DETROIT -- The Yankees were Jim Leyland's example, and then they were his conquest. But in order for Leyland's Tigers to beat the Yankees in the American League Division Series, as they did with Saturday's 8-3 victory in Game 4, they had to be the Yankees. No, not by adding more than $100 million in payroll to field a lineup of All-Stars, but by maintaining a spirit, a swagger and a strut that transcends anything statistical.
"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."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.