NEW YORK – Many thought the Tigers blew their only chance into the ALCS after their 10-1 loss in Detroit on Tuesday night. Many thought we didn’t stand a chance after seeing Jim Leyland’s lineup card get turned in before the game.
Don Kelly, utility man extraordinaire, starting at third base and batting 2nd? But the Tigers skipper said he had a “feeling” he was going to deliver. Sure enough, in the top of the first on a 0-1 count, Kelly crushed a curveball over the right field wall. Who saw that coming?
Oh, Jim Leyland did.
Delmon Young used that momentum in the very next at-bat and hit his own solo homerun over the left field wall. He became the first Tigers player in history to have 3 homeruns in a single postseason series.
The Tigers jumped out to a very early 2-0 lead and it was all up to the pitching to close the door.
Tiger’s starter Doug Fister needed to be incredible to get through the Yankees hot bats. He mixed his pitches up well and though he wasn’t his sharpest, he got those big outs when he needed them.
He pitched 5 innings, only giving up a solo homerun from Robinson Cano in the bottom of the fifth.
This game would come down to the Tigers bullpen holding a tight lead. Jim Leyland refused to use Justin Verlander out of the bullpen. Some said this was going to be a mistake. Why wouldn’t you want your MVP candidate out there for a couple innings?
The Yankees decided to use their ace CC Sabathia for his first career relief appearance. The result? Not so great. He would give up what would be the winning run, an RBI single off the bat of his former teammate Victor Martinez.
Jim Leyland did decide to use Max Scherzer though. The result? Much better. Scherzer only threw 32 pitches through 1.1 innings. He was charged with a run though. After giving up a single to Derek Jeter in the bottom of the 7th, Leyland brought in Joaquin Benoit, who eventually walked him home.
But Benoit was one of the saviors of the game. He got huge strikeouts from Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher in the 7th and pitched right through the bottom of the 8th, setting up Tigers closer Jose Valverde with a 3-2 lead in the 9th.
Valverde, who was 49 for 49 in save opportunities during the season, came in for the biggest save of his career. He would need only 11 pitches to prove his dominance. A fly out from Curtis Granderson, a lineout from Robinson Cano, and an emphatic swinging strikeout from Alex Rodriguez and the Tigers beat the Yankees 3-2.
The Tigers proved the doubters and showed why Jim Leyland should truly be considered for manager of the year honors. To go with your gut and play Don Kelly and to save Justin Verlander from pitching in this game all seemed like madness at one point.
But Kelly gave the Tigers the early lead and now Verlander is all set to start Game 1 of the American League Championship series against the Texas Rangers.
It all kicks off on Saturday in Arlington, Texas. The Rangers are expected to put lefty ace C.J. Wilson on the mound. Detroit was 6-3 against Texas in the regular season.
Matthew LaFave can be reached through e-mail or on Twitter.