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Senior Baseball Columnist

Well-armed Tigers prove untouchable to Yankees in dominant ALCS

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Max Scherzer and the Tigers pitching staff hold the Yankees to a .157 average in the ALCS. (US Presswire)  
Max Scherzer and the Tigers pitching staff hold the Yankees to a .157 average in the ALCS. (US Presswire)  

DETROIT -- Steamroller through a flower bed. Teenager through a refrigerator. Tigers through the Yankees.

Piece of cake, glass of champagne.

On to the World Series.

"Hopefully, we've quieted some doubters now," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said through the cigar smoke and championship smiles.

Quieted them? The Tigers no-hit the doubters.

Behind some of the most spectacular starting pitching ever produced by a playoff team, the Tigers closed out their sweep of the Yankees with an 8-1 mauling in Game 4 of this AL Championship Series on Thursday night, setting up a World Series date with either the Cardinals or Giants beginning next Wednesday.

Go ahead, take a swing at the Tigers now. The way their pitchers are dealing, it's an easy swing and a miss.

"I had people the whole year," Leyland said, when asked about the Tigers falling to three games behind the White Sox in the AL Central with just 16 to play. "Sixteen games is almost 10 percent of the schedule. So, you know, that's a lot of games left.

"I just reminded everybody when we took our punches all year, you know what? Let's just wait until the end. And then if we've underachieved, I will be the first one to admit it.

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"But let us play out the schedule to see if we underachieve."

The Yankees never had a chance. They never led in any of the 39 innings over four games. Not once. The only other time that's happened to the Yankees in October was in the 1963 World Series, when the Dodgers of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale swept them.

Fact is, it's happened in a best-of-7 series only four previous times, according to whowins.com: The '63 World Series. The Orioles over the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series. The A's over the Giants in the 1989 World Series. And the Red Sox over the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series.

Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, take a bow.

Delmon Young (two homers, eight RBI) was named the MVP of this series, but anybody who watched this mugging knows that the real MVP was Detroit's rotation, with a little Phil Coke thrown in on the side.

The Yankees wound up batting just .157 in the ALCS, the second-lowest total of any of the 172 teams playing in an LCS since 1969. Only the 1969 Twins (.155) were worse. The Yankees scored in just three of the 39 total innings.

This was a quick, decisive and brutal beatdown.

Nick Swisher needs a hug? Alex Rodriguez needs the Witness Protection Program? Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson need fresh starts?

Why do you think that is?

After a week of banging on the Yankees, maybe it's time folks celebrated the Tigers.

"Delmon had a heck of a series, but our starting pitching is why we swept them," catcher Gerald Laird said. "It's why we're at where we're at. They took the ball every day and shut down a great Yankees lineup.

"It's unbelievable. You hear, 'They're going cold.' I was like, 'Maybe it's just our pitching.'

"These guys are good. They deserve what they get. They shut the Yankees down four times in a row."

Steamroller through a flower bed. Teenagers through a refrigerator. Tigers through the Yankees.

All summer long, it was supposed to be this way in Detroit. Sign Prince Fielder. Slot him in the lineup behind Miguel Cabrera. Hand the ball to Verlander. Mix with cold water and stir. Instant dominance.

Coming out of spring training, most people pegged the Tigers to lap the rest of the AL Central. The race was supposed to have been over by Father's Day. Instead, the Tigers spent a stunning amount of time chasing the White Sox, and when they left Chicago on Sept. 17, they trailed by three games with only 16 to play.

"It was a grinding year," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "I think it was a situation where we started off very quickly, and then after that we were in a spot where there were a lot of ups and downs. We had hoped and thought we could win the division. We never fell too far out, but we never got on a real roll, either.

"Yeah, it was a real struggle."

They were six games under .500, 26-32, as late as June 8. They were running third in the division for nearly two months, from May 19-July 14.

They pulled into a tie for first place with the White Sox on Aug. 2 but immediately dropped back into second the next day. And they remained there until finally moving into first place alone on Sept. 26.

At an organizational luncheon with roughly two weeks left in the season, several nervous folks cautiously asked Dombrowski for his evaluation of a season that most outside the organization were dismissing as disappointing.

"You know what?" Dombrowski told them. "It could be a very special season still. Or it can be disappointing, not as special as we want it to be.

"But it can be very special."

Most of the battle, it turned out, was just getting to October.

"This is fantastic, but the ultimate goal is to win the World Series," Verlander said on the field after Scherzer held the Yanks to one run and two hits over 5 2/3 innings, with Detroit music from Martha Reeves to Bob Seger to Kid Rock pounding and 42,477 rocking, the Thursday night party only just beginning. "This team is built to win a World Series, so let's go out and do it."

The Tigers are built for October, but what many folks didn't understand for much of the summer is that their October never was completely predicated on Fielder and Cabrera. No, their postseason transmission always was going to be in Verlander, Fister, Scherzer and, after Dombrowski scooped him up in another astute July deal, Anibal Sanchez.

"It's pretty special now," Dombrowski said. "And we'd like to make it a little more special."

Better late than never.

In eight postseason games so far, Tigers starters have produced a 1.02 ERA and struck out 66 over 62 innings. In the ALCS, they went 3-0 with an 0.66 ERA.

From the beginning of Game 5 of the Division Series against Oakland through the eighth inning of Game 3 of the ALCS, Tigers starting pitchers did not allow a run over a span of 30 1/3 innings. That is the longest scoreless streak by any club's pitchers in any postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"Phenomenal," Lloyd McClendon said. "Absolutely phenomenal."

And he's the Tigers hitting coach.

"We knew we had a good staff, especially once Doug got healthy," McClendon continued, referring to Fister missing time earlier in the year with an oblique strain. "We knew if we could get into the playoffs we were going to be dangerous.

"We were a very dangerous club, and I don't think teams wanted to play us for that reason."

Tell that to the Yankees, who were swept in a best-of-7 series for the first time since the Reds did it to them in the 1976 World Series. And, before them, the Athletics.

How perfectly fitting that it was Fielder, to whom the Tigers gave $214 million over nine years last winter after Victor Martinez was injured, who caught Jayson Nix's pop fly to seal Detroit's second World Series trip in seven years.

For a moment, it looked as if second baseman Omar Infante was going to move in on him to make the play. But on this night, in this city where his father, Cecil, starred a couple of decades ago, no way.

No way was that happening.

"He might have gotten knocked over," Fielder said, chuckling.

Just like the Yankees.

Steamroller through a flower bed. Teenager through a refrigerator. Tigers through the Yankees.

On to the World Series.

"There's no better feeling in baseball than winning the World Series," Dombrowski said. "If any city, any ownership, any state deserves it more, it is this one right here.

"So I hope we can bring it home for all of them."

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