The five biggest Detroit sports stories of 2012

The signing of Prince Fielder in January by the Tigers was one of the biggest sports stories in Detroit in 2012.

Another year is almost in the books. Another year gone and a new year on the way. Before we look forward to what 2013 might bring, let’s take a look back to see what happened in Detroit sports in the last 12 months.

Here are my picks for the top five stories of 2012.

5. Red Wings bounced in first round
For the first time in six years the Wings failed to advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season, but fans were not pleased when the team was knocked out by the Nashville Predators after winning just one game. In February the team set an NHL record by winning their 21st consecutive game at home, and hopes were high that they could at least challenge for the Conference title, and perhaps win another Stanley Cup. But the team looked flat and overmatched in their quick exit from the playoffs.

4. Lions end playoff drought
After 10 straight losing seasons, the Lions returned to the NFL playoffs for the first time in 11 years when they managed a wild card spot with a 10-6 mark. Behind the arm of Matthew Stafford, who set a franchise record for passing yards, and the amazing talents of wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, the Lions shook years of misery and restored the roar to Ford Field. Unfortunately they lost a high-scoring shootout with New Orleans in the playoffs, 45-28, but they helped make Lions fans feel a little better about themselves, finally.

3. Ilitch woos Fielder to Detroit
Everyone – maybe even GM Dave Dombrowski – was shocked when the Tigers announced that they had signed free agent first baseman Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal on January 24. Fielder, the son of a former Tiger star, was more than happy to place his name on the hefty contract, and Ilitch seemed as giddy as a schoolgirl at the subsequent press conference. The signing sent shock waves throughout baseball.

2. Tigers win 11th AL Pennant
After a season where they seemed listless, unemotional, and mediocre at times, the Tigers bolted to attention and snatched the AL Central title from the Chicago White Sox down the stretch. They then dispatched of the Oakland A’s in a thrilling five-game playoff series, relying heavily on ace Justin Verlander, who won Games One and Five in dominating fashion. The ALCS against the Yankees was anti-climactic, as the Tigers swept the Bombers away with superior pitching and timely hitting. The prize was Detroit’s 11th American League pennant – their second in seven seasons. Though the Tigs were swept by the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, their 2012 season was an unqualified success.

1. Cabrera wins the Triple Crown
While the rest of the Tigers seemed to muddle along for much of the season, Miguel Cabrera was his usual steady self. By August he was among league leaders in all three of the major offensive categories (batting, homers, RBI). In September he separated himself from the pack, hitting .333 with 11 homers and 30 RBI in 31 games after September 1. He left the final game of the season in Kansas City early and received a standing ovation from the crowd, who knew he had just won the Triple Crown, the first in baseball in 45 years. Nearly every player who has won the Triple Crown is a Hall of Famer, and Cabrera will be someday too. His success in 2012 means that he’s taken his place among the greats in Detroit Tigers history.

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