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World Series-bound Tigers must wait for full applause after sweeping Yankees

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers will have to be patient. Their due is coming. Just not today. Probably not tomorrow.

On the exuberant end of a Phil Coke glove spike, they are going to the World Series. They swallowed the New York Yankees whole. They should be proud of that. Dance away. Enjoy the weekend. Here's the coming narrative: The New York Yankees were swallowed wholly.

You know, by somebody.

This is not fair. After a harrowing regular season and a breathy five-game division series against the Oakland A's, the Tigers flew through the night to Michigan. They hung around for the day, waited out the New York-Baltimore series, flew on to New York and immediately commenced the ALCS butt-whippin'.

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Justin Verlander and the Tigers' pitching staff was smoking all series long. (AP)

Justin Verlander and the Tigers' pitching staff was smoking all series long. (AP)

Over four games – two of them in the Bronx and two here – the Tigers never trailed, not even for an inning. Their starters – Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer – let in two earned runs over 27 1/3 innings. (Therefore, Yankees' runs ran neck-and-neck with Yankees' pitching changes.)

[Slideshow: Tigers celebrate after sweeping Yankees]

History will show the Tigers played an extraordinary ALCS, pitching to remarkable exactness and owning all but one big moment. The put-away Game 4 was every inch as precise and thorough as an 8-1 score could manage.

From the front of the rotation to the back of the bullpen, the Tigers held the Yankees to two hits Thursday afternoon, to a .157 batting average in the series, to a going-away victory that set off downtown Detroit in a navy and orange celebration.

[Related: Delmon Young wins ALCS MVP]

Jim Leyland watched the final outs from his usual spot in the third base-side dugout. Though the sun had gone down, the lights were on, and darkness hung over the stadium, he watched from behind sunglasses. Perhaps he hid tearful joy for the distance his club had covered, particularly since late September. Perhaps he poked at his dear old friend Tony La Russa, who'd famously spent night games in the same personal darkness.

These Tigers had come a ways to get those last few outs, and to get them so comfortably.

"I just reminded everybody when we took our punches all year, you know what," Leyland said. "Let's just wait till the end, and then if we have underachieved, I will be the first one to admit it. But let us play out the schedule to see if we underachieve. So hopefully we've quieted some doubters now. The guys just stepped it up when we had to."

That is the story. Soon. That the Tigers are going to the World Series for the second time since '06, that the salty Leyland has brought them there, that they look like the team to beat. It's a great story, too.

And yet …

In a small clubhouse behind the third-base dugout, the Yankees came to grips with the reality they'd come to the American League Championship Series and made spectacles of themselves, and for all the wrong reasons. They'd had home-field advantage, because they'd won 95 games, seven more than the Tigers had. For six months the Yankees had the deeper lineup, a comparable rotation, a reasonable bullpen.

Then, on a cool Saturday night in the Bronx, the Yankees began to unravel. Derek Jeter broke his ankle. A ninth-inning rally led merely to a loss. Over the final 30 innings of the ALCS, the Yankees would score two runs.

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Detroit won the AL pennant for the second time in six seasons. (AP)

Detroit won the AL pennant for the second time in six seasons. (AP)

Alex Rodriguez was benched. So was Nick Swisher. So was Curtis Granderson. None of it worked, not for very long. They leaned on men who'd become part-timers for a reason, or who'd been injured. Of those entrusted to continue the fight, Robinson Cano was one for the postseason, Russell Martin batted .143, and Mark Teixeira stood proudly at .200. Only Ichiro Suzuki carried the life of his regular season into October.

Behind their own capable pitching, they still were beaten. On Thursday, when ace CC Sabathia possessed a doughy fastball and flat breaking ball and couldn't maneuver himself out of the fourth inning, they were crushed. This would be viewed first as a colossal failure by an organization that prides itself on the banners it hangs and the pressure its players endure, all in the name of the universe – Yankee Universe, according to the T-shirts – it created.

Had they cared to listen, the Yankees might have heard the Tigers – Verlander waved his cap to the crowd, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder fouled up their triumphant handshake and fell into a hug, series MVP Delmon Young hoisted his fist – on the field they'd just been run off. Instead, they picked through questions about their own awfulness, contract statuses and futures.

Change is coming. There was a day when George Steinbrenner would insist on such after such an epic failure. Those left in his place likely have the same thought, though they may carry it out less colorfully.

A-Rod? Granderson? Swisher? Ichiro? Martin? Raul Ibanez?

Granderson shook his head slowly. The Yankees hold a $13 million option for 2013. He claimed it hadn't entered his mind.

"None at all," he said. "I'll get a phone call one way or the other."

By Game 4, manager Joe Girardi discovered a matchup that might suit A-Rod. It was Drew Smyly, the left-hander. Pinch-hitting, A-Rod made the last out of the sixth inning, with two on and the Tigers leading by five. He batted .111 in the series. He'd batted .125 in the last series, when the Yankees hit .211 as a team and were bailed out by a Baltimore team that hit .187.

"You never expect that," A-Rod said. "It's a terrible way for the season to end."

He said he was not angry with Girardi or general manager Brian Cashman for marginalizing him during the series. He said he paid no mind to reports further marginalization could send him all the way to Miami or elsewhere. His intention, he said, was to go home, see his daughters, and return as a Yankee in the season he'll turn 38, with $117 million still owed him.

"I love New York City," he said, "and I love everything about being a Yankee." 

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Alex Rodriguez went 0 for 2 as a reserve in Game 4 on Thursday. (AP)

Asked then if he'd consider waiving his no-trade clause, were it to come to that, he said, "I haven't thought about that. I love New York City. I plan to be here and be productive for a while."

Cashman will have some but not all the say in what the Yankees look like come April, and whether that look will include A-Rod.

"I expect Alex to be here," he said. "I expect him to come back and be our third baseman. What happened here I don't think reflected Alex's abilities. That goes for a lot of our guys, not just Alex."

The disaster of the ALCS – the fact the Tigers were everything they were not – seemed to pin them all to the same cinder block wall. Many questions were answered with shrugs. Why hadn't they hit? How had they lost so thoroughly? What does this mean for next season? Who takes the fall?

[Y! Sports Fan Shop: Buy Detroit Tigers championship merchandise]

"It was a miserable series," hitting coach Kevin Long said.

The Yankees were outscored by one team – the Texas Rangers – in the regular season, by four runs over 162 games. They managed against the Orioles in the division series. And then the Tigers arrived.

"I'll take it," Long said. "If somebody wants to put the blame on me, feel free. The work, what I do on an everyday basis, it works. Listen, the blueprint has been good for a long time. … I'm a big boy. I can handle this."

At the mention of A-Rod, Long continued, "He's been challenged right now. We'll see what he's made of. If somebody wants to count him out, feel free. But I remember the same stuff about Derek Jeter. So feel free."

For the moment, they felt like failures. The world, starting in New York, believes they are right. It was a failure, to the extent of the scores, and the series that was over before it hardly began, and the fight they put up.

And how else could a team – a series – be judged?

Well, by the opponent. By the team that took it to them. By the team that was better in every possible way. When do the Tigers get theirs?

Wednesday. On the night they gather for another game, when they hand the ball to Justin Verlander, and they play for the World Series.

Yes, they were great. People will recognize that, and appreciate the Tigers for it. But, first, the Yankees will have to be terrible for a while.

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