The Detroit Tigers entered the 2006 baseball season with a new manager in Jim Leyland and hopes that the team would get themselves above .500 for the first time in fifteen years. They accomplished that, and more. The Tigers had not finished above third place since 1991, and had finished fourth or fifth out of five teams in their division for five consecutive years. Anything decent would have been a nice surprise.
Owner Mike Ilitch had constructed a new stadium in downtown Detroit, and saw a spike in attendance, but it didn’t last as the team on the field continued to disappoint. Ilitch hired Dave Dombrowski as team president and he in turn fired general manager Randy Smith and took that job himself. Dombrowski did a complete tear down of the organization and rebuilt it from the ground up.
After the team bottomed out in 2003, losing a league record 119 games, they began to acquire talent from outside the organization as well as develop some talent from within. The big free agent names on the roster were future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and outfield slugger Magglio Ordonez. They added veteran pitcher Kenny Rogers in the off season, and reacquired their former closer, Todd Jones. Most of these players came at a premium, as Detroit was not high on the list of most desirable teams for most players.
Home grown talent included Justin Verlander, Brandon Inge, Curtis Granderson, and relievers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. Dombrowski also had pulled off a few shrewd trades to acquire Carlos Guillen, Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman, and Placido Polanco. At the trade deadline, they acquired veteran first baseman Sean Casey from Pittsburgh.
The Oakland A’s had finished first or second in the western division eight consecutive years, and won the division four times, only to lose each time 3- 2 in a five game series. Oakland had not won the American League pennant since 1990, when they went on to be swept in the World Series by the Cincinnati Reds.
The Tigers shocked the baseball world by getting out to an almost insurmountable lead of 7-1/2 games by August 22nd. They had led their division since May 16, only to lose it on the last day of play to the Minnesota Twins. The Tigers dropped their last five straight games to the Toronto Blue Jays and Kansas City Royals. The Twins finished the season red hot, winning 16 of their final 23 games.
Detroit still won 95 games and managed to easily secure the wild card playoff spot. Oakland had won 93 games, but had the home field advantage by virtue of the fact that they were a division winner. The wild card Tigers were sentenced to play the top seed New York Yankees, starting in New York. It seemed that a great season could be in for a tragic ending. (Sound familiar?)
The Tigers split the two games in New York, then returned to Detroit and won both games, setting off a big celebration both on and off the field. The A’s, meanwhile, cooled off the red hot Twins, sweeping them aside with ease in a three game sweep.
Barry Zito, a three time all star and former Cy Young winner got the start for Oakland, while Nate Robertson started for Detroit- because it was his turn. Robertson pitched five scoreless innings, scattering six hits and three walks as the Tigers turned an ALCS record four double plays in the game.
The Tigers got on the board in the third inning on a home run by Brandon Inge, a double by Granderson, a pair of walks to Polanco and Casey to load the bases, and an RBI single by Ordonez, scoring Granderson as the other runners moved up, station to station. Zito got Guillen to ground out with the bases still loaded, and he was out of the inning with the Tigers ahead, 2- 0.
Robertson worked out of a jam in the top of the inning with the Tigers’ second double play before Ivan Rodriguez led off the Tiger fourth with a home run to right center field. After a walk to Craig Monroe, Marcus Thames grounded to third with what should have been a double play, but the relay was wild, allowing Thames to take second. Brandon Inge doubled Thames home, advanced to third on a ground out to the right side by Granderson, and scored on a single by Polanco to make it 5- 0 Tigers. Sean Casey singled with Polanco advancing to third, and Barry Zito’s day was complete. Chad Gaudin got Ordonez to ground out to end the inning.
Robertson continued to work his magic in the bottom of the fourth. After giving up a walk to Frank Thomas and a double to Payton, putting runners on second and third with nobody out, Nate struck out Chavez, Swisher, and Scutaro in order to end the threat. In the Oakland fifth, Robertson gave up a single to Jiminez and a walk to Kendall, then got Kotsay to ground into a 4-6-3 double play, the third of the game. Milton Bradley flied out to end the inning, and Robertson’s day was done.
