Never before in postseason play, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, had two 40-year-old starting pitchers matched up against each other. But while Randy Johnson looked all of 43 by the time he was done Friday night, the 41-year-old Kenny Rogers seemed to erase years of history with each scoreless inning.
"No pun intended," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after a 6-0 win over the Yankees, "but tonight was definitely a case where he got better with age."
As a result, the otherwise young, inexperienced Tigers are within a game of making the veteran, playoff-tested Yankees look to next year.
Though Rogers overcame his history of second-half collapses to help the Tigers into the postseason, it left him with plenty more to prove. He had a longer, more detailed history of woes in the playoffs, and he hadn't beaten the Yankees since he was still a 20-something.
When the Tigers signed Rogers last winter, they believed that the cooler temperatures of Detroit compared to Texas would take care of the second-half fades. On a chilly October night at Comerica Park, he seemingly vanquished all of his other demons as well.
"I never want to show anybody up," Rogers said, "but I wanted this game as much as I ever wanted any in my life."
He didn't want to show up a team. He wanted to show up history -- the 0-3 record and 8.85 ERA in postseason play, the losses in seven consecutive decisions against the Yankees since 1993, the New York tenure that has followed him for years since as a pitcher who supposedly couldn't handle pressure situations.
In so doing, the crafty left-hander suddenly became a power pitcher at heart. He has made his living for the latter half of his 17-year career changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance. In this case, he turned from a pitcher to a thrower.
"I just wanted to throw the ball as hard as I could," Rogers said. "And when I was making a different pitch, make it with quality."
Rogers topped 90 mph several times with his fastball, but he also had a curveball that could dive into the dirt when he needed it to. And as Nate Robertson watched replays on the ESPN broadcast, he saw one two-strike pitch after another hit the borders of the outlined strike zone.
|There have been 13 shutouts in ALDS history and the Yankees have been involved in 10 of them.|
|10/6/1981||Game 1||Oak. 4, |
|10/8/1981||Game 2||NY 3, |
|Righetti (W), Davis, Gossage|
|10/4/1995||Game 2||Cle. 4, |
|Hershiser (W), Tavarez, Assenmacher, Mesa|
|9/29/1998||Game 1||NY 2, |
|Wells (W), Rivera|
|10/2/1998||Game 3||NY 4, |
|Cone (W), Lloyd, Nelson, Rivera|
|10/5/1999||Game 1||NY 8, |
|Hernandez (W), Nelson|
|10/9/1999||Game 3||NY 3, |
|Clemens (W), Nelson, Rivera|
|10/4/2000||Game 2||NY 4, |
|Pettitte (W), Rivera|
|10/9/2001||Game 1||Cle. 5, |
|Colon (W), Wickman|
|10/11/2001||Game 2||Oak. 2, |
|Hudson (W), Isringhausen|
|10/13/2001||Game 3||NY 1, |
|Mussina (W), Rivera|
|10/5/2004||Game 1||Min. 2, |
|Santana (W), Rincon, Nathan|
|10/6/2006||Game 3||Det. 6, |
|Rogers (W), Zumaya, Jones|
Rogers wasn't unhittable; he allowed a runner on base with one out or fewer in each of his first five innings. None of them advanced a base once reaching.
The wily left-hander wore down Derek Jeter into an inning-ending double play after the American League MVP candidate and postseason hero fouled off three straight two-strike pitches. He racked up consecutive strikeouts of Bernie Williams and Robinson Cano, both on breaking balls that dove for the dirt, en route to stranding Hideki Matsui at second base in the sixth.
"That's not the Kenny I remember," said Alex Rodriguez, his former Rangers teammate. "I never remember him throwing the ball 93 mph. I remember Kenny being more of a Jamie Moyer-type, where he maxed out at 84 mph. Give him a lot of credit. He was phenomenal. He handled our lefties, he handled our righties, we took probably three or four good swings the whole night."
The Yankees inserted Williams into the lineup because he has hit Rogers well over his career. Fittingly, Williams struck out twice and hit a broken-bat line drive to third base.
"I think Kenny Rogers knows and knew everything that was surrounding him with the Yankees," Leyland said, "and the Yankees had great numbers against him. And I think for this one night, I think he got it all together, and he was probably as determined as anybody to pitch a ballgame. And I think that it just paid off him.
"Sometimes, you get so keyed up that it works against you. I think his adrenaline tonight worked for him."
In this case, the adrenaline defied Rogers' age almost as much as his pitching. He'd pump his fist upon strike three; not the Joel Zumaya pump -- he's not that young -- but a subtle pump. He nearly flexed upon a Bobby Abreu strikeout.
"We had a 40-year-old man acting like a 16-year-old out there," third baseman Brandon Inge said. "It was fun to watch."
When he put his glove in front of his face in time to knock down Jeter's scorching line drive for the first out of the sixth, he tied the longest postseason outing of his career. When he recovered from hitting Rodriguez with a two-out pitch to induce an inning-ending groundout from Jason Giambi, Rogers erased the memory of his 1999 NLCS outing for the Mets, when he had five scoreless innings against the Braves before giving up a pair of two-run homers to lose the lead.
Like that night in Atlanta, the Tigers had given him a three-run lead. Unlike that night, Rogers' team added on. Ivan Rodriguez, who singled as part of a three-run second inning to pull ahead against Johnson, helped break the game open by doubling on a two-out hit-and-run to score Carlos Guillen from first.
Once Sean Casey doubled in Rodriguez on the next pitch, Johnson was done. After holding the Tigers to six hits over 14 innings in two wins this season, he gave up five runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings.
By the seventh inning, the "Ken-ny, Ken-ny" chants began from the sellout crowd at Detroit's first postseason home game since 1987. When he left to a standing ovation with two outs in the eighth inning following his eighth strikeout, Rogers tipped his cap, touched the Old English D on his uniform and made a sign.
"I just think, as much as anything else, I wanted this win for us as a team," Rogers said, "but I wanted it for myself, my family, everything. I wanted to do well and leave nothing out there. And this is probably one of the wins that I'm never going to forget."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.