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Monroe's bat helps Tigers take 3-0 lead in ALCS

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DETROIT (AP) _ Craig Monroe is soaking up every moment of a stunning turnaround as one of the Detroit Tigers still around from the team that lost an AL-record 119 games just three years ago.

Monroe hit a homer, singled and scored another run in Detroit's 3-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday in Game 3 of the AL championship series, giving the Tigers more than enough offense.

After enduring jokes and jeers nationally and apathy locally, Monroe said the miserable 2003 season helped the Tigers get to where they are and makes the experience just a little bit sweeter.

``I thought going through that was good, it built some character, and now you get to enjoy the success you're having now,'' he said. ``Without that failure, I'm not sure that we could really embrace and enjoy the moment we're having right now.''

Monroe hopes to be able to break out the champagne following Game 4 on Saturday, when the Tigers will have a chance to advance to the World Series for the first time since winning it in 1984.

``Hopefully we will do something special tomorrow,'' he said.

In a game starter Kenny Rogers dominated, Monroe was the star at the plate for the Tigers and helped them take a 3-0 lead in the series with their sixth straight win in the playoffs.

``That home run was one of the biggest plays in the game,'' Detroit catcher Ivan Rodriguez said.

It was just another solid performance from a player with at least a hit and a run in five of Detroit's seven playoff games _ the first ones for a proud-again franchise playing in the postseason for the first time in 19 years.

Monroe hit two home runs in the division series against the New York Yankees, joining teammate Curtis Granderson in matching a team record Chet Lemon set in the 1987 ALCS against the Minnesota Twins.

Monroe's steady play has been overshadowed by Detroit's stellar pitching and contributions from almost everyone on the roster, but he couldn't care less.

``It's not about me,'' he said. ``It's about us.''

The Tigers have had over-the-top celebrations recently, last week when they eliminated the Yankees and last month when they clinched their first playoff berth since 1987.

Comerica Park, which opened in 2000, has been the scene of futility for a team that averaged 100 losses from 2001-05. Monroe and his teammates sprayed fans with champagne from the dugout and during a celebration trot around the field after sending the Yankees home in four games.

``We understand that it was hard being a Tigers fan,'' Monroe said. ``I know the nine guys that are still on the roster, we wanted to go back out there and do that for them.''

History seems to indicate the Tigers have a good chance of dousing their fans with more bubbly Saturday.

Of the 28 teams that have taken 3-0 leads in the LCS, 22 went on to sweep. The Tigers also have a chance to be the fifth straight wild card to advance to the World Series, with only last season's Houston Astros not winning a championship.

Monroe helped the Tigers get in commanding position by singling and scoring in the two-run first inning, and he made it 3-0 with a leadoff homer in the fifth.

He was one of the reasons Detroit was known as a free-swinging team in the regular season _ striking out 126 times _ but he hit 28 homers, and finished second in the AL with 14 homers in the seventh inning or later.

Like most of his teammates, he has been more selective at the plate in the playoffs.

He walked in the first against Rich Harden, working the count to 3-2 after it was 3-0, but also showed his familiar form by smacking a 0-1 pitch for his homer.

``He's going to do whatever he can to help us win, just like the rest of us,'' Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge said. ``Craig's done well all season for us and he's not stopping right now.

``He's one of the guys that got us here. He's one of the guys that made the 2003 season somewhat comfortable. He's one of the guys that should be rewarded for a good season this year, too.''
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