Posted on: October 7, 2011 1:00 pm

Tigers give Ilitch 'one of greatest days'

Mike Ilitch has won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings. His Tigers made it to the World Series in 2006, before losing to the Cardinals.

And yet, when the Tigers won Game 5 Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, Ilitch told general manager Dave Dombrowski: "This is one of the greatest days of my life."

That says something about what it means to win an elimination game against the Yankees -- on the road.

But it also says a lot about the 82-year-old Ilitch, and what motivates him. For all his hockey success, he badly wants to win in baseball. He wants to win a World Series before he dies.

I've had my differences with Ilitch over the year. I've criticized him at least as much as I've praised him (probably a lot more).

But he sure does care about winning.
Posted on: October 6, 2011 11:41 pm

Deals pay off, and the Tigers are in the ALCS

NEW YORK -- The Tigers made two huge midseason acquisitions. The Yankees made none.

The Tigers are going to the American League Championship Series. The Yankees are not.

Doug Fister, brilliant for the Tigers after a July 30 trade with the Mariners, allowed one run in five innings in the decisive Game 5. Delmon Young, picked up in an Aug. 15 waiver deal with the Twins, hit the second of the Tigers' back-to-back first-inning home runs.

And the Tigers will go on to face the Rangers, beginning Saturday night in Texas.

The Yankees will go on to assess how it all went so wrong.

On the final night of their season, starter Ivan Nova went just two innings, with the Yankees announcing that he left the game with tightness in his right forearm. That forced manager Joe Girardi to piece together the most important game of the year with his bullpen, and with the Yankees already trailing 2-0.

The piecing-together actually worked well, although CC Sabathia (in the first relief appearance of his career) gave up an add-on run. Girardi was able to set it up with David Robertson ready to pitch the eighth and Mariano Rivera available for the ninth.

With questions about Nova's health, and with Girardi pushing Sabathia through 37 pitches on two days' rest, you had to wonder how the Yankees would be set up for the ALCS, even if they got there.

But they didn't.

The Tigers made the moves in July and August. Those moves paid off in October.
Category: MLB
Posted on: October 3, 2011 8:59 pm

Lewis gives Rangers the start they needed

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Rangers had the best record in baseball in games where they allowed four runs or more. They score plenty of runs, so no need to worry if they give up a few.

The Rays' pitching can change that equation.

The Rangers expected some games like Monday's, and that means that to advance they're going to need some performances like the one Colby Lewis gave them Monday. Lewis, an unsung star from the 2010 Texas run to the World Series, allowed just one run in six innings, and the Rangers turned it into a 4-3 win that gave them a two games to one edge in the series.

The Rangers realize that on paper, the starting pitching matchups in this series will rarely favor them, if ever. They know that the big question is whether their much-better lineup can score a few runs against the great Tampa Bay starters, and whether their starters can do a good enough job against a much-weaker Rays lineup.

Monday, Lewis was better than just good enough.

He allowed just one hit, a fourth-inning Desmond Jennings home run, and just one other baserunner, on a walk to B.J. Upton. He outpitched the much more heralded David Price, and handed a 4-1 lead to the Ranger bullpen (which held onto it, just barely).

Lewis, who the Rangers brought back from Japan before last season, has a 4.99 ERA in 136 career regular-season games. He lowered his postseason ERA to 1.67, in six starts over the last two Octobers.

Monday, he did just what the Rangers asked of him, just what they needed.
Posted on: October 2, 2011 9:30 pm

Ordonez: 'I almost hung it up'

NEW YORK -- He's not the focus of the Tiger lineup anymore. He's not the Tigers' MVP candidate, or even the second choice.

But Magglio Ordonez can still do a lot for the Tigers, as he showed in a 3-for-3 night that helped lead to four of the runs in Sunday's 5-3 win over the Yankees.

Good thing for them he didn't go home. Good thing for him.

That's go home, as in for good. That's go home, as in retire.

"I almost hung it up," Ordonez revealed Sunday.

