When you hear someone make a mention about the Tigers’ great young pitcher, the first player that comes to mind is Justin Verlander. People forget that Jeremy Bonderman, despite having four full major league seasons under his belt, is just four months older than Verlander. Bonderman’s been on the top of many people’s lists of breakout candidates the past couple of seasons, and while he underperformed in the win/loss column with a 14-8 record this season, he was second in the American League, behind only Johan Santana, with 202 strikeouts. The primary concern with Bonderman was his collapse just this past Sunday when he allowed the hapless Kansas City Royals to come back and beat the Tigers despite being handed a six-run lead. In fact, it was that loss that put them in the “predicament” of facing the Yankees in the American League Division Series.
It’s hard to believe that anyone could top Kenny Rogers’ performance on Friday, but Bonderman did just that. He retired the first 15 batters he faced and it wasn’t until Robinson Cano singled to lead off the sixth that Bonderman faced his first “threat.” He threw 99 pitches over 8.1 innings, and 70 of those were strikes. He did end up giving up two runs, but it wasn’t until the Tigers had put up eight runs in the first six frames.
When I saw the projected starters, I knew the Tigers would have a great shot against Jaret Wright. In the second inning, the Tigers scored three runs off Wright with home runs from Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe. The Tigers tagged him for another run in the third, and just like that, Wright’s 10th postseason start came to an abrupt end. Cory Lidle didn’t fare much better; he gave up three more runs in the fifth inning, which pretty much put this game out of reach.
The Yankees finally put a run on the board in the eighth inning when Hideki Matsui grounded into a fielders’ choice with Derek Jeter on third base. That was the first run that the best offense in the American League had scored since the fourth inning of Game 2. That 20-inning stretch was by far the longest drought the Yankees had all season.
Oddly, Curtis Granderson was one of the Tigers’ hottest hitters in this series coming into Game 4, and he was the only Tiger who didn’t get a hit. Ordonez led the way for the Tigers at the plate today. He drove in that first run with his solo shot in the first inning, and he finished the game with two RBIs and three runs.
Alex Rodriguez singled in his second at-bat in Game 1. He then went hitless in his next 12 at-bats, and in four of those at-bats, he struck out. He was hitting so poorly that Joe Torre dropped him all the way down to eighth in the starting lineup in Game 4. He finished the series with a .071 batting average. Gary Sheffield didn’t fare much better. He also singled in his second at-bat and then went hitless in his final 10 at-bats. At least he drove in a run, which is more than you can say about Rodriguez.
I didn’t see a single “expert” predict that the Tigers would win this series. In fact, several of them picked the Yankees to win the World Series, and several of them didn’t even have the Tigers winning one game. I guess that’s why they play the games. Not only did the Tigers win their first postseason series since 1984, but they did it rather handily.
The Tigers already know who their opponents will be for the ALCS, which begins on Tuesday in Oakland. They went 5-4 this season against the Oakland Athletics.