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Published: Sunday, 10/8/2006

Tigers pitching leaves Yankees powerless

DETROIT - The Motown massacre is complete.

Break out the body bags.

Clean up the carcasses.

The Detroit Tigers did something yesterday that few thought they would do - or could do - when this AL division series began.

But they fooled most everyone, mauling the mighty New York Yankees 8-3 yesterday at Comerica Park to take the best-of-five series in four games.

The Tigers' pitchers, both young and old, didn't fear New York's potent offensive lineup, which routinely included nine all-stars.

They didn't believe all the gloom and doom that was forecast for them.

One night after 41-year-old veteran Kenny Rogers pitched the game of his life, throwing shutout ball for 72/3 innings, 23-year-old flamethrower Jeremy Bonderman was even better.

Bonderman retired the first 15 batters he faced and allowed just five hits and two runs in what was arguably the best start of his four-year career.

"Good pitching beats good hitting" is a timeworn phrase.

But pitching definitely won this series for the Tigers.

The freshmen whipped the varsity pretty convincingly.

"This was a series where it didn't look like it was going to happen for us, but after seeing the way we pitched, it was supposed to be ours," said manager Jim Leyland, as champagne was poured on his head in the raucous clubhouse.

"I'm happy for the fans. They finally got to celebrate today."

After pounding out 14 hits in an 8-4 triumph in Game 1 against Nate Robertson, the Bronx Bombers were a bust with their bats.

The Yankees scored just six runs in the last 27 innings. Three of those came on Johnny Damon's homer in the fourth inning of Game 2 and two more on Jorge Posada's two-run blast in the ninth yesterday.

"This was one of the greatest pitching performances I've seen in a long time," Tigers Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline said. "And it came against one of the best offensive teams in the history of baseball. That's what makes it so impressive."

Bonderman and hard-throwing rookie Justin Verlander, also 23, were just getting out of diapers the last time the Tigers were in the AL championship series.

But they didn't let the lack of postseason experience bother them.

They just reared back and brought the heat.

Verlander gutted out his Game 2 start, despite being in one jam after another, and the Tigers found a way to win at Yankee Stadium.

Rogers tormented the Yankees with a splendid assortment of off-speed pitches in Game 3.

And Bonderman, who had blown two 6-0 leads in the last five weeks, including his last start on the final day of the season when the Tigers blew a chance to clinch the AL Central, was beautiful in Game 4.

All three Tigers starters got a lot of support from the bullpen.

Rookie Joel Zumaya (21), who hit 103 mph on the radar gun at Yankee Stadium, and veteran closer Todd Jones (38) combined for a 0.00 ERA in the series.

They pitched four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit. Jones also recorded one save.

Robertson, likely to start Game 1 of the ALCS Tuesday night against the Athletics in Oakland, emerged from Game 1 with a hefty 11.12 ERA.

But Verlander, Rogers and Bonderman limited the Yankees to just five runs and 17 hits in Detroit's final three starts while compiling an impressive ERA of 2.11.

"Kenny and me talked before his start and I said, 'You go out and do your thing and I'll do mine, and we'll take care of this,'•" Bonderman said. "Kenny did, so I had to live up to my word."

Perhaps this is the year of the Tiger.

Or Tigers.

The Yankees have been buried.

Detroit, given up for dead after its dreadful regular-season finish, is starting to look like a team of destiny.

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