NEW YORK — The Detroit Tigers have been miscast as a one-man team, a collection of role players riding one pitcher’s right arm all the way to October. They are so much more than that, and on the day their season hung in the balance, facing the pinstriped might of the New York Yankees, they consigned Justin Verlander to the dugout and proved what they really are: a threat to win the whole bloody thing.
These Tigers by no means dominated the Yankees or proved themselves the better team in this American League Division Series. They just survived. Thursday night, on the strength of performances from players all over their roster, the Tigers dispatched the Yankees with a 3-2 victory in the winner-take-all Game 5. The Yankees’ season ended before 50,960, the largest crowd to ever watch a game at the new Yankee Stadium.
Don Kelly and Delmon Young hit first-inning home runs, and Doug Fister and the Detroit bullpen held on as the Tigers edged the New York Yankees 3-2 Thursday night to win the deciding Game 5 of the AL playoff series. (Oct. 7)
“I feel very comfortable about going to play anybody with that club,” said Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski, his suit removed and his white T-shirt drenched in champagne. “I don’t know if we’re going to beat them. But I don’t think we have to take a back seat to anybody.”
Everyone at the stadium was moved, at some point, the edge of their seat during a taut, tense and thrilling game. The Yankees left the bases loaded down a run in the seventh inning, and in the eighth Derek Jeter smoked a two-out flyball to the warning track that Jeffrey Maier may have snagged if he were sitting in the same seat he occupied 15 years ago. In the ninth, high-wire closer Jose Valverde faced the menacing heart of the Yankees’ order — Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez — to save his 51st game in 51 tries.
The Yankees outscored the Tigers, 28-17, over the five-game series, and even in the waning moments of the series the Tigers seemed ready to hand it over to the Yankees. But the Tigers prepared to fly to Arlington, Tex., late Thursday to face the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series, which will begin Saturday. The Yankees packed their lockers and wondered what could have gone differently.
“You have to remember this feeling and take it into next year so it doesn’t happen again,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said.
The Yankees used six relief pitchers — including ace CC Sabathia for 1 1/3 innings, two days after he threw 106 pitches — after rookie starter Ivan Nova exited the game after two innings with tightness in his right forearm. Girardi shuttled pitchers in and out of the game like as if managing under Little League rules dictating everyone gets a chance to play.
The strategy may have looked something like panic, but it mostly worked. After Nova allowed two homers in his first seven pitches, the Tigers managed only one more run, an RBI single in the fifth inning by Victor Martinez off Sabathia that proved to be the game-winner.
Tigers starter Doug Fister allowed only one run — a Cano missile to the upper deck in the fifth — as he danced in and out of jams for five innings. Fister allowed five hits and two walks, and he stranded six base runners. The Yankees loaded the bases in the fourth, but Fister induced popups from Russell Martin and Brett Gardner that kept the Yankees scoreless.