DETROIT (AP) -- As a reborn baseball town erupted in splashes of
orange and blue around them, the Detroit Tigers danced in the
infield, kicking up dirt like kids on a sandlot.
They grabbed Jim Leyland, hoisted him on their shoulders and
carried him off the field as 43,000 delirious fans screamed as one.
The manager's ride was a short one, but the party was just getting
The Tigers are still on the prowl. The mighty New York Yankees
Three years after losing 119 games, they moved back among
baseball's biggest cats with an 8-3 victory Saturday in Game 4 over
the Yankees, whose $200 million payroll couldn't help them against
"This is the best of the best, to beat the best team in
baseball," said Craig Monroe, who hit a two-run homer. "This is
baseball for us, right here in Detroit."
Once a punchline, the Tigers punched out the big, bad Yankees.
"You kind of get tired of giving the other team credit," third
baseman Alex Rodriguez said after another terrible October. "At
some point you've got to look in the mirror and say, 'I sucked."
Jeremy Bonderman was perfect for five innings and sublime until
the ninth as the Tigers moved into the AL championship series
against Oakland by eliminating A-Rod, Derek Jeter and the other
high-priced, high-profile Yankees.
Given little chance before the series started or when they were
down 0-1, Detroit won three straight to stun the AL East champions,
who could be facing a colder New York baseball winter than normal.
It all happened faster than Leyland, the Tigers' no-nonsense
skipper, or anyone could have ever imagined. The feisty 61-year-old
ended a six-year retirement and took over a team that had averaged
100 losses since 2001 and one he figured would fight with Kansas
City to stay out of last place in the AL Central.
Instead, Leyland has taken the Tigers near the top.
"I didn't think we'd be here this year," he said. "All we
wanted to do was look at our pieces and parts we had and see if we
needed to change any. I thought it would be a year or so before we
got into a situation like this. This came a little bit quicker than
And, he used a pinstriped plan to make it happen.
During spring training in Florida, Leyland made his players
study the Yankees. He wanted them to emulate their Bronx-born
bravado, right down to the way they run onto the field.
"I said, 'That's the level we want to get to, and we've got to
get that quiet swagger and confidence that the Yankees got," he
said. "I used them as an example. It's kind of ironic that we got
to play them, and fortunately beat them."
The Tigers' chances seemed slim just a few days ago when they
were swept at home on the final weekend of the regular season by
the last-place Royals, who denied them a division title. Detroit
had to settle for a wild-card berth and a first-round matchup with
It seemed lopsided. It sure was. The Yankees didn't have a
These man-eating Tigers simply devoured New York, outplaying the
Yanks in every phase to advance to their first AL championship
series since 1987. On Tuesday, the Tigers will play at Oakland in
Game 1 of the AL championship series, the first postseason meeting
between the clubs since 1972.
"Nobody gave us a shot in this series," Bonderman said. "That
The Yankees never found any spark, and for the second straight
year the star-studded squad is going home after a first-round exit.
"I'm stunned," New York general manager Brian Cashman said.
"This team fooled me to some degree. Detroit was on top of their
game and we weren't, and that combination was lethal for us. I'm
disappointed where we're at now."
Losing stung and now the Yankees will have to face owner George
Steinbrenner's wrath. He may have big changes in store for his
underachieving ballclub, which hasn't won a World Series since
One of the Yankees' offseason moves could be trading Rodriguez,
who capped another forgettable October by going 1-for-14 (.071) and
going without an RBI for the second straight postseason.
"I have no one to blame but myself," he said. "I know I
certainly have to do well for this team to win."
Bonderman allowed just five singles, walking off to a thunderous
ovation with an 8-1 lead.
After the final out, the Tigers mobbed each other before turning
their affection to Leyland, who began his baseball career in 1963
as a catcher in Detroit's system.
"That was awesome," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "That's
so deserving. I don't know how many people have been carried off
the field on their shoulders, but I tell you what, if there were a
select few that deserve it, he is definitely one of them."
Moments later, the Tigers emerged from their clubhouse armed
with champagne bottles and they uncorked them during a victory lap
around Comerica Park, slapping hands and spraying fans who danced
to Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Night."
"These fans have been here for some of the worst things,"
Monroe said. "We wanted them to be able to have a party tonight."
Blanked in Game 3 by Kenny Rogers, the Yankees and their reputed
Murderer's Row didn't score off Bonderman until the seventh,
snapping a scoreless streak of a season-high 20 2-3 innings. This
from a team which scored 930 runs during the regular season but
managed just 14 in the series, getting drubbed 14-3 in the final
"You've got to play," Jeter said. "You don't win games on
paper. You've got to come out here and perform. And they pretty
much overmatched us in this series."
Feeding off a frenzied crowd, Bonderman retired the first 15
Yankees in order before Robinson Cano dribbled a single through the
middle for New York's first hit. Bonderman, though, wasn't about to
let a big lead slip away like he did last Sunday when the Royals
overcame a 6-0 deficit to beat the Tigers, a loss that cost Detroit
an AL Central title and home-field advantage in Round 1.
As it turns out, the Tigers and their $80-plus million payroll
didn't need any such luxuries.
"I just wanted to go out and attack them," Bonderman said. "I
just wanted to leave everything I had on the field, and I think I
did. This is the greatest thrill in the world. You can't ask for
Bernie Williams, who signed with the Yankees 21 years ago,
said he wants to take some time before deciding his next move. ...
The Tigers' wild clubhouse celebration included Hall of Famer Al
Kaline, former Tigers slugger Willie Horton and utility infielder
Ramon Santiago dancing to some Latin music. ... The Yankees'
scoreless streak was their longest since the 2000 postseason.