DETROIT (AP) – Three years after listening to the all jokes during the Tigers’ 119-loss season, Jeremy Bonderman, Craig Monroe and Brandon Inge helped get Detroit back into the AL championship series for the first time since 1987.

“This is the best feeling – the best moment of my life besides my daughter’s birth,” Bonderman said after the Tigers completed their first-round upset of the New York Yankees on Saturday. “Nobody gave us a chance in this series, and that motivated us. They have the best lineup ever put together, so I had to come out with my best stuff and I was able to do it.”

Detroit had a day off Sunday and will fly to Oakland on Monday for the start of the best-of-seven ALCS on Tuesday night.

After beating the Yankees, Tigers players took a victory lap, spraying champagne on the fans who endured 12 consecutive losing seasons before this year’s turnaround.

“These guys have stuck with us,” Monroe said. “You have to give them credit, because they’ve stayed here through the worst times. That’s what makes this so sweet.”

In the finale against the Yankees, Bonderman pitched perfect ball into the sixth inning. Six days earlier, he left Comerica Park in disgrace after blowing a 6-0 lead against Kansas City in a game that cost the Tigers the AL Central title and left them with a wild-card berth.

“Bondo is a stud,” Monroe said. “We all go through our ups and downs, but when it was on the line, how did he perform? He was magnificent. That’s the best lineup a pitcher can face.”

Detroit finished the regular season with 95 wins, two more than the Athletics, but Oakland gets home- field advantage as a division winner.

“We got here when no one thought we would,” Inge said. “We’re going to take it to Oakland and do the same thing we did here. The sky is the limit if we just go out there and play.”

Oakland and Detroit met in the 1972 ALCS, when Bert Campaneris threw his bat at Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow. The Athletics advanced to the World Series with a five-game victory over the remnants of Detroit’s 1968 championship team.

Two stars on that team, Al Kaline and Willie Horton, did an impromptu dance in the Comerica Park clubhouse on Saturday. Now, the Tigers will get another chance at the A’s, helped by the player who symbolizes Detroit’s transformation.

In 2003, Inge was a backup catcher struggling to stay in the major leagues. Now, he is a power-hitting third baseman.

“We knew there would be light at the end of the tunnel sooner or later, but we didn’t think it would be quite this soon,” Inge said. “To anyone that was on that 2003 team, this seemed so far away. To get here, where we are today? It’s incredible.”

AP-ES-10-08-06 2139EDT

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