Notes: Leyland's risks pay off
Ineffective in Game 1, aggressive mindset works in Game 3 win
DETROIT -- No matter how this American League Division Series turns out, one thing appears for certain: The Tigers don't have to apologize anymore for their offense.
They came into the postseason as a team that wins with solid pitching on the mound and home runs at the plate. When they played the Yankees in August, manager Jim Leyland had basically accepted that he had an aggressive-swinging team that lives by the long ball, and that they have a hard time winning without homers.
If there's any lesson learned from this series, it's that they don't have to accept that anymore. They hit four homers in the first three games, but all of them were solo shots. The other nine runs came through a combination of timely hitting, aggressive baserunning and a hit of the manufactured offense that Leyland wanted to see out of his club all summer.
It's not vindication for Leyland from this summer as much as it is vindication for the aggressive strategy he tried in the Game 1 loss.
"A lot of people really don't understand how it works," Leyland said. "We were criticized for being aggressive in the first game, and now, they're bragging about us for being aggressive last night. That's why, as a manager, you don't pay attention to that stuff."
With every attempt to take an extra base, put a runner in motion or lay down a bunt comes risk. The Tigers took risks from the start. Leyland sent Carlos Guillen with Ivan Rodriguez at the plate, knowing that Pudge swung and missed on a hit-and-run in Game 1, one of several hit-and-run attempts.
Likewise, he admitted, he was shocked when he saw Rodriguez going to third base in the third inning. Leyland still doesn't know whether Rodriguez was really safe or actually out.
"The point is," Leyland said, "if you're in the process of having a bad game, he would've been out."
He saw the Twins go through the same second-guessing this week during their three-game sweep to the A's.
"This is the kind of stuff that, as a manager, you can't get excited about," Leyland said. "The same thing they bragged about about all year with Minnesota -- being pesky, running the bases, taking extra bases -- they criticize them for. They tried to be real aggressive on the bases. They tried to do this or that. Well, that's what they bragged about them when they were the best team coming back, and now they're criticizing them for.
"When you're the heavy favorite, you don't onside kick. When you're the heavy underdog, you might have to."
Zumaya available: Almost immediately after Friday's game, Leyland was asking Joel Zumaya if he felt like he could pitch for a third consecutive day if the situation called for it in Game 4. The 21-year-old rookie, not surprisingly, made his case.
"If he needs me today," Zumaya said before the game, "I want to have the pleasure of being on the mound for this game."
That, plus Zumaya's pitch counts over his last two nights, were enough to at least give him a chance with Leyland, who said that he'd consider him in a one- or two-batter situation.
"Zumaya can pitch today," Leyland said, "but I'll probably try to give him off."
His availability is based in no small part on his efficiency. He used 21 pitches to retire five batters in Game 2, then just three pitches on Alex Rodriguez in Game 3. He didn't work three consecutive days at all during the regular season, and he rarely worked back-to-back days over the second half, but he rarely made his outs that quickly.
"It's something I've been working on all season," Zumaya said. "I've been getting mentally prepared for this. I knew we'd have a good chance of being in the playoffs. I want to get out and get my team in there so we can get some runs, hopefully get a victory."
As to why Zumaya and Todd Jones pitched in Friday's 6-0 victory, Leyland was blunt. He didn't want any hint of a comeback.
"With that lineup, it happens quick," Leyland said. "In that game there, I can't take a chance. That puts us up, so I have to take my best shot no matter what the score is. I have to win that game. I can't take a chance of using somebody else and if they happen to get in trouble, bringing them in under a lot of pressure and with the game closer."
Jones, for his part, said on Friday night that he'd be available for an inning of work if needed.
How big was that win for Leyland? He called it one of the favorites of his career.
"I'd have to say that was one of the [most] exciting wins I've ever been involved in anywhere," he said. "We obviously let the fans down when we didn't clinch the division for them, and they hadn't had a playoff game here in 19 years. I mean, the city was all pumped up to get that win. That was a very rewarding win last night for the franchise."
Déjà vu: If the Tigers coming to Comerica Park with their bags packed but hoping to stay home sounds familiar, it should. It's the scenario from last Sunday, when they needed a win to clinch the AL Central and open the ALDS at home against Oakland. Obviously they didn't, which meant that they went to New York.
Likewise, a loss on Saturday would mean another flight to New York, but for a one-game, winner-take-all scenario. It's awkward for a team that has to think positive, but it's reality.
"I think it's just the realistic facts of life," Leyland said, "and you have to handle it as an adult."
It should be especially awkward for Nate Robertson, who has to prepare to start Game 5 for the Tigers but simultaneously hope that he doesn't have to.
"It would certainly be a lot better feeling taking those suitcases back off the truck," Robertson said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.