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Hitting the Jackpot

The Tigers were lucky to get Carlos Guillen, who has quietly played a major role in the team's turnaround

CARLOS GUILLEN isso superstitious that he won't reveal his superstitions, other than to say thathe keeps lucky dice in his locker at Comerica Park and never removes theorange-and-blue titanium necklace he has worn through his charmed 2006 season."I can't tell my secrets," Guillen, the Tigers shortstop, said with awry smile on Sunday night, after going 3 for 3 in Detroit's 3--1 win over theCardinals in Game 2 of the World Series. "I don't want my luck to runout."

The Tigers had allthe luck when they made the little-noticed 2004 trade that brought them Guillenfrom Seattle in exchange for reserve shortstop Ramon Santiago (now back withthe Tigers) and Juan Gonzalez--not that Juan Gonzalez, the two-time AL MVP, butan obscure righthander who remains buried in the minors. Though it hadinitially targeted Rich Aurilia--who eventually signed with theMariners--during that off-season, the Tigers' front office insists that theyhad been high on Guillen, too. "We got [Carlos] when he was 28," saysassistant G.M. Al Avila, "when he was just entering his prime years. Wethought he could be a guy who was about to take that next step. What he's doingnow isn't a big surprise. It's exactly what we were hoping for."

Guillen is apatient, gap-to-gap hitter in a lineup heavy with free swingers who pull theball. This season, in addition to leading AL shortstops in slugging (.519) andall shortstops in OPS (.920), Guillen, who hit .320, became the first playersince 1901 to increase his batting average for a sixth consecutive season. Anddespite a 3-for-16 hiccup in the Tigers' sweep of the A's in the ALChampionship Series, the soft-spoken, sleepy-eyed 31-year-old switch-hitter wasbatting .432 with seven extra-base hits through Detroit's first 10 postseasongames; in the first two games of the World Series alone, he was 5 for 7,including a single, a double and a triple on Sunday. "People don't know him[in the U.S.], but back home he's a star," says teammate and fellowVenezuelan Magglio Ordoñez. "Hopefully that will change, because he doesn'tget enough respect here."

Through nine bigleague seasons Guillen has been unlucky with injuries. Though he appeared in acareer-high 153 games this year, he played much of the season in pain."He's got hamstring, knee and back injuries that are just killing him,"says centerfielder Curtis Granderson. "He walks around the clubhouse withall these pads on, all bandaged up, like he's coming from battle. He's doesn'tquit, and he doesn't complain."

And, as obsessedas he is with good-luck charms, he leaves little on the field to chance."Carlos always is the most prepared guy out there," says backup catcherVance Wilson. "Whether it's because of all the video he watches or all theinformation he gets from constantly asking guys stuff, he always knows where toposition himself on the field, and he knows what to expect from pitchers whenhe's at the plate."

Says manager JimLeyland, "He's probably the smartest player on our ball club--and the topcandidate to go on to a managerial career, if he chooses." That's one moresecret Guillen hasn't revealed.