That changed dramatically in the sixth inning of Game 4 on Saturday. Leading off the sixth inning, Ordonez homered off Oakland Athletics starter Dan Haren to bring the Tigers to a 3-3 tie.
But that was only Ordonez warming up for the more compelling moment to come. With the game still tied in the bottom of the ninth, two on and two out, Ordonez came to the plate against Oakland closer Huston Street. Ordonez turned on a 1-0 fastball and hit the biggest home run of his career, ending the ALCS and sending the Tigers to the World Series.
With this home run, Ordonez fulfilled the promise that the Tigers saw in him. But he fulfilled another promise, too. Saturday was the 11th birthday of his son, Magglio Jr.
"I told him, 'I'm going to hit a home run for you,'" a beaming Ordonez said. "I hit two. After the game, when I saw him, I said: 'This is your gift.'"
In the champagne-drenched Tigers clubhouse, beaming was the order of the day, and Ordonez had given the Tigers reason to smile. The walk-off homer had given Detroit a sweep over the A's and a berth in the 2006 World Series.
The rest of the Tigers were not worried about their cleanup hitter's lack of production through the first three games. They had won all three largely on the strength of their pitching, but beyond that, they believed Ordonez hitting was a question of when, not if.
"We know the kind of hitter Magglio is," second baseman Placido Polanco, the MVP of the ALCS, said. "It was just a matter of time before he hit one hard, and he hit two today. The last one was just to win the game. He couldn't have hit it at a better moment. I felt very, very happy for Magglio."
With Game 4 and a trip to the World Series riding on the ninth-inning at-bat, what did Ordonez feel as he came to the plate?
"You know what? It was weird, I was really calm," he said. "It was nothing about nothing. I was going to go there and hit and look for a good pitch to drive one in.
"I took the first pitch, it was close. I thought, 'Maybe he's going to throw me a strike.' It was a fastball. Once I hit it, I knew it was gone.
"It's hard to describe the feeling. It's something that you have to be in that moment. It's really, really exciting."
So this World Series will have Ordonez as a featured performer, rather than a spectator. That was his role last October, when the team he had played with since 1997, the Chicago White Sox, won it all. But the White Sox had not re-signed him after an injury-plagued 2004 season, and Ordonez could only watch as his former teammates won the World Series.
This October, the White Sox did not reach the postseason, but Ordonez will reach the World Series. Asked about the contrast between last October and this one, Ordonez expressed only joy about the current opportunity.
"When you play in baseball, you've got a chance to be in the World Series," he said. "You know when you're on a team that has good players, a lot of talent, good manager, good coaches, good organization, maybe one time in life, you get this chance. Now is our chance."
This ALCS victory was a team effort in the largest sense of the term. But the chance at the World Series was not made official until Ordonez hit a postseason home run for the ages, a walk-off blast in the deciding game of a Championship Series.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.