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Monroe has played big role in Tigers' success this Oct.



Published: Tue, October 24, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



His strong bat will be challenged tonight by Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.

By CLAIRE SMITH

MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS

ST. LOUIS -- His is not the first name to come to mind when one sets out to put a human face on the saga of the 2006 Detroit Tigers.

That line, that very long line, forms to the right of Jim Leyland. And Kenny Rogers. And Ivan Rodriguez. And Placido Polanco. And . . . well, you get the idea.

Yet, if Craig Monroe keeps traveling the lofty path he's been on since starting his first postseason, the youthful leftfielder will soon be able to tell those who wish to excel on baseball's biggest stage to line up after him.

For Monroe not only has played a large role in the Tigers' surprising overall success this October.

His booming bat also has made it possible for the American League champions to be even with the National League pennant winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, after the first two games of the 102nd World Series.

When the best-of-seven Series resumes tonight at Busch Stadium, Monroe and company will be challenged by a former Cy Young Award winner, Chris Carpenter. The Tigers' Nate Robertson will start the first of three games at the home of the National League champions.

The fact that the Series has been reduced to best of five has much to do with the personable, 29-year-old Monroe, who has enjoyed his turn on the big stage as much as any player in uniform in the Fall Classic.

Generous with his time and thoughtful in his interpretation of this unfolding October pageant, Monroe has made his locker a necessary stop for those in the national media.

In the spotlight

His performances have increased the necessity to stop, look and listen to this World Series surprise. For example, on Sunday, Monroe used a first-inning home run in Game 2 -- his second long shot in two Series games -- to stake Rogers to a lead the lefthander never relinquished in a 3-1 victory in Detroit.

In a Series dominated by talk of Albert Pujols' batting prowess, it was Monroe who staked his claim to a bit of Series history after just two starts. He is the first player to homer in his first two career games in the Series since Barry Bonds did so for the San Francisco Giants in 2002.

What makes Monroe's accomplishments all the more impressive is that he has made this postseason thing look easy. Witness his five-game hitting streak dating to Game 2 of Detroit's sweep of Oakland in the American League Championship Series.

"Not being in this situation before," he had been "shocked sometimes" by himself, he admitted. "I'm relaxed and having fun, and I'm staying focused on one thing, and that's trying to be a good player. I think the big thing for me is trying to compete and do everything that I possibly can to help this team win."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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