DETROIT – It’s becoming almost a daily ritual in these American League playoffs: Jim Leyland acknowledges his team is in a tough spot, talks about what a terrific postseason this is – and without a hint of resignation in his voice, commends his players for their resolve.
Now in his 20th season as a major league manager, Leyland has won two pennants and a World Series. This year’s Detroit Tigers have work to do if they want to add to his haul – they trail the Texas Rangers 3-2 in the A.L. championship series. But no matter what happens this weekend when the teams meet again, Leyland seems determined to enjoy every moment.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder of a team than this one,” Leyland said Friday.
Before Game 5, with his team trailing 3-1 in the series, Leyland sounded as comfortable as ever. The Tigers were facing elimination, their top two relievers overworked and unavailable. Two important outfielders were out injured, and at least three remaining starters had been playing through pain.
There had been rain delays, extra-inning losses and some untimely slumps threatening to end Detroit’s season – but the 66-year-old skipper couldn’t help but marvel at what was becoming a fascinating series.
“These have been great baseball games,” Leyland said. “You could not ask for anything more than this club has given us and given the fans, and you couldn’t ask for anything more than what the fans have given to us. This is not over yet. Trust me.”
And it wasn’t. The Tigers won 7-5 on Thursday, with Justin Verlander throwing 133 pitches and banged-up outfielder Delmon Young hitting a pair of home runs. Detroit survived to play another game, tonight at Texas – at least one more chance for Leyland to savor this most rewarding of seasons.
The Tigers clinched the division in mid-September, and although their title seemed like a formality by then, Leyland fought back tears during the celebration. The scene was similar after Detroit won at Yankee Stadium earlier this month in the decisive fifth game of the division series.
“That’s one of the reasons I love that guy. When he gets emotional, I know he cares,” third baseman Brandon Inge said. “When he gets attached to a group of guys which he calls his own team, he wants to win.”