DETROIT — Phil Coke stormed into Jim Leyland’s office and sprayed the veteran manager with some of Detroit’s celebratory bubbly.
When Leyland tried to take cover in a bathroom, Coke chased him – a fitting scene involving an unsung reliever whose role changed with little warning and a skipper who never stopped believing in his team.
“I just reminded everybody when we took our punches all year, ‘You know what? Let’s just wait till the end, and then if we have underachieved, I will be the first one to admit it,’” Leyland said. “So hopefully we’ve quieted some doubters now. The guys just stepped it up when we had to.”
Leyland and the Tigers are heading to the World Series now.
Max Scherzer capped a stupendous stretch for Detroit’s rotation, and the Tigers won their second pennant in seven years by beating the New York Yankees 8-1 Thursday for a four-game sweep of the AL Championship Series.
Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta hit two-run homers in a four-run fourth inning against CC Sabathia, who was unable to prevent the Yankees from getting swept in a postseason series for the first time in 32 years.
Without a World Series title since 1984, Detroit lost to Texas in last year’s ALCS, lost slugger Victor Martinez to a season-ending knee injury in January and quickly replaced his offense by signing Prince Fielder.
The excitement of that bold acquisition subsided a bit when the Tigers struggled to a 26-32 start in the AL Central.
But they overtook the Chicago White Sox in the final 10 days of the regular season and won the division with an 88-74 record, matching the Cardinals for the fewest wins among the 10 playoff teams.
Through it all, Leyland kept an even keel. The closest the manager came to a major change was when closer Jose Valverde gave up four runs in the ninth inning of Game 1 against the Yankees.
Detroit won that game anyway, and Coke got the save in Games 2 and 3 in Valverde’s place. Coke also was on the mound at the end of the finale.
Contrast that to the Yankees, who changed lineups drastically throughout the playoffs in a futile attempt to jump-start an anemic offense.