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Tony the Tiger says Frosted Flakes are g-r-r-r-r-r-eat, but how about those Detroit Tigers? This oft-maligned team played g-r-r-r-r-r-eat against the A’s and won their first American League pennant in 22 years. After exceeding all expectations this season, Detroit has capably stepped into Cinderella’s glass slipper and now stands one series victory away from capturing baseball’s ultimate prize — a World Series championship.

Just like the Warriors back in the 1974-75 season, nobody in the media picked the Tigers to make a postseason appearance. I can just imagine how the pundits were smiling when Detroit, after amassing an amazing 76-36 record went into the Dumpster. They were miserable for the last 50 games of the regular season, going 19-31 and, in the process, blew a 10-game lead and lost the AL Central title. To make matters even worse, the Tigers botched their last five games of the season, which included three losses at home to the lowly Kansas City Royals.

There wasn’t anyone in the baseball world outside of Detroit who gave the Tigers much of a chance against the star-studded New York Yankees. Fortunately, the Tigers’ pitching staff showed its superiority as they outperformed the favored pinstripers. As we all know, in baseball, great pitching is the best defense available and defense wins championships.

Not only did Detroit dominate the Yankees by outscoring them 18-6 in the last three games, they went on to do the same thing to the A’s, sweeping them in four games and outscoring them 22-9. Remarkably, veteran Kenny Rogers, whose past playoff performances have been disappointing, has emerged as the pitching star for the Tigers with 15 scoreless innings. He has had plenty of help from young star Jeremy Bonderman, who, ironically, was originally drafted by Oakland.

I couldn’t help but admire the resiliency of Detroit as it found a way to overcome the horrendous finish to the regular season. Much of the credit for this accomplishment has to go to manager Jim Leyland. Normally, I’m not big fan of recycling coaches or managers of pro teams in any sport, but in this case, I can only praise the super job done by Leyland. Considering that he was out of baseball for seven years and of the three previous teams he has managed, none had a .500 or better record during his tenure, Leyland turned in his best managerial performance.

Right now, the Tigers have the luxury of resting and preparing for the World Series. Team members have indicated that it doesn’t matter to them who they will face. Regardless, the Tigers have defied the odds and provided baseball fans with an inspirational, underdog story.

Former Warriors star Rick Barry is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. E-mail him at rbarry@examiner.com.

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