DETROIT TIGERS 1 WIN AWAY FROM THE WORLD SERIES
Kenny Rogers took off his cap, waved it to the crowd and twirled around for all to see. And that sent a real chill to the fans packing Comerica Park.
Because of him, they can really start dreaming about seeing their Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
Rogers pitched the game of his life for the second straight week and the Tigers backed him with their bats, gloves and legs, beating the Oakland Athletics 3-0 on a frosty Friday to take a 3-0 lead in the AL championship series.
Manager Jim Leyland made another lineup hunch pay off as the wild-card Tigers — yes, the same team that looked lost in dropping 119 games only three years ago — posted their sixth straight postseason victory and moved within one win of their first World Series since 1984.
"That’s our goal. That’s what we play for," Rogers said. "I can’t say enough for the way the guys played behind me."
Putting aside temperatures in the low 40s that forced both teams to put flame-throwing blowers in their dugouts, Rogers shut out the Athletics on two mere singles over 7 1/3 innings.
He drew a thunderous ovation when he left, and the Detroit bullpen did the rest.
Craig Monroe homered, Placido Polanco delivered two more hits off losing pitcher Rich Harden and Tigers closer Todd Jones finished for his second save of the series.
The Tigers led 2-0 after the first inning and at this rate, nothing seems able to stop them. Want evidence? Leyland pulled Game 2 star Alexis Gomez, put Omar Infante into his first postseason game and the DH singled and walked.
"I think it’s a matter of having confidence in all your players," Leyland said. "And I think there’s a little luck that goes along with it."
Certainly the Tigers’ luck didn’t change on Friday the 13th. And, a day after the earliest measured snowfall in the city’s history, the cold was no problem, though it helped the game was switched from nighttime to day.
The A’s get one last chance Saturday in Game 4, with Dan Haren starting against former Oakland draft pick Jeremy Bonderman. Only once in baseball history has a team rallied from an 0-3 deficit in the postseason, with Boston doing it against the New York Yankees in 2004.
"It’s not an impossible task," A’s manager Ken Macha said. "I think the approach has always been one game. We’ve got four good starters lined up."
Frank Thomas remained hitless in the series, yet the Big Hurt wasn’t the lone Oakland hitter to feel the Big Chill against the 41-year-old Rogers.
Coming off his first victory in a previously awful playoff career, Rogers reprised his role as an October ace. He blanked the Yankees for 7 2/3 innings in the first round and the A’s never did much against him, either.
Rogers was not nearly as animated as he was in the win over the Yankees. He saved his emotion for the end, thanking the 41,669 fans with a wave of the cap, making sure to salute every corner of the park.
"It was no less emotional," Rogers said. "But I just wanted to play my game. We’ve played great all year long. I take nothing for granted."
Fernando Rodney got the last two outs in the eighth and Jones pitched a perfect ninth to complete the combined two-hitter.
Rogers’ lone jam came in the first after Jason Kendall led off with a single and Thomas was hit by a pitch with two outs. But Rogers retired Jay Payton on a grounder, and went on to strike out six.
"He’s a professional pitcher, that’s what he is," Leyland said. "There’s guys with better stuff, there’s guys that will light up the radar gun a little more.
"But nobody could’ve pitched better than Kenny in these last two outings."
Harden grew up in western Canada, playing baseball in sleet and freezing rain, and was the only Oakland player wearing short sleeves. No telling whether the cold bothered him – his control sure did, though.
Harden started off by throwing seven straight balls, and Monroe’s perfect hit-and-run single put runners at the corners with no outs.
Polanco followed with an RBI single, sending Monroe scampering to third and pitching coach Curt Young to the mound. Magglio Ordonez drove in another run with a force-play grounder for a 2-0 lead.
Harden walked the bases loaded in the second, escaping when he struck out Monroe. Polanco doubled his next time up, making him 6-for-6 lifetime against Harden.
A’s center fielder Mark Kotsay saved Harden in the fourth with two outstanding catches, rushing in for Ramon Santiago’s liner and sprinting to right-center for Curtis Granderson’s shot about 420 feet from home plate.
Granderson also turned in a nice play, tracking down Eric Chavez’s deep drive to right-center. The long outs by Chavez and Granderson showed why former Tigers outfielder Bobby Higginson christened the stadium "Comerica National Park."
Monroe homered leading off the fifth to make it 3-0. With Rogers on the mound, that was plenty.
Rogers was 10-1 against the A’s since 2002, and had beaten his former club more in that span than any active pitcher.
He added another victory with a win that he would certainly rank right up there with the perfect game he once pitched for Texas.