DETROIT — There were plenty of moments in the days between April and October that gave fans reason to doubt the Detroit Tigers. One way or another, there was going to be drinking at the end, either swallowing a season of lost promise or celebrating a late charge. But perhaps no one thought the Tigers would reach this point in such dominant fashion.
“If someone would have told me we would sweep the Yankees in this series, I would have told them they were crazy,” Detroit Manager Jim Leyland said when the American League Championship Series had mercifully finished.
As a sellout crowd of 42,477 spilled out of Comerica Park to take the party to the streets of Detroit on Thursday night, champagne soaked the Tigers’ clubhouse floor. The Tigers snared the AL pennant, thoroughly bashing the Yankees, 8-1, in Game 4 to earn a sweep of New York. A Tigers team that nearly missed the playoffs entirely punched its ticket to the World Series and appears to be peaking at the perfect time.
“I don’t think as a team we ever doubted ourselves,” said staff ace Justin Verlander, a cigar in his left hand, goggles on his head and his clothes thoroughly drenched in booze. “In this clubhouse, we’re family.
“We ended up where we needed to be and started playing our best baseball in the process.”
In Game 4, Detroit starter Max Scherzer didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning, and the Yankees managed only two in the game. Scherzer picked up his first win of the postseason, allowing one run on two hits while striking out 10 in 52 / 3 innings against a listless Yankees lineup.
After scoring four runs in an extra-inning loss in Game 1, the Yankees managed only two more runs in the final three games. They were without their captain, Derek Jeter, who broke his ankle in Game 1, and had to suffer through untimely slumps from Alex Rodriguez (3 for 25 in the postseason), Robinson Cano (3 for 40), Nick Swisher (5 for 30) and Curtis Granderson (3 for 30).
“We didn’t swing the bats,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said. “It wasn’t one guy, it wasn’t two guys, it was a bunch of guys. . . . Collectively we weren’t able to get it done.”
Said Rodriguez: “They outplayed us in every facet of the game. They were the better team.”
In Game 4 especially, the Tigers dominated at the plate and on the mound. Detroit got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first when Delmon Young singled in Omar Infante. Two innings later, Mark Teixeira’s error helped the Tigers load the bases, and Avisail Garcia hit an infield single back up the middle, over the glove of Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, to score Prince Fielder from third for what amounted to the game-winning run.
While Scherzer mowed through the New York lineup, Tigers sluggers put the game out of reach in the fourth, when both Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta blasted two-run homers, giving the Tigers a 6-0 advantage. Peralta added another homer in the eighth inning.
The Tigers outhit the Yankees 16-2 on Thursday. In the series, Detroit bats accounted for more than twice as many hits (46-22) and more than three times as many runs (19-6). So dominant was the Tigers’ rotation that the Yankees managed only two runs off Detroit’s four starters.
“Our pitching carried us throughout the whole playoffs, so we didn’t need to go out there and score five, six runs every game,” said Young, who scored three runs and knocked in six more in the series to earn ALCS MVP honors.
Sabathia took the loss, allowing six runs on 11 hits in 32 / 3 innings, helping the Yankees wrap up yet another October collapse. New York has missed the playoffs just once since 1995, but it has won just one pennant in the past nine seasons.
The Tigers, meanwhile, will take aim at their first World Series title since 1984. Detroit last won a pennant in 2006, losing the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games. Only three players remain from the 2006 squad — Verlander, Infante and Ramon Santiago. The front office parted ways with several key veterans in recent years but kept reloading. The Tigers added Fielder in the offseason, signing the slugger to a nine-year, $214 million contract, and then acquired Infante and Anibal Sanchez in a midseason trade.
With Verlander and Scherzer finishing the regular season Nos. 1 and 2 in baseball in strikeouts, Detroit might enter the World Series with the pitching and offensive mettle needed to snap its 28-year title drought.
“Hopefully we’ve quieted some doubters now,” Leyland said. “The guys just stepped it up when we had to.”
The manager is quick to note there were plenty of bumps along the way. Victor Martinez tore his anterior cruciate ligament before the season. Young was arrested in April and charged with assault, which resulted in a seven-game suspension. The Tigers weren’t even a .500 team at the season’s midpoint. They had to claw their way to the top of the division. After spending most of September in second place, the Tigers didn’t clinch until Oct. 1. Their 88 wins were the fewest of any of this year’s division winners.
“We’ve been playing with our backs against the wall for the better part of the second half,” Verlander said, “and it’s very gratifying to get to this point, play well and really jell as a team when we need to.”