Dombrowski's shrewd moves pay off as Tigers vanquish Yankees
NEW YORK -- All around him was chaos. Small boys -- and grown men acting like small boys -- were bouncing around the room, spraying what had to be the cheapest alcohol-free wine in New York City, and old men were turning the hallway outside the Detroit Tigers clubhouse into their personal cigar bar and yet no one was calmer than Delmon Young -- not counting the sleeping infant being held in his mother's arms.
If anyone had reason to jump around, pop open some bubbly and shout for joy it was Young, the 26-year-old leftfielder who had been rescued from the last-place Twins in mid-August and dropped into the middle of the lineup for the Tigers just as they turned on the afterburners in the AL Central. Yet instead of celebrating, or even smiling, Young, who had left the game in the seventh inning with an oblique injury, wore something resembling a pained expression as he stood off to the side, holding a plastic cup filled with a tiny amount of sparkling wine that his teammates were busy hosing each other with by the bottle-full.
"There's no point in jumping around and aggravating anything," he said.
Young had been plenty aggravating for Yankees fans in the series, burning New York for three home runs, including the second of back-to-back homers in the first inning that sparked the Tigers to a 3-2 win that clinched the ALDS and sent them to the ALCS to face the Texas Rangers.
On Aug. 15, the day Young was traded to the Tigers for what became two minor leaguers, Detroit was 64-56, just 2½ games up in the AL Central and 11th in the majors in runs scored. After his arrival, the Tigers were an MLB-best 31-11, scored 254 runs, the most in the majors in that time, won the division by 15 games and now seem, with their complement of power arms and power bats, like a serious threat to win their first World Series since 1984.
"With our lineup and our staff, we think we have a chance against anybody," said Young, who was soaking in the scene when he was interrupted by his soaking-wet boss, who wrapped him in a bear hug and whispered, "Great job."
It was Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers general manager who had claimed Young on waivers less than two months ago despite his minuscule power numbers -- including a career-low .357 slugging percentage -- for Minnesota and now was going around the room in socks and an undershirt embracing all the people who helped make Detroit's victory happen.
Dombrowski himself deserved a hug, for the Game 5 win was as much his as any of those in uniform. There was Young, who rebounded from hitting just four home runs in 84 games for Minnesota to hit eight in 40 games for Detroit and three more in the ALDS. There was Doug Fister, added via a deadline trade with the Mariners at the cost of middling prospects, who got the win by throwing five effective innings. And there were last winter's two pricey free-agent pickups, Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit, the former who drove in what proved to be the decisive run with a fifth-inning single and the latter who got five critical outs in the seventh and eighth to bridge the gap to closer Jose Valverde, who pitched a spotless ninth.
Young, who didn't know the extent of his injury after the game, admitted being surprised that the Tigers wanted him, saying, "I really don't care how it happened, I'm just glad that it happened."
Dombrowski deflected all offers to take credit for his team's success, but even if he wouldn't admit it, in some ways Detroit's win was a victory for substance over style. Few noticed and fewer cared when Fister and Young changed teams at midseason, and the Benoit signing was mocked for its length and expense (three years, $16.5 million for a setup man). Yet those players may have made the difference in this do-or-die game and proved that the 95-win Tigers are every bit as deep and talented, if not as star-laden, as the $200 million opponent they vanquished.
"We're very talented and we know we're very talented and at the end of the day, talent wins in this game," said Max Scherzer, who recorded four important outs in relief of Fister.
That talent was on display immediately Thursday. The Bleacher Creature roll call was still echoing in the cool October air when Kelly smacked Yankees starter Ivan Nova's sixth pitch into the right-field stands, and Young immediately followed with his own homer to left on the next pitch. Staked to a 2-0 lead, Fister pitched effectively for five innings, surrendering one run and only once getting in real trouble, a bases-loaded jam that he escaped in the fourth by inducing consecutive pop outs from Russell Martin and Brett Gardner.
After Scherzer recorded four outs, Benoit entered in the seventh with one on and one out. He allowed two soft singles and sandwiched bases-loaded strikeouts of Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher around a bases-loaded walk to Mark Teixeira. "The adrenaline rush was amazing," he said afterward. "That's the best I've felt all year."
He didn't feel quite as good when Derek Jeter lofted a two-out eighth-inning fly to right field that looked, momentarily, like it would be the two-run homer that would allow the Yankees to steal that game at the last moment. "I was praying, hard," said Benoit.
Those prayers were answered. Jeter's drive died in Kelly's glove at the wall. Valverde entered in the ninth and with his teammates ready to explode out of the dugout in celebration, dispensed with the drama that had marked his two previous outings in this series to retire the Yankees in order in the ninth, capping the win by fanning Rodriguez for the final out.
The Tigers quickly embarked on the first series-clinching party in the visitor's clubhouse in the three-year-old Yankee Stadium. Even though this ballpark lacks the historical impact of its predecessor, that didn't lessen Detroit's thrill of claiming victory in the Bronx. Tigers manager Jim Leyland told Dombrowski afterward, "This will be a game I'll remember the rest of my life."
Like his manager, Dombrowski took extra satisfaction from beating the Yankees, which he called "the premier franchise in all of sports." Before the game, as the enormous center-field scoreboard replayed images of the Yankees' 27 World Series titles and 40 American League pennants, Dombrowski had turned away, uninterested in seeing those pictures. "I've seen them enough," he said. "I didn't want to watch them today."
A few hours later, he had his own images to savor, and a team that, thanks largely to him, is certainly capable of providing its own montage-worthy performance.