Ahead 2-0, Tigers confident but far from cocky
NEW YORK -- Their clubhouse was quiet, their tone low key. It had about the same feel as June or July. This sense of normalcy might be the ultimate tribute to the Detroit Tigers, who are playing their best baseball at a time when the stakes are the highest.
These playoffs have just been too crazy to believe anything else. To look beyond the next game would be silly. Still, the Tigers appear to be in control of the American League Championship Series after beating the Yankees for the second time in less than 24 hours.
With Anibal Sanchez pitching seven shutout innings, the Tigers won, 3-0, Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Of the previous 22 teams that have taken a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven LCS, 19 of them have gone to the World Series.
And the Tigers are headed home with baseball's most dominant pitcher, Justin Verlander, scheduled to take the ball in Game 3 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on TBS.
OK, there's that.
"We've just got to take care of business," outfielder Quintin Berry said. "Everybody knows the Yankees are a great ballclub. They've still got CC [Sabathia] in their back pocket. We've got to keep the gas pedal down."
Yes, the Tigers are confident.
"I'm not going to lie," catcher Alex Avila said. "We feel pretty good about it."
No, they're not overconfident.
"The Yankees aren't going to lay down," Avila said.
On the other side of the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, his boss had a similar perspective.
"You don't take anything for granted," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "You're focused on Tuesday. I'm sure Justin will be as focused as anybody possibly can be. We're going to try and get a win. If we don't, things start to change."
This was a crazy day. It began with manager Jim Leyland holding an early-morning meeting with his staff to discuss struggling closer Jose Valverde. He slept a couple of hours and then was back at it.
His best decision of the day was handing the ball to Sanchez, who became the fourth straight Detroit starter not to allow an earned run. He has become one of the best in-season acquisitions any team has made, and he showed it again by mixing a fastball-slider combination that kept the Yankees off-balance from beginning to end.
In seven postseason games, Detroit's rotation has a 0.93 ERA and hasn't allowed a run since Game 3 of a first-round series against Oakland, a stretch that Sanchez extended to 28 2/3 innings. No Detroit starter has allowed more than two earned runs.
"Our guys have done an unbelievable job," Avila said. "One through nine, that's a professional lineup the Yankees have, and you're not going to get away with many mistakes. We just haven't made many."
The Tigers aren't getting much offense, and their bullpen had a tough week. But the Tigers have a great rotation and a very good defense, and that's a formula for winning a championship.
"It's where we want to be," Berry said. "We just can't take it for granted. We've got to keep pushing, keep grinding. We've got to take advantage of the situation."
He paused and put it all in perspective.
"If we keep playing like this, I don't know if anybody can get us," he said.
That's about as close as the Tigers are going to come to talking about a pennant that's just two victories away. They say they have too much respect for the Yankees. Also, this season was a constant reminder to play one day at a time.
It was scoreless on Sunday until the seventh, when Berry got a leadoff double and ended up scoring on a fielder's choice grounder by Delmon Young. The Tigers got two more runs in the eighth thanks, in part, to a missed call by second-base umpire Jeff Nelson.
"I thought we hung in there and took advantage of a couple of things," Leyland said. "We played good in a tough place to play against a great team. You have to be very happy with that."
Now the Tigers go home to Comerica Park with a chance to clinch their first World Series berth since 2006. They'll have loud crowds, and they'll have Verlander.
"We have to go out there and play the same baseball we did here," third baseman Miguel Cabrera said. "We got to go out there and give 100 percent, and Verlander's going to keep us in the game. Hopefully we can score a lot of run support for Verlander, and we'll win at home."
A lot of Tigers surely are thinking the same thing. But as Dombrowski said, "We don't do things the easy way."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.