His right ankle, the one that required surgery after he broke it in July 2010, just wasn't responding. He didn't feel right.

He wasn't hitting.

"When I was playing, I didn't enjoy the game," he said. "And I play with my heart."

This was three or four months ago, Ordonez said Sunday. The 37-year-old outfielder said he talked it over with his family, and decided to be patient, and hope that the ankle would respond in time for him to help the Tigers later in the season.

It did. And he did.

On Aug. 12, Ordonez was hitting .224. From that point on, he played in 21 games and hit .365.

"I feel normal, like before," he said.

Like before he got hurt, he means. And while he may not have the power he had earlier in his career, Ordonez looks a lot more like the guy who could always get a hit, the guy who hit .363 and finished second in the MVP race in 2007.

And not like the guy who couldn't get his still-hurting legs under him for much of the season.

"It's like a car," he said. "When you have a flat tire, it's hard for it to run.

"Now, the tire has a lot of air in it."

Now, he's happy he didn't go home. And now, the Tigers would agree.
Category: MLB
Posted on: October 2, 2011 6:43 pm

Tigers win, and now they have Verlander next

NEW YORK -- Bet the Tigers don't mind having Justin Verlander in Game 3 now.

I'm also thinking that the Yankees now won't throw Miguel Cabrera another strike in this series. Of course, I'm still wondering why they threw him a strike Sunday.

A lot changed in this American League Division Series Sunday, when the Tigers rode Cabrera, Max Scherzer and a shaky Jose Valverde ninth inning to a 5-3 Game 2 win over the Yankees.

The series is tied, at one win apiece. But now if the Yankees don't beat Verlander on Monday night in Detroit, their season rests in A.J. Burnett's unreliable hands in Game 4 Tuesday.

Sunday morning, the Tigers were the team with their season on the brink. They had lost just one game, but they'd gone through both Verlander and Doug Fister, their two most reliable starters this year.

They had no idea what to expect from the talented but erratic Scherzer, the sometimes-forgotten pitcher the Tigers got as part of the three-team Curtis Granderson-Austin Jackson-Ian Kennedy trade after 2009.

What they got from Scherzer on Sunday was 5 1/3 no-hit innings. What they got was six-plus innings and no runs.

Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia made the one mistake you absolutely can't make against the Tigers. He let Cabrera beat him.

With a runner on and two out in the first, he got far too much of the plate and gave up a two-run home run. With runners at first and third and one out in the sixth, he put another pitch on the plate and Cabrera's single made it 3-0.

While Cabrera was huge, Yankee cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez is 0-for-8 in the series and is once again hearing boos at Yankee Stadium.

More shades of 2006, memories the Tigers will try to fan by having Kenny Rogers throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Verlander takes the mound Monday night at Comerica Park.

The similarities are there now, with rain, a Yankee win in Game 1 and a Tiger win in Game 2.

In '06, Rogers carried a shutout two outs into the eighth inning of Game 3, and the next day Joe Torre batted A-Rod eighth the day the Yankees were eliminated.

It's too early to say this is a repeat.

But Verlander is pitching Game 3.
Posted on: October 1, 2011 11:32 pm

No need to argue; Yankees have the edge

NEW YORK -- Argue all you want about whether Friday night's rain helped the Yankees or the Tigers.

Saturday night, there was no need to argue.

Could this night have gone any better for the Yankees?

Ivan Nova looked like a real postseason starter -- even though he was technically pitching in relief. Robinson Cano looked like an MVP -- even though the fans were chanting "M-V-P" for Curtis Granderson.

In a series where Justin Verlander can likely now affect only one game, the Yankees are already ahead, one game to none, after Saturday's 9-3 rout (in a continuation of the game that began in  Friday's rain).

And in a series where there could now be four games in four days, Nova pitched so well (and the Yankees eventually scored so much) that manager Joe Girardi could avoid using almost all his top relievers. He shouldn't have had to use any of them, but after Nova got the Yankees to the ninth inning, Luis Ayala was so bad that Mariano Rivera had to get the final out.

