Tigers face old foe in ALCS
Despite having better record, Detroit heading to West Coast
DETROIT -- The Tigers spent most of the final week of the regular season looking ahead to an American League Central title and a meeting with the A's.
Detroit didn't win the division, but now the Tigers have the matchup. And they have more momentum now than they could've hoped for had they beaten up on the Blue Jays and Royals last week.
"We've taken adversity," said Nate Robertson, Tuesday's Game 1 starter. "It's redemption, really, to be at this point."
Though the Tigers believe they proved something to the rest of baseball by taking three out of four from the Yankees, the A's are a much more dangerous team than they looked a week ago. They dismantled the feel-good comeback story of the AL Central champion Minnesota Twins in three games, first by outpitching Johan Santana and Boof Bonser in Minneapolis, then by flat-out slugging Minnesota in Oakland for the knockout punch to earn the A's their first postseason series win since 1992.
Just as important, by sweeping the series, the A's can set up their rotation and give themselves a chance to advance further. The Tigers will stick to their pitching order from their previous series against the Yankees, with Justin Verlander going in Game 2, A's killer Kenny Rogers going in Game 3 and Jeremy Bonderman -- a former A's draft pick who relishes chances to haunt his former club -- set to pitch in Game 4.
As much as the Tigers gained from the experience of toppling the Yankees, Detroit also has to pay a price. Had the Tigers won the AL Central, they would've had home-field advantage in the first round to bring in the A's. Now, even though Detroit finished two games better than Oakland, the Tigers can't have home-field advantage as the Wild Card winner until the World Series. Thus, they're off to the Bay Area for the first couple games, then face another West Coast trip if the series goes six games.
Redemption or not over New York, the Tigers still likely open the next series as an underdog.
"I think going to Oakland, as much as we'd love to have the extra game here for our fans, you never know what'll happen," Rogers said. "So far it's working out the way we want. We kind of wipe the slate clean from the first few days. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us. Oakland's playing great. We're hopeful we've righted our ship and start playing the game like we did earlier in the season. It'll be a very good series."
If it's anything like their last playoff matchup, it should be. Detroit and Oakland matched up in the 1972 ALCS as two teams headed in different directions. Billy Martin's Tigers won the AL East that year with a core group that had won the 1968 World Series, including team home run and RBI leader Norm Cash and 22-game winner Mickey Lolich. The A's had a young group on the verge of starting its run of three straight World Series championships behind 26-year-olds Reggie Jackson, Ken Holtzman and Catfish Hunter.
A's pitching held the Tigers to two runs on nine hits over 20 innings in Oakland to take a commanding two-game lead in the best-of-five series, but Detroit struck back at Tiger Stadium. Joe Coleman struck out 14 in a complete-game shutout to take Game 3, then Jim Northrup's RBI single capped a three-run comeback in the 10th to send the series to a decisive fifth game.
Still in Detroit, Woody Fryman held the A's to two runs, one earned, over eight innings in Game 5. But Blue Moon Odom and Vida Blue combined to pull out the 2-1 win. That was the famous game where Reggie Jackson stole home with the tying run and tore his hamstring in the process.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.