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Tigers show they can beat the Yankees, everyone else


NEW YORK -- Three years in a row, Delmon Young has come into Yankee Stadium for a playoff series.

Twice, his team was swept away in three straight games, swept away as an irrelevant afterthought, dismissed as a warmup act as the Yankees prepared for the more important series to follow.

That's what it was like when Young played for the Twins.

That's what it was like when he showed up in Yankee Stadium without a pitching staff full of guys throwing 95-101 mph, and a clubhouse full of teammates who didn't crumble at the thought of a loud, tension-filled, winner-take-all night in the Bronx.

The Tigers showed up with a team fully capable of beating the Yankees, a team that fully expected to beat the Yankees, and in the end a team that did beat the Yankees.

Another uncomfortable winter has begun in the Bronx, begun late Thursday night when Alex Rodriguez struck out swinging and the Tigers raced out to celebrate a 3-2 win that perfectly fit the series the two teams played. A season that ends on Oct. 6 is no more acceptable to the Yankees than a season that ends in September is to the Red Sox.

"Obviously, this is a terrible day for us," Yankee manager Joe Girardi said. "It's terrible. .. a really empty feeling."

And a great day for the Tigers?

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Yes, but. .. it's not like they didn't expect it.

In retrospect, perhaps all of us should have, too. We should have understood that power pitching can beat the Yankees, and that the Tigers had plenty of it.

We should have understood that of these two teams, the $200 million Yankees were the one that was more flawed.

The Tigers had the better ace (Justin Verlandervs. CC Sabathia). They had the better cleanup hitter (Miguel Cabrera vs. A-Rod). They had the better midseason acquisitions (Young and Doug Fister vs. nobody).

Two months ago, people called the Tigers a dangerous first-round opponent because of Verlander, but because of rain he only affected one game. As it turned out, that makes them a dangerous second-round opponent, too, because now Verlander will be on regular rest when he starts Game 1 Saturday night opposite C.J. Wilson.

But if it was just Verlander, the Tigers never would have beaten the Yankees. If it was just Verlander, they would have had no chance in Thursday's Game 5, when Girardi felt comfortable using Sabathia in relief (he ended up allowing the decisive third run), while Tiger manager Jim Leyland held Verlander out.

Fans worried about that decision. Leyland's players didn't.

"Knowing Doug [Fister] would be on the mound, with the way he has pitched, I think we had as good a feeling as if Justin was on the mound," catcher Alex Avila said.

That's fine, but when Verlander is on the mound, he normally hands the ball directly to closer Jose Valverde (if he doesn't complete the game himself). Thursday, the Tigers got five innings out of Fister, then four outs from Game 2 winner Max Scherzer, before going to the Joaquin Benoit-Valverde back end of their bullpen.

Scherzer hit 99 mph on the radar gun. Benoit hit 96. Valverde, the guy who declared the series over when it was still tied at one win apiece, finished it off in the ninth by throwing 94.

"Everyone's throwing hard," Young said, contrasting the Tigers to those Twins teams that had no chance the last two Octobers. "You have to have pitchers who strike out guys to beat the Yankees."

Tiger pitchers struck out 50 in 44 innings in the series. Derek Jeter fanned eight times in 24 at-bats, and A-Rod struck out six times (including in the series-ending at-bat against Valverde).

Young was key, too, becoming the first Tiger ever with three home runs in a postseason series. The Tigers outhomered the Yankees in the series, 6-4, and it was the back-to-back first-inning homers by Don Kelly and Young that were the biggest hits of the night Thursday.

But it's more than just power at the plate and power on the mound.

To beat the Yankees, you need the power of believing you can win. So many teams (like those Twins) show up at Yankee Stadium and seem to be behind before they throw a pitch.

"If you're coming in here and you don't have total confidence, you're going to get your tail whipped," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said.

The Tigers do believe, even if most of them aren't as brash about it as Valverde. Cabrera stopped me in mid-sentence Thursday night when I mentioned that the Yankees have a good team, reminding me that the Yankees had just two more wins than the Tigers over the course of the season.

And Leyland said something that he started saying back in spring training, when he told anyone who would listen that he liked this Tiger team a lot.

"I've been telling everyone all along we were pretty good," he said. "I felt coming in we had a hell of a chance. They're good, but so are we.

"We beat a hell of a team. We beat arguably the greatest sports franchise, in their stadium, in Game 5. And we're going to have to beat another hell of a team [in Texas]."

And you can bet they'll go in believing that they will beat the Rangers.

Valverde stayed away from any ALCS predictions Thursday ("Not yet," he said), but Cabrera offered one.

"If we play well, I think there's a good chance we'll beat Texas," he said. "We've got a good chance to win."

They can win.

They're not the Twins.


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