Nova took over for Sabathia, who pitched two innings before the rain. Doug Fister took over for Verlander, who pitched one inning before the suspension. On this night, it was advantage Nova, and advantage Yankees.

No one is saying, one game into a long postseason, that the Yankees look unbeatable. No one is saying, one game into a short series, that the Tigers can't come back.

But in one game over two days, the Yankees grabbed a clear edge.

They reminded us how strong their lineup can be. They showed us that they have a starter other than CC Sabathia capable of throwing some shutout innings.

And they can win the series even if they never beat Verlander -- and if they lose another game, as well.

As for the Tigers, they'll look back on the moments when Game 1 turned against them.

Specifically, they'll wonder about third-base coach Gene Lamont's decision to send Alex Avila home on a one-out Jhonny Peralta single in the fifth inning. It was a 1-1 game at the time, Nova had begun looking a little vulnerable, and the Tigers could have had the bases loaded with one out.

Instead, the Yankees got a perfect relay from Curtis Granderson to Derek Jeter to Russell Martin, Avila was out at the plate, and the inning ended with the game still tied. The Yankees then took the lead in the bottom of the fifth on Cano's double off the wall.

The next decision came an inning later, when Fister was beginning to falter. Tigers manager Jim Leyland allowed him to face Granderson (who walked to load the bases), then brought in right-hander Al Alburquerque to face the left-handed hitting Cano.

Cano is basically immune to lefties (during the season, his OPS against right-handers was .884, vs. lefties .879), and Alburquerque was very, very good against left-handed hitters (.176).

Alburquerque hung a slider, Cano sent it soaring to the right-field seats for the Yankees' first postseason grand slam in 12 years (Ricky Ledee hit the last one), and rest of the game didn't matter.

Cano ended up with six RBI, tying a Yankee postseason record set in 1960 by Bobby Richardson and tied by Bernie Williams (1999) and Hideki Matsui (2009).

The Tigers ended up with a one game to none deficit.

And no one was talking about the rain.
Posted on: October 1, 2011 2:18 pm

On Fister, Dombrowski refused to accept 'no'

NEW YORK -- The first time Dave Dombrowski asked about Doug Fister, Jack Zduriencik said no, he's not available.

And the second time, and the third time, and . . .

How many times was it, Dave, a dozen?

"At least," Dombrowski said.

Twenty? Twenty-five?

"Probably," Dombrowski said. "Over a three-week period, we called a couple of times a day. Sometimes three times."

Zduriencik, the Mariners general manager, kept saying no. Dombrowski, the Tigers general manager, refused to take no for an answer.

"He opened the door at times, and then he would close it," Dombrowski said. "As long as it was open a little, we kept trying."

Eventually, on the day before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Tigers got Fister and David Pauley in exchange for four young players.

Fister went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA, so you could say that Dombrowski's persistence is the reason the Tigers are in the playoffs. With Friday night's rain, Fister will in effect start two games in the Division Series against the Yankees, so you could say that he is the Tigers' best chance for advancing.

Fister will pick up for Justin Verlander when Game 1 resumes in the middle of the second inning Saturday night. If the series goes the five-game distance, Fister is now on schedule to start the deciding game.

And all because when Zduriencik said no, Dombrowski kept trying. And trying.

One Tigers person said he had never seen Dombrowski so determined to get a deal done. Dombrowski said he could only compare it to his pursuit of Mike Lowell in the summer and fall of 1995, when Lowell was with the Yankees and Dombrowski was running the Marlins.

"I worked on that one for six months," he said.

The Tigers identified Fister early, deciding that the combination of his ability and his contract status (he can't be a free agent until after 2015) made him the right fit. The Tigers looked at every pitcher who was or might be available (they made a try for James Shields, but Rays GM Andrew Friedman gave them a firmer "no" than Zduriencik did), but for most of the month, Fister was their top target.

In fact Tigers people insist, they preferred Fister to Ubaldo Jimenez, even if the price for the two had been the same (which it wasn't).

