Leyland knows firsthand comeback is possible

Leyland knows firsthand comeback is possible

Leyland knows firsthand comeback is possible

BOSTON -- If the Tigers needed any inspiration from history in their quest to come back and pull out this American League Championship Series, their manager had it for them. He knows what two hot pitchers can do for a team in two must-win games, because he watched it from the other side.

Leyland was managing in Pittsburgh in 1991 when his Pirates came back from Atlanta with a 3-2 lead in the National League CS. They had two chances to clinch a trip to the World Series. All they had to do was a find a way to beat Steve Avery or John Smoltz.

They didn't. In fact, they didn't score a run off the two Michigan natives.

"We had no chance," Leyland reflected in hindsight.

Combined, the duo tossed 17 shutout innings in those games. Smoltz's shutout in Game 7 was the one that drew the most attention, but the eight innings of three-hit, eight-strikeout ball provided a 21-year-old Avery impressed Leyland more.

Avery matched Pirates ace Doug Drabek zero for zero in that game until Greg Olson doubled in Ron Gant with two outs in the top of the ninth to pull out a 1-0 Braves win that sent the series to a seventh game.

"Avery pitched one of the greatest games I've ever seen pitched in my 50 years of baseball," Leyland said. "He was absolutely terrific. He just had great stuff, mixed all his pitches. He was overpowering, great breaking stuff, had it all going."

Leyland doesn't have to go far for a reminder. He still sees Avery every so often at Comerica Park. The lefty returned home to Michigan after he retired and attends Tigers games with his kids.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.