"In Spring Training, I said [to the players] when we played the Yankees, 'I want you to get to where we take the field like the Yankees take the field,'" Leyland recalled on Saturday night. "There's a special air about them. There's a special confidence, not cockiness."
Confidence might not have necessarily been the Tigers' greatest attribute coming into the ALDS against those Yankees.
After all, Detroit dropped its last five games of the regular season, including a sweep at the hands of the Royals in the final series, costing the Tigers an AL Central crown.
They reported to Yankee Stadium hungry to prove their worth and belonging, only to fall, 8-4, in Game 1.
It looked as though Leyland's club, which had surprised seemingly everyone in baseball just by getting to this stage, would go gently into that good night.
And then the manager stepped in.
"After that first game," first baseman Sean Casey said, "[Leyland] said, 'Hey, listen, every game is the championship. So let's go!'"
Though his club was thumped by the Yankees bats and the pitching of Chien-Ming Wang in the opener, Leyland's postgame remarks to reporters were brimming with pride for the way his club played. He didn't call his players out, even when they struggled to execute on some scoring opportunities in the early innings.
Back in April, after a particularly brutal drubbing suffered at the hands of the Indians, Leyland's analysis was relegated to a vilification of his club, in which he not-so-proudly proclaimed, "We stunk, period."
The Tigers responded to that tongue-lashing rather well as the regular season progressed.
But with their goal of toppling the favored Yanks looking dim after Game 1, Leyland took a much different approach. He had seen enough out of his club throughout '06 to know that it was far from beaten, no matter how tough the Yankees lineup appeared.
"We can beat this team," he told his players in a meeting before Game 2. "We can be a winner."
And Leyland was right.
"When the manager talks like that, it makes you believe in yourself and your teammates," Magglio Ordonez said. "We lost the first game, and it was tough. We came out the second game, and facing a tough pitcher in Mike Mussina, we went down, 3-1, but we came back to win the game."
They won the series with pitching, with Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman magnificent in Games 3 and 4, respectively.
But it was a manager's unwavering confidence that helped usher in the upset.
"He has the passion and the will," said former Tigers hero Willie Horton, who serves as a special assistant to general manager David Dombrowski. "When you have that, you build trust. And when you get trust, you go a long way. That's what it's all about."
For Leyland, this season wasn't supposed to be about reaching the ALCS. He admitted on Saturday that his original goal was merely for the club to improve on its 71-91 finish under Alan Trammell in '05.
But with the team following Leyland's -- and, for that matter, the Yankees' -- lead, the goals have become much more ambitious.
"I used [the Yankees] as a great example all spring," Leyland said. "It was just kind of ironic that we got to play them, and fortunately beat them, in the playoffs."