"There are people saying we'll never be able to stand up to New York and the pressure and all that," Leyland said Thursday morning. "That's all baloney. Play the game. Make Nova throw the ball in the strike zone. Get Fister to the sixth inning and have Benoit and Valverde hold them off. It's just a game. That's all. Simple."
Which is exactly what happened, in the Reader's Digest version. Don Kelly and Delmon Young, who batted in the two and three holes with a combined on-base percentage under .300, made Nova throw strikes, and hit back-to-back home runs before Miguel Cabrera even got to the plate in the first inning.
Doug Fister got them to the sixth inning, 15 outs, wiggling out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth inning. Then Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde got the last 12 outs. Of course, Benoit walked Mark Teixeira with the bases loaded in the seventh to make it a one-run game, but he also punched out Nick Swisher to get out of it. Valverde, who can make every game Mardi Gras, finished it with a clean ninth inning.
Simple. Just like the skipper figured. The skipper was singing along with the stadium music in the seventh inning with the game on the line, as Justin Verlander told John Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com. You see, Leyland's seen everything, from Francisco Cabrera's single to end the 1992 NLCS to Edgar Renteria's single to win the 1997 World Series to restoring the Detroit franchise by making the World Series in 2006 -- a season, incidentally, that opened the greatest six-year attendance run in franchise history, at a time when the city essentially was -- and still is -- in a depression.
"It's just baseball," Leyland said. "New York, Detroit, Boston, Miami ..."
It's just baseball. But the last time the New York Yankees lost an elimination game at home by one run was 1926, when Babe Ruth got a two-out walk from Cardinals reliever Pete Alexander, then was thrown out stealing to end the series. Simple.
The Tigers were outscored 28-17 in the series, but won 5-3, 5-4 and 3-2 games, reminiscent of the Pirates in the 1960 World Series. Much has and will be made of the fact that for the second year running, the American League East hasn't won a World Series, that the Yankees and Red Sox, with the two highest payrolls in the league, are now home, that for the second time in as many Octobers, the Yankees' season ended with an Alex Rodriguez at-bat, that A-Rod, Teixeira and Swisher went 9-for-55.
While New Yorkers speculate about the future of A-Rod and CC Sabathia and Bostonians worry about the flight of World Series rings from New England, what Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski have brought Detroit -- out of the goodness of the heart of Mike Ilitch's love for his city -- is a great story.
Beginning with the final day of the regular season, Sept. 28, when the Red Sox and Braves culminated the biggest final-month collapses of all-time with crushing one-run losses and the Rays won a one-run walk-off, this has been a glorious time for baseball. The only Division Series that didn't go five games was Tampa Bay-Texas, but it was a series the Rays didn't lose; the Rangers won, in nail-biting fashion.
As the Phillies prepare to take the field Friday to face the Cardinals, they are the only team in the top nine payrolls still alive; the Tigers, 10th at $105.7 million, are the next highest. Now, does this mean the game has a level playing field? Of course not. The windows of opportunity in the small markets remain narrow, and even in a baseball haven like Milwaukee, with record attendance, the reality is that when you have a Prince Fielder, you probably have him for just six years, and in the words of Sonny Boy Williamson, you're fattening frogs for snakes.
We get it. We get that the last time the Brewers finished first, in 1982, they had the fourth-highest payroll. We get it that in 1992, when the Blue Jays became the first international champions, they had the highest payroll in the AL, a year after the Oakland A's came off three straight pennants with the highest payroll in the league.
Separate issues, separate discussions.
These have been nine days in baseball heaven, all culminated on weeknights on the game's own stage, going right on into Friday night and two more dramas beginning with Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter in Philadelphia. Leyland is right. It's simple. Just like the Babe getting thrown out at second to end the 1926 World Series.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.