Their first offer for Fister, sources say, included none of the four players who were eventually in the deal (Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez and Chance Ruffin). No one can remember how many other permutations were offered before Zduriencik agreed.

What does seem certain is that the Tigers were the one team that wasn't scared off when Zduriencik said no. Plenty of teams needed pitching, but no one else tried nearly as hard for Fister.

In the end, the Tigers thought they gave up a lot. They view Martinez as a future star at third base, think Ruffin has a chance to pitch very well in the big leagues and view Wells as a potential starting outfielder.

"I guess I'm old school," Dombrowski said. "You don't try to 'win' a trade."

And, apparently, you don't take no for an answer.
Posted on: September 30, 2011 11:49 pm

Could rain help Tigers beat Yanks again?

NEW YORK -- Yankees and Tigers in the playoffs, and rain in the Bronx.

Last time, it helped the Tigers. In fact, in 2006, the Tigers were convinced that a Game 2 rainout in the Bronx turned the series in their favor.

This time, they're not so sure.

"That was different," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Friday night. "We'd already lost a game."

It was different. But it's possible to see this rainout as helping the Tigers, too.

The biggest effect of Friday's postponement, which came after 1 1/2 innings had been played with the score 1-1, is that aces Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia will most likely pitch just one more time each in the series. Both are expected to start Monday, and with Game 5 scheduled for Thursday, neither could come back for it, barring a lot more rain.

"With this team, it lines up well," Verlander contended Friday. "We have four starters ready to go."

The Yankees had planned to use just three starters in the series, with Sabathia pitching Game 4 and Ivan Nova coming back in Game 5. With the rain Friday, manager Joe Girardi said he would use Nova in the continuation of Game 1 on Saturday, with Freddy Garcia starting Game 2, now on Sunday.

Girardi didn't announce his rotation beyond that, but with games now scheduled on four consecutive days, it almost certainly means the Yankees will now use four starters. That likely means a start for A.J. Burnett.

In that case, the matchups for the rest of the series would be Nova and Doug Fister in the resumption of Game 1 Saturday, Garcia and Max Scherzer in Game 2 Sunday, Sabathia and Verlander in Game 3 Monday in Detroit, Burnett and Rick Porcello in Game 4 Tuesday, and Nova and Fister in Game 5.

First, baseball needs to get the next two games in, with rain possible both Saturday and Sunday in New York. Baseball officials were optimistic, but they had also been optimistic that Friday's game could be played.

Instead, rain began in the bottom of the first, and got heavier in the top of the second.

"I couldn't see anything," said Tiger catcher Alex Avila, who struck out against Sabathia in the second.

"I was just hoping he'd throw a ball," said Ryan Raburn, who took strike three. "He's tough enough to hit when it isn't raining."

At that point, officials called for the tarp, and eventually the game was called. Under a rule instituted after the 2008 World Series fiasco in Philadelphia, the game is picked up from that point, rather than re-started.

"Hopefully Doug [Fister] comes in and finishes the no-hitter," quipped Verlander, who gave up a run but not a hit in the first inning.

Verlander said he'd be comfortable pitching Sunday, but that even then, he would get only one start in the series, since he wouldn't come back on short rest (in Game 5).

"I think short rest after [Friday] might be asking too much," he said. "Fortunately, I have a manager who looks not only at the present but the future, too."

Verlander remembers 2006, because he pitched Game 2, which was played on a Thursday afternoon after originally being scheduled for Wednesday night. The Tigers believed that the Yankees were given more information quicker than they were, and that Yankee players were on the way home before the Tigers were told that the game had been called.

"I think that kind of rubbed us the wrong way," Verlander said. "I was out there warming up [on the Wednesday night], and I was the only one out there. This is a little different situation.

"This isn't what either side wanted."

In 2006, the Tigers used the rainout, and the hint of disrespect, as something of a rallying cry. Friday night, they felt that they'd been treated fairly by everyone but Mother Nature.

"This will be fine for us," Verlander said.

But maybe not as fine as in 2006.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com