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Jim Leyland And Dave Dombrowski Earned Division Title For Detroit

Maligned by many on occasion (including myself) for failing to come through in years past, Tigers manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski finally delivered a division title to Detroit.

If Jim Leyland's post-game interview moments after the Tigers clinched their first division title since 1987 didn't make you tear up, you should have your soul examined.

Leyland got choked up as he talked about his team, who won their first division under his watch, and the hard-working people of Detroit who have fallen on rough economic times. Leyland told Fox Sports Detroit announcer Mario Impemba, "I hope you're proud of us."

Yes, Jim, we are.

Leyland has earned the right to manage this team for as long as he wants and general manager Dave Dombrowski has done the same in the front office after a team long plagued by collapses and chokes finally put all the trauma behind them and won the Central Division in convincing fashion.

This team didn't just win the division; they dominated it. And most of it was thanks to the two guys up top.

It must feel so sweet for Leyland and Dombrowski to finally out the demons of years past and get their crown without incident. Detroit's 3-1 clinching win on Friday night put them 13 1/2 games up on the next-closest team. The only question now is whether they'll start on the road or at home in the playoffs.

Sometimes Leyland and Dombrowski frustrate fans with their decisions. Not every deal Dombrowski has made has turned to gold, but this year he played things just right. Leyland's lineups don't always win, but this year they won enough to get them back to the postseason.

Not many teams can claim that.

Right after the All-Star break, I said that if the Tigers couldn't win this time around the team should contemplate a change in management. The team was clearly the best in the division, though they had their flaws; flaws that Dombrowski eventually addressed.

Well, guess what? Dombrowski plugged the holes and the Tigers won. And winning forgives all.

Could you blame the Tigers for changing things up if yet another division lead had disappeared? Twice in five years Detroit has held the Central's top spot for large chunks of time, only to see it slip away in the final days of the season.

No more. The Tigers are Central Division champions for the first time.

Dombrowski made the deal of the trading deadline this season -- perhaps his best with the Tigers -- by acquiring Doug Fister from Seattle to solidify the starting rotation. All Fister has done since getting here is log a 6-1 record, including picking up the win in the clincher on Friday.

You knew Dombrowski was getting antsy at the deadline. He knew the season -- and possibly his job -- hinged on filling the hole in the rotation. He could have broken the bank and gotten top deadline prize Ubaldo Jimenez, but he didn't. In the end, Fister turned out to be the better deal all along.

His signing of Victor Martinez in the offseason may be the biggest signing of that free agent pool. He basically stole Delmon Young from the Twins and Wilson Betemit from the Royals to beef up the bats. Betemit drove in the winning run with a triple.

Dombrowski and Leyland have both proven their worth with the moves they made down that stretch to finally put this team over the top.

But, of course, the new acquisitions were just part of the puzzle. Justin Verlander became an MVP-candidate with one of the greatest Tigers pitching seasons ever. Alex Avila has emerged as an All-Star catcher. Miguel Cabrera has been, well, Miguel Cabrera.

Then there's the one constant in the dugout -- Leyland. Entering a critical stretch of games against Central Division squads, he guided the team to 12 straight victories over division opponents. That was the longest Tigers winning streak since 1934. The division wasn't under wraps officially before Friday, but it may as well have been.

At a time of year when things usually fall apart, it finally came together in Detroit.

How far this team can go remains to be seen. Their recent string of victories has made them favorites among some to come out of the American League. It's not always the best team that wins; it's the team that gets hot at the right time. Well, the Tigers are hot.

But let's not get ahead of things. There's still baseball to be played and home field advantage to be decided. For right now, though, it feels pretty good to be a Detroit Tigers fan.

Enjoy it, Detroit. You earned it.