By Christopher Smith
---- — BOSTON — After more than a century, two of the game’s most historic and colorful franchises will finally square off in the postseason.
The Detroit Tigers are taking on the Red Sox in the best-of-7 American League Championship series. Game 1 is today (8:07 p.m. first pitch) at Fenway Park.
Each team’s history borders on the epic. Detroit boasts one of the game’s greatest legends, Ty Cobb, who, as the story goes, made his Tigers debut just weeks after his father accidentally was shot to death by Cobb’s mother, who thought he was a prowler. He was spying on his wife, suspecting her of infidelity, as many have documented.
Persevering through tragedy, Cobb had a Hall of Fame career. He still holds the record for the best lifetime batting average, .366, and he stole 897 bases from 1905-28 while intimidating infielders by sharpening his spiked cleats in their view.
In the legends’ department, Boston can counter with one of the game’s greatest and, unlike the reviled Cobb, most respected: Ted Williams. He’s the last player in the majors to bat over .400 (.406 in 1941) and also was a war hero, serving as a Marine fighter pilot during World War II and the Korean War.
Although, Detroit fans might point out Williams’ son had his Hall of Fame dad’s remains frozen — thus sullying that sterling reputation.
With immortals like Williams and Cobb and a slew of other greats, Detroit and Boston have two of the most storied, tradition-rich franchises in baseball history, yet the clubs have never met in the playoffs, until now.
It’s difficult to believe, after all, they both were among the original eight teams in the American League and played in the same division from 1901 through the end of the 1997 season.
The biggest reason for the lack of a playoff rivalry is that it wasn’t until 1994, when the Wild Card was introduced, that two teams from the same division could meet in the postseason.
Since 1994, the Tigers have made the playoffs four times and the Red Sox have made it 10 times. Yet, they never crossed paths before now.
However, there still are some postseason footnotes.
In 1967, the Red Sox, Tigers and Minnesota Twins battled to the bitter end of the regular season. The Tigers lost the second game of a doubleheader on the final day while the Twins lost 5-3 to Boston, giving the Red Sox first place in the AL and a World Series berth.
The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox team went on to lose the seven-game World Series 4-3 to St. Louis. The Tigers beat the Cardinals the next year in the 1968 Fall Classic.
This first postseason meeting should be an absolute heavyweight matchup worth the long, long wait.
Tonight, former Red Sox hurler Anibal Sanchez, a tough right-hander, will pitch for Detroit opposite Red Sox southpaw Jon Lester.
“Two old teams so it’s going to be a fun series to be a part of,” Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew said. “It’s going to be a battle back and forth. We’ve got pitching. They’ve got pitching. They obviously have hitting and we’ve got hitting, too. It’s going to be an interesting series to see how it plays itself out.”
Want offense? Detroit’s batting lineup, behind Triple Crown king Miguel Cabrera, is just as dangerous as Boston’s. The Tigers finished with the second most runs in the majors (796) behind only the Red Sox (853).
Want pitching? All four Red Sox starters in this ALCS are former All-Stars.
And Detroit’s starting rotation of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Sanchez and Doug Fister is the best of the best.
Verlander was the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner. Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA this season and likely will win this year’s AL Cy Young. Sanchez, meanwhile, posted an AL-best 2.57 ERA.
“Just watching them over the course of this season, over the course of the last couple of seasons, that’s what they’ve (done), ‘Go out there and we’re going to follow the lead of our starters,’” Red Sox hurler Clay Buchholz said.
“Whenever you have someone like Verlander or Scherzer, Sanchez, guys that can dial it up at any point of the game whenever they want, it makes it a lot tougher on the opposing hitters.”
Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB