The Tigers entered the 2006 American League Division Series as decided underdogs to the New York Yankees. Pundits called the Yankee lineup “the greatest in history” and the team boasted several potential Hall of Fame players. Meanwhile, Detroit experienced its first winning season in 13 years. As a result, few gave the inexperienced Tigers much chance against the vaunted Yankees. However, the games are played on the field and Detroit shocked the baseball world by dismantling New York in four games.
The New York Yankees had not missed the postseason since 1993. Between 1993 and 2006, New York made 12 postseason appearances, clinched six pennants, and won four championships. The team fielded nine potential Hall of Famers. Offensively, they launched 210 home runs, led the league in runs scored, and finished second in batting. The pitching staff included future 300-game winner Randy Johnson, potential Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang and Mariano Rivera lurked in the bullpen.
The Yankees amassed immense amounts of postseason experience while Detroit had very little. Ivan Rodriguez led the club on the field. Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen were All-Star caliber players. Curtis Granderson and Brandon Inge were future All-Stars. The team hit 203 home runs, finished fifth in the league in scoring, and eighth in batting. Pitching proved Detroit’s real strength. The staff led the league in ERA. Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander each won 17 games. Jeremy Bonderman added 14 wins and Nate Robertson 13. Todd Jones led a dynamite bullpen, which included rookie fireballer Joel Zumaya and lefty specialist Jamie Walker.
Detroit’s pitching proved the difference, but not in Game 1. The Tigers started Robertson against Wang in New York and the contest went according to script. The Yankees clubbed Detroit 8-4. The Tiger starter surrendered seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter homered for New York. Despite the loss, the Tigers managed 12 hits and battled to the end.
Justin Verlander and the Tiger bullpen evened the series in Game 2. Carlos Guillen homered in the sixth to tie the game and Detroit added a run in the seventh to take a 4-3 lead. Verlander scuffled in the start and received a no-decision. Jamie Walker got the win in relief. The Tiger pen pitched 3 2/3 innings and surrendered one hit while striking out four. The Tigers stole home field from the Yankees and returned to Comerica Park even at a game apiece.
Kenny Rogers seized control of the series for Detroit in Game 3. The Yankee offense struggled mightily against Rogers. The lefty had the reputation as a poor postseason pitcher until 2006. He went 7 2/3 innings, allowed five hits, walked two, and struck out eight. Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones finished off the Yankees. Detroit needed one win to eliminate the Yankees.
New York stood no chance in Game 4. Detroit led 7-0 before the Yankees got their first hit. Ordonez and Craig Monroe homered in the second to set the tone. Bonderman was perfect through 5 innings and pitched 8 2/3 before running out of gas. Jamie Walker clinched the series by getting the final two outs.
The “greatest lineup in history” managed a .246 average against the Tigers and scored 14 runs in four games. The run total is misleading because they scored eight in Game One and six the rest of the series. On the mound, the Yankee staff ERA finished at 5.56 with a 1.471 WHIP. On the other hand, Detroit batted .309 and scored 22 runs. The pitchers posted a 3.60 ERA, which was somewhat inflated because of Game 1.
Offensive, Detroit’s Carlos Guillen was the hitting star. He hit .571 with a 1.625 OPS. Placido Polanco hit .412 and Sean Casey .353. Granderson and Monroe each had two home runs. On the mound, Bonderman had an amazing Game 4 start. Kenny Rogers bested Bonderman with a shutout for 7 2/3 innings in Game 3.
Many thought the Tigers did not belong on the field with the Yankees. The experts did not foresee the Tiger demolition. Detroit split at Yankee Stadium and then swept at home. It was Detroit’s first postseason series victory since winning the 1984 World Series.