The shot that killed the Tigers

Magglio Ordonez’s walkoff homer to cap the Detroit Tigers’ sweep of the A’s in the American League Championship Series was about as electric as it gets in the postseason. But it was the worst thing that could have happened for the fans in Detroit.

Having vanquished Team Dysfunction in short order on the heels of three consecutive wins over Team Underachievement, the hottest team in baseball had to cool its jets for nearly a week.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals engaged the New York Mets in one of the most compelling playoff series in recent memory and emerged from a dramatic road victory in Game 7 as … the hottest team in baseball.

And who wins the World Series every year? The best team? Hardly. Put the Tigers in this year’s NL Central and they’d have rolled the Cardinals to the tune of a 10-game cushion by the end of the regular season.

But being the best team doesn’t matter in late October. Being the hottest does. And it’s tough to stay hot while hanging around in dismal Detroit, reading about how great you are.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, have been characterized as the default winners in the battle to find out which NL playoff team was the least bad. But they sprayed champagne in New York one night and found themselves in Rock City the very next day, united by a road-warrior, us-against-the-world mentality.

And it showed. St. Louis won two of the first three games, forcing the darlings of Detroit into win-three-out-of-four-or-go-home mode.

Maybe getting a few games under their belts will be enough to get the Tigers back on track. More likely, the momentum the Cardinals have been steadily building all month will be more than enough to carry them to the title — pine tar be damned.

SPEED ROUND: Enough about Kenny Rogers cheating, already. After he was forced to wash his hands the other night, the Cardinals didn’t come close to touching him. Sure, the man’s only slightly more likable than A-Rod, but he’s a hell of a pitcher on a hell of a roll. Just sit back and enjoy a savvy vet at the top of his game. … Bud Black as the next Giants manager? Zzzzzzzzz. … If Ron Washington isn’t the next A’s manager — and Bob Geren is — expect more grousing from the players eventually. Fair or not, Geren will always be seen in that clubhouse, first and foremost, as Billy Beane’s good friend. And players tend to like being led by folks they believe to have paid some serious dues. Folks like Washington. … And finally: The new labor deal is swell, but until the game tests for HGH, it’ll forever operate under a cloud of suspicion. Pony up for the blood testing, boys. It’s the only way we’ll completely trust what you do.

Mychael Urban is the author of “Aces: The Last Season On The Mound With The Oakland A’s Big Three — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito” and a writer for MLB.com.

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