-season.
The Tigers are a scrappy team of talented youngsters who made the mistakes of youth. Nervous pitchers made throwing errors and challenged hitters when they shouldn't have. The heart of the batting order was almost totally shut down by St. Louis pitchers. Only in the second game, when ace Kenny Rogers pitched scoreless ball for eight innings, did the nation get a glimpse of the magic Detroit saw all year.
When asked why his team lost, Leyland, who ought to be a shoo-in for manager of the year, said "well, you might start by blaming me. My job as the manager should have been to get them ready." He did something much bigger: He got them there. Don't be surprised if he gets them back, very soon.
When that happens, the results may be very different. Thirty years ago, after a decade as doormats, a young New York Yankee team that looked very much like this one got into a similar World Series. They lost every game. The next year, they won it all, and repeated the feat the next year.
In baseball, there is always next year, and next spring, the Detroit Tigers will start out with something they haven't had for a long, long time.
To quote the title of a famous old Motown song, that would be: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.