Fernando Rodney pitched the sixth and seventh innings for Detroit, giving up a double, a walk, and one reached on an error by the usually sure handed Casey, but the runner was erased on the Tigers' fourth double play in the seventh to keep the A's scoreless. Joel Zumaya worked the eighth, giving up a lead off double to Bradley, and he advanced and scored on a pair of ground outs to give the A’s their only run. Todd Jones walked the lead off man (of course) and retired the side to close out a 5- 1 victory for Detroit.
Detroit sent rookie sensation Justin Verlander, who had won 17 games, to face the A’s Esteban Loaiza. Oakland got on the board in the first on a double by Kotsay, a wild pitch, and an RBI single by Bradley. Verlander balked Bradley to second, but then got Thomas and Chavez to end the inning. The Tigers evened the score in the top of the second on a double by Guillen, who was playing first base in place of Casey, a grounder to the right side by Rodriguez advancing Guillen to third, and a sacrifice fly by Monroe, scoring Guillen.
Verlander gave up a pair of runs in the third on another double by Kotsay and a two run homer by Bradley. The Tigers responded again in the top of the fourth with singles by Polanco, his third hit of the game, and Ordonez, a walk to Rodriguez, an RBI single by Monroe, and a two RBI single from Alexis Gomez. Inge then hit a sacrifice fly to score Monroe, and the Tigers were on top, 5- 3.
Both pitchers started to settle in until the Tiger sixth when Monroe hit a two out double and Gomez cracked a two run homer, giving him four RBI for the game, to make it 7- 3. Eric Chavez hit a homer off Verlander to lead off the seventh and Wil Ledezma was brought in for Verlander with the Tigers up 7- 4. Granderson led off the Tiger seventh with a single, was moved to second on a bunt by Neifi Perez and stranded on third when the Tigers ran out of outs.
Bradley hit another home run in the bottom of the seventh off Ledezma, and Grilli was brought in to get the last out. Rodney struck out the side in the Oakland eighth. Granderson homered off Huston Street in the top of the ninth, his third dinger of the series, to make it 8- 5 Detroit, and Todd Jones was brought on for the save. The Rollercoaster struck out Scutaro and Melhuse, then gave up three consecutive singles, the third being an infield single to load the bases. The ride ended when Frank Thomas flew out to Granderson to end the game. Final Score, Tigers 8- A’s 5
The series moved back to Detroit with veteran lefty Kenny Rogers, who had won 17 games and had shut down the Yankees in brilliant fashion in the LDS, facing Oakland’s Rich Harden. The Tigers wasted no time in jumping out front. Granderson led off the Tiger first with a walk and was singled to third by Monroe, who was batting second (hey, it worked). Polanco hit an RBI single, scoring Granderson and moving Monroe to third. Ordonez grounded into a force at second, scoring Monroe, and Guillen grounded into an inning ending double play. Tigers 2, A’s O.
The Tigers made it 3- 0 on a solo home run by Monroe to lead off the fifth, but the story of this game was Kenny Rogers, who shut the A’s down cold. Rogers went 7-1/3 innings, allowing just two singles and a pair of walks, striking out six while only one runner reached scoring position. Fernando Rodney came in the eighth with one out and a man on first and got the double play to end the inning. Jones then finished the job in the ninth with three ground outs, and the Tigers won 3- 0 giving them a commanding 3- 0 lead in the series.
With the World Series just one win away, the Tigers sent Jeremy Bonderman, a former first round pick of the A’s, to the mound to face Dan Haren. Bonderman had thrown eight scoreless frames in the fourth and final game of the LDS against New York- probably his most dominating performance as a Tiger. But the A’s weren’t going to go quietly, as they plated a pair of runs in the top of the first on a walk to Kotsay, a double by Bradley and a ground rule double by Chavez. Bonderman then wild pitched Chavez to third before getting Payton to ground out to end the inning with the A’s up, 2- 0.
