The Detroit Tigers hung on to beat the New York Yankees in a decisive fifth game last night, advancing to the ALCS, which starts Saturday night in Arlington, TX.
I questioned Jim Leyland’s personnel decisions before and during the game, but they turned out to be exactly the right moves. Don Kelly, in for Brandon Inge/Wilson Betemit and batting second, hit a home run in the first inning, and NY starter Ivan Nova gave up another homer to Delmon Young on the very next pitch. Austin Jackson stretched a single into a double that allowed him to score the game-winner later on. The Yankees scored their first on a solo shot by Robinson Cano, and Detroit setup man Benoit walked in their second in the seventh, but Valverde, who usually requires a couple run margin to save games, was pure and closed them out in the ninth, striking out A-Rod to end the game. (And, to close the loop on recognizing the error of my critical comments Thursday morning, Magglio Ordonez contributed this.)
Concerns going forward are Young’s oblique muscle injury that took him out in the late innings, the fact that the Rangers really are good, and the fact that Detroit doesn’t play (literal) hangover games well, as evidenced by their split series in Oakland during which they clinched the AL Central.
There are plenty of good teams left in the playoffs, including Texas and Philadelphia, but it’s worth pausing to enjoy this hard-faught win. Having cheered for plenty of losing teams, I’ve learned that rubbing it in isn’t all that much fun for anybody. That doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate a victory over a disliked opponent, though, and the Yankees certainly qualify as such an opponent. There is a sense that, in beating one of New York City’s favored teams, you’ve struck at the heart of coastal media bias and undeniably demanded the attention you know your team and its star players deserved all year. This isn’t to say that the Tigers emerged from under an Eyore-like rust heap of auto part scraps and suddenly were discovered last night. Indeed, “coastal media” figures Bill Simmons and Mike Greenberg have been unabashed in their arguments in favor of Justin Verlander’s MVP candidacy, and I’ve highlighted that here. It’s about past perception, though, and it’s about the knowledge that your team now will receive its due for however long they last in the playoffs. Last night, the Tigers became the first team to beat the Yankees in consecutive playoff series since the early 1920s. The last time they did it was 2006, and I felt then like I do now: I just wanted them to beat New York; everything else was gravy. (I was bummed when they lost the World Series, for sure, but St. Louis completely dominated them, so perhaps there wasn’t enough of a competitive series to really get hooked deeply.) Maybe that’s a second-fiddle mindset, but until Detroit reels off wins in the next thirty-odd World Series, I think reality rationalizes it. Yankee greatness may have been bought, but it isn’t a media fabrication. (And yes all you Moneyballers, teams don’t win without spending money.)
I’m very excited to see what this Detroit team can do, and after the miss in ’06, the pull for a championship is even stronger. I think this team is better than the ’06 team, and it would be a bigger disappointment if they don’t win it all this year than it was then. Still, this was a well-earned, sweet victory, and it makes me pretty happy, whatever happens from here.