Ordonez earning his stripes | VailDaily.com

Ordonez earning his stripes

Larry Lage
Associated Prfess
Vail, CO Colorado
Paul Sancya/AP PhotoDetroit Tigers' Magglio Ordonez connects on a single against the Kansas City Royals during a game in April.

DETROIT ” Magglio Ordonez is following up his signature October moment in style.

The outfielder secured his place in the hearts of Detroit fans with his three-run homer against Oakland that lifted the Tigers into their first World Series in 22 years. Now he’s trying to get them back to the postseason with a sterling 2007.

Ordonez led the majors with a .367 batting average through the weekend. He hit 30 doubles in the Tigers’ first 61 games ” the fastest player to that mark since Edgar Martinez in Seattle’s 55th game in 1996, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“He’s having an MVP-type season, if you look at his numbers,” general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “He’s proving that he’s one of the best in the game when healthy.”

Ordonez’s play has led to talk of him being a leading candidate for individual awards, but he’s quick to point out the Tigers have 100 games left.

“It’s still early,” he said. “I need to keep doing what I’m doing right now for the whole year.”

The oft-injured Ordonez might have a shot at some of those trophies if he stays healthy.

Ordonez was scratched from the lineup Sunday because of minor stiffness in his left knee, which was surgically repaired twice in 2004, when he was limited to 52 games with the Chicago White Sox.

After hernia surgery led to Ordonez missing almost half of the 2005 season in Detroit, he played in 155 games last year and in 60 of 62 this season while performing like the player the Tigers hoped he would.

Thanks in large part to Ordonez, the Tigers are 10 games over .500 and keeping close to the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians heading into Tuesday night’s series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Detroit signed Ordonez to a $75 million, five-year deal in 2005 as part of a complicated contract that could pay him as much as $105 million over seven seasons. The Tigers’ gamble that Ordonez would be healthy and productive has paid off.

Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline, who has been around the team for more than a half-century as a player and observer, would agree. He considers Ordonez’s homer as big a moment in the team history as the one Kirk Gibson hit off San Diego’s Goose Gossage in the clinching Game 5 of the 1984 World Series.

“It ranks right up there,” he said.

And if Ordonez can sustain his excellence, he’ll have more chances to impress Kaline and the rest of Detroit’s fanbase. But even if he doesn’t, the Tigers can always point to their 2006 pennant as evidence that Ordonez was a good signing.

“It was a deal that worked for both parties at the time and has worked out well since,” Dombrowski said. “He was comfortable with a contract that would reward him for being healthy and we were comfortable with the deal because it gave us some protection.

“Really, you have to tip your hat to our doctors and Magglio because they both were confident his knee would be fine.”

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