Payton homered in the fourth to make it 3- 0. The Tigers got on the board in the fifth with a pair of doubles by Granderson and Monroe. Ordonez led off the Tiger sixth with a home run to tie the game at 3- 3. Carlos Guillen singled, and Haren was removed in favor of Joe Kennedy (no relation). Bonderman surrendered a two out single in the seventh on his 100th pitch, and was finished, going 6-2/3 IP, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits, two BB, 3 K’s. Jamie Walker came in to retire Kotsay to finish the seventh.
The Tigers threatened in the seventh when Kiko Colero walked Monroe with one out, Polanco singled, and Ordonez walked to load the bases. Bob Geren summoned closer Huston Street with two outs in the seventh, and he got Guillen to ground into a double play, to end the threat with the game still tied, 3- 3.
Jason Grilli replaced Walker in the eighth. Bradley singled, but was erased on a double play by Frank Thomas. Grilli walked the next three batters, each on four pitches, before Leyland called for Wil Ledezma. He got Scutaro to pop out and the Oakland threat was over.
Street returned for the eighth, striking out Rodriguez and Gomez, and getting Inge to ground out to shortstop. Ledezma got the A’s out on three fly balls with a one out single in the mix and the game moved to the bottom of the ninth, all even at 3- 3.
Here we go, bottom of the ninth, Tigers up 3- 0 in the series, game tied at 3- 3. Huston Street comes out for the ninth inning, having already worked 1-2/3 innings on 15 pitches. Leyland sends Marcus Thames up to bat for Santiago, and he flies out to center field. Granderson follows with a line out to right field. Monroe then singles to center, and Polanco singles to right, putting runners on first and second with two outs. Ordonez to the plate.
Magglio takes the first pitch to make it 1- 0, and then one of the greatest moments that any living Tiger fan can remember.
Ordonez drove the 28th pitch from Street far into the left field stands of Comerica park, sending the entire City of Detroit into a frenzy. The Tigers were returning to the World Series 22 years to the day since they won the Series in 1984. There were hugs, high fives, screams of joy, tears of joy, and champagne being sprayed all over the place. My recollection is Polanco rounding second, headed for third with his arms flailing as Magglio casually dropped the bat and started his home run trot. Milton Bradley coming off the field gestured at the Tiger dugout, nodding his head in approval, and there was a mob scene at the plate. Final score, Detroit 6, Oakland 3.
Placido Polanco hit .529 for the ALCS and was named the series MVP. Monroe hit .429 with an OPS of 1.289
Jim Leyland became just the seventh manager to win pennants in both leagues in 2006.
Three Tiger pitchers- Bonderman, Rogers, and Robertson each threw over 200 innings that season, and Verlander added 186. Rogers and Robertson each had an ERA of 3.86, but Rogers went 17- 7 while Nate was 13- 13 for the season.
The Tigers had four players each with at least 24 home runs: Monroe 28, Inge 27, Thames 26, and Magglio 24. Seven different Tigers homered in the 2006 ALCS.
Wil Ledezma was the winning pitcher in game 5 as he held the A’s scoreless for an inning and a third. His appearance in game 2 followed a period of 99 days since he had pitched in the major leagues. He went on to pitch for the Braves, Padres, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Pirates, and Blue Jays.
Tiger pitchers combined for a 2.25 ERA in 36 innings with a WHIP of 1.19, walking 14 and striking out 28 batters. Oakland pitchers went 34.2 innings, with an ERA of 5.76, a WHIP of 1.67, with 25 K’s and 19 walks.
Jamie Walker had an outstanding season for the Tigers, used as a LOOGY. In 48 innings, Walker had an ERA of 2.81 and a WHIP of 1.14.
First base was a revolving door in 2006: Carlos Pena was released in spring training. Chris Shelton was a rule 5 pick who was on fire early in the season, but cooled off, was sent to the minors, and eventually replaced by Sean Casey. Dmitri Young was released in mid season.
Casey injured a calf muscle in game one, causing Leyland to move Guillen to first base, and insert Neifi Perez, Omar Infante or Ramon Santiago at shortstop. The Tigers carried all three reserve middle infielders on the World Series roster. Casey returned in time for the World Series, where he hit .529 and slugged 1.000 with a pair of home runs. Unfortunately, he got no offensive help from his team mates.