On Friday at Comerica Park, for the Tigers' second Game 3 of this postseason, the specific ability to pitch belonged to Kenny Rogers. In this Game 3, of the Championship Series, you could fairly say that he stopped the Oakland Athletics cold. The A's were stopped, and it was cold.
It was a frigid Friday the 13th, 42 degrees at game time, with the temperature headed nowhere but down. But Rogers rolled up his sleeves and produced a suitable encore to his brilliant performance in Game 3 of the Division Series. Here, he shut out the Athletics for 7 1/3 innings. The Tigers won, 3-0, but the way Rogers controlled the action, this contest had a much more one-sided feeling than that. Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones, also both unscored upon in the postseason, finished up for him without incident or baserunner.
Rogers has now pitched 15 shutout innings in the 2006 postseason. He has given up just seven hits, walked four and struck out 14. This is not just good work. This is the stuff of postseason history.
The fact that Rogers came into this postseason 0-3 in nine playoff appearances, including five starts, now seems like information from the Pleistocene Age. You know, it can be interesting, but it doesn't seem to have much to do with HBO.
In this new era of Kenny Rogers, the man is a dominant postseason pitcher. At age 41, Kenny Rogers has come of age as an October competitor.
A rollicking crowd of 41,669 celebrated his performance and the Tigers' triumph in winter gear. If there wasn't much offense to heat up the contest, the Michiganders were still fully able to get behind Rogers on every pitch. A lot of positive baseball emotions were being unleashed, and Rogers was unleashing them, including his own. He had made a conscious decision to use his emotions in his work, rather than going by the book, which would suggest that a pitcher should shed those emotions on the mound.
"I feel like using my emotions instead of trying to control them and being not passive, but calm out there, it wasn't beneficial in the postseason," Rogers said. "I'm really trying to use that emotion and use that aggressiveness and feed off it, and it's making me a better pitcher. ... I think the emotion is what I've learned to use instead of suppress."
The great thing for the Tigers is that while Rogers has been the most obviously successful Detroit pitcher in the postseason, he has been far from the only one. The only truly ineffective start the Tigers have had in this postseason was in Game 1 of the Division Series, their only postseason loss to date. But Nate Robertson atoned nicely for that with five shutout innings in the opener of the ALCS.
The Athletics, conversely, have yet to produce even the minimum standard for pitching effectiveness, the quality start, in this series. In Game 3, Rich Harden came to within one out of that standard -- six or more innings pitched, three or fewer runs allowed. But against Rogers' brilliance, mere adequacy was no real competition.
Detroit pitching has neutralized the most dangerous Oakland bats. Frank Thomas, the Big Hurt, has become the Large Silence, hitless in the ALCS. Nick Swisher, a major power source during the regular season, is also hitless.
The Tigers have a team ERA of 2.00 for the ALCS and 2.90 for the entire postseason. This is how it typically gets done in October, and this is how the Tigers are doing it, rolling to six straight victories. And all of this should come as no special surprise, given the fact that they had the AL's best team ERA during the regular season.
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"Their starting pitching can just go out and dominate you; they've got a great bullpen," said Oakland manager Ken Macha. "They've played good defense here, and they're going to hit a home run here every once in a while.
"They've got a great ballclub. I think they flew under the radar a little bit. They went up there against the Yankees, and everybody thought that the Yankees would take care of them real easy, but that's not the case. They've got a very good club, and they're not doing anything any differently."
What the Tigers are doing, not differently, is producing pitching that has varied in the last six games only from effective to dominant. Whether it's Kenny Rogers reinventing himself or Fernando Rodney, filling in flawlessly for Joel Zumaya, or anybody else on the Detroit staff doing exactly what he is asked to do, the Tigers have been pitching like postseason winners are supposed to pitch.
This is the classic October formula. It is time-tested and true, much better than trying to beat somebody else who has solid pitching, 12-10. And it has taken the 2006 Detroit Tigers to within one victory of the World Series.