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Published: Monday, 10/5/2009

Pressure can't keep veteran Leyland down

DETROIT - Jim Leyland worked extra innings yesterday.

His Detroit Tigers got it done in the regulation nine frames, beating Chicago 5-3 thanks to Ryan Raburn's bat and Justin Verlander's arm and Curtis Granderson's glove.

And then Leyland adjourned to his office to watch the Minnesota Twins finish off Kansas City. Down 7-0 and 8-1, the Royals pecked away for three runs in the top of the sixth and then loaded the bases.

Leyland turned into part play-by-play man, part color analyst, and all Royals fan. But the Tigers' manager does not always come with a filter, so you'll have to trust us when we tell you it was about the funniest thing ever. There's not much we can repeat.

At one point the camera cut to Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was doubled over in the dugout, seemingly in pain, after his pitcher hit a Kansas City batter to load the bases with two outs.

"Geez, do I look like that?" Leyland asked. "That's brutal. That's tight. Look at him. You don't know tight until you've been where he is right now. Trust me, I've been there."

Gardenhire straightened up, turned and walked to the mound to bring in a new pitcher.

"Man, let me tell you, he is soooo [ticked] off right now," Leyland said.

After the Twins' reliever finished warming up, the camera cut to the Royals' next batter walking to the plate.

"Billy BUTLER, my MAN," Leyland yelled.

And when Butler took a called third strike to end it, Leyland yelled some other things and we'll just let it go at that. It was an HBO late night comedy special.

"Ah," he said, stopping for breath, "it's gonna end up 12-4 anyway, so why worry about it?"

He was close. The final was

13-4 in the Twins' favor.

You might wonder why Leyland was so loose late yesterday afternoon, knowing his team is headed to Minneapolis for a one-game, winner-takes-all AL Central playoff game tomorrow.

"We've played 162 games and we're in first place," he said. "I think that's more than a lot of people expected. I can't remember anybody picking us to win the division. We've been in first place since May and that's a credit to us. The Twins played extra well to get back into it, and that's to their credit.

"We've been anything but perfect. Do I wish we'd clinched early? Sure. Should we have? Maybe so. But here we are. There are games we lost we shouldn't have. There are games we stole we shouldn't have. Sometimes the result wasn't great but the effort always was. People can look at it however they want. I'm sure most people won't give us much of a chance going up there, but like I said we've played 162 games and we're in first. I'm proud of that. Now, we'll go see what happens."

What happened yesterday was that Raburn jump-started a stagnant Detroit offense - four runs in the previous three games, all losses - with a two-run home run in the second inning that put the Tigers up 3-0. He added a solo shot in the sixth to make it 5-0.

"I saw my name on the [lineup] card and then Leyland's son [Patrick] came up to me before the game and said, 'You know, you're 0-for-8 with five strikeouts against [Chicago starter John] Danks.' I said, 'Thanks a lot.' But I figured it couldn't get any worse.

"I guess somebody had to get us started because we hadn't scored a lot of runs the last couple games. I'm just happy it was me. You get a few runs for Verlander and you figure you've got a chance. Everybody gets a little looser."

Until it got tight, that is. The Tigers' ace was all but untouchable for seven innings, but in the eighth he hit the wall and the White Sox produced four straight hits before Verlander walked a batter on four straight pitches. Suddenly, it was 5-3 with two runners on and two outs. Leyland went to his closer, Fernando Rodney, to face Chicago left-fielder Carlos Quentin. He took a mighty swing, but lofted a fly ball to short left-center. Raburn was shaded toward the line in left and had no chance. Granderson was playing deep in center.

Leyland said time sort of stood still as his speedy centerfielder converged on the sinking ball and then took a dive.

"Yeah, that could have been bad," Leyland said. "It was a tough wind. You're trying not to let some big guy hit it over your head and he pops it short. It was huge. It was a great catch, a great play. It saved the day."

So there will be another day.

"We've had plenty of chances to wrap it up," Leyland said. "Now we have one more."

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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