Two decisions Dave Dombrowski made in July and August paid off in October.
Seeing an obvious hole in the starting rotation, Dombrowski went fishing for a starter and reeled in Doug Fister from Seattle on July 30. Fister lost only one game during the regular season and pitched better than the numbers showed in working the rain-suspended first game of the Division Series in relief.
Thursday night, in Game 5 of the ALDS, Fister turned in five gutty innings and came up the winning pitcher, sending Detroit to Texas for the next round of the playoffs after the Tigers’ bullpen allowed just one run in the final four innings.
And one of those bullpen members? Joaquin Benoit, whom Dombrowski lured to Detroit for a three-year, $15.5 million deal last winter.
August rolled around and Dombrowski spotted Delmon Young’s name on the waiver wire. The Tigers had worked Young out before the 2003 draft and would have taken him had they picked ahead of, rather than behind, Tampa Bay. So they were familiar with who he was.
Detroit put in a claim, then worked out a last-minute deal with Minnesota that brought the left fielder to the Tigers on Aug. 15. Manager Jim Leyland immediately put in him front of cleanup hitter Miguel Cabrera, and Young made an immediate impact with a home run against his old team in his first at-bat.
Back to Game 5: Young followed a first-inning home run by Don Kelly with a home run of his own on the next pitch, getting Detroit off to a 2-0 start. The Tigers added a fifth-inning run on a single by Victor Martinez, and relievers Max Scherzer, Benoit and Jose Valverde staved off every Yankees threat to give Detroit a 3-2 win in the game and in the series.
“The Yankees are so good,” Leyland said. “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t give me a little extra satisfaction to do be able to do it here in the fifth game. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully, I mean it respectfully.”
While Leyland paid respect to New York, he also wanted his team to get credit.
“We’re good,” he said. “We’re talented. We’ve got good personalities on our team, but that doesn’t have anything to do with it, winning games.
“We’ve been saying that all year long and we are a real good team. And we beat a real good team.”
Leyland was prepared to take the second-guessing for not having Justin Verlander available to pitch in the fifth game. The reality is the rain that stopped Verlander after one inning of work in the first game limited him to just one other appearance. But it also let Leyland tune him up with a 56-pitch bullpen session, positioning him perfectly for Game 1 of the League Championship Series, scheduled for Saturday.
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