It was a September night in Detroit in 2003, and the Tigers were trying to avoid the 120-loss season that seemed almost inevitable at the time. They gave September callup Ross a second straight start against a Cleveland left-hander, in this case Lee, and batted him fifth behind Dmitri Young, the team's lone truly productive offensive player that year.
Ross struck out looking on three pitches in the first at-bat, then came up the next inning with the bases loaded, the game tied and Lee struggling to find the strike zone. When Ross took a 2-0 pitch deep, he became the first Tigers player to hit a grand slam for his first Major League home run since 1991.
Five innings and two Ross plate appearances later, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament trying to outrun a throw to first on a sacrifice bunt. It was his last game of the season, and thanks to a trade to the Dodgers the following spring, his final game as a Tiger.
Both Ross and Lee were rookies at that point. Seven years and several teams later for both of them, they finally get a rematch, this time on the game's greatest stage. And Ross, now an October hero in San Francisco, will have several other former Tigers around him.
A postseason that began with 16 former Tigers on the eight playoff teams will conclude with a half-dozen of them getting their shot at a World Series. Some of them, like Ross and fellow Giants outfielder Andres Torres, came up through the Detroit organization, but didn't pan out until they found chances elsewhere. Others, like Giants Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria, passed through town among their many stops and among the Tigers' many moves to try to get back to the postseason after their 2006 trip to the World Series.
Huff was hoping last year would be his long-awaited chance at playoff baseball, but fell a game short thanks to the Twins' comeback in the American League Central. Torres not only came up through the Tigers' system, he got his second chance as a Detroit farmhand in 2007, signed to a Minor League contract after seemingly running out of chances in professional baseball.
Matt Treanor, the Rangers' backup catcher to Bengie Molina, was supposed to compete for time behind the plate in Detroit in 2009 before hip surgery ended his season. He was part of Detroit's plan to replace future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, but ended up getting to the Fall Classic with Rodriguez's old team.
Clay Rapada spent the previous two seasons on the shuttle between Detroit and Triple-A Toledo. The sidearming southpaw made as many appearances in the AL Championship Series out of the Rangers' bullpen as he did in the entire 2009 season for Detroit. If the Rangers keep him on their 25-man roster for the World Series, he'll get a chance to push his 2010 postseason numbers past his 2009 regular-season numbers.
It all makes for some familiar faces for Tigers fans and players to see as they watch the Fall Classic starting Wednesday night. It also makes for some mixed emotions for some. Brandon Inge, who played with all of those guys at one point or another, is happy they're getting a chance, but jealous at the same time.
"My kids want to watch it sometimes, so I sit down and watch it," Inge said last week at the news conference announcing his contract extension. "And to be honest with you, I don't get disgusted. All those guys that I played with, I'm still friends with. I'm not the kind of guy who's going to root against somebody just because they went a different direction. That's just the way that the business is. And I'm not going to knock them for doing well in the postseason.
"I'm happy for everyone that wins the World Series. I want to win a World Series. Maybe it's a jealousy thing. But I'm not rooting against them."
It's probably not easy to avoid rooting for Ross.
"How about that? He's on fire now," Inge said.