Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, delayed 20 hours by inclement weather in southeastern Michigan, was supposed to be the New York Yankees' big chance. They had their ace starting pitcher, CC Sabathia, finally pitching for them in this series. And the Tigers' starter, Max Scherzer ... well, he's certainly a fine pitcher, but he's no CC Sabathia.
Perhaps not. But in Game 4, Scherzer pitched a lot better than Sabathia. By the time Scherzer exited the contest in the sixth inning, Sabathia was long gone and the Tigers owned a commanding 6-1 lead. Scherzer had racked up 10 strikeouts, and ultimately earned the victory as the Tigers beat the Yankees 8-1 to complete their four-game sweep, marking the first time the Bronx Bombers -- who have done so little bombing lately -- have been swept in a postseason series since 1980.
That fall, they were swept in the ALCS by the Royals in three games -- they were best-of-five in those days -- thanks in part to George Brett's mammoth home run off Goose Gossage late in Game 3. Between then and now, the Yankees had played in 37 postseason series. They lost 11 of those. But in 32 years, 1981 through their Division Series against the Orioles last week, the Yankees hadn't been swept.
Until now. And while getting swept, they never held a single lead for a single moment.
The Yankees, who finished the regular season second in the American League in scoring, just stopped hitting. For which the Detroit Tigers' pitchers, and especially their starting pitchers, deserve a great deal of credit. The Yankees scored only six runs in the four games: 4 in Game 1, 0 in Game 2, 1 in Game 3, and 1 in Game 4. In the opener, all four runs came in the ninth inning, when Ichiro Suzuki and Raúl Ibañez both his two-run homers against now-exiled closer Jose Valverde.
In Game 3, Justin Verlander cruised through eight innings. Finally in the ninth, the Yankees knocked Verlander out of the game; again, Coke finished up (although it wasn't easy).
And in Game 4, Scherzer pitched brilliantly until he tired in the sixth. By then, it didn't seem to matter. The Tigers touched Sabathia for single runs in the first and third innings, then exploded in the fourth when Miguel Cabrera and then Jhonny Peralta both smashed two-run homers to make the score 6-0.
The Yankees finally got on the board in the sixth, when Eduardo Nuñez tripled and, one out later, Nick Swisher doubled. After Robinson Canó, deep in a terrible slump, grounded out, Scherzer walked Mark Teixeira and got lifted from the game. Left-hander Drew Smyly came in to face Ibañez, Joe Girardi sent up the most expensive pinch-hitter in major-league history -- well, okay: the most expensive hitter, period -- and Alex Rodriguez lifted an easy, inning-ending fly ball to center field.
The Yankees wouldn't threaten again. The Tigers rubbed the Yankees' nose in it, hitting solo home runs in the seventh (Austin Jackson) and eighth (Peralta, again) innings.
Phil Coke, the Tigers' new closer, came in for two more innings of work, and blew through the Yankees in both the eighth and ninth. He clinched the Tigers' 11th trip to the World Series when Prince Fielder caught Jayson Nix's high pop fly.
Also of note? Moments before that, we might have seen -- if you believe the scuttlebutt and the talk-radio hosts and the Twitter machine -- Alex Rodriguez's last at-bat as a New York Yankee, even though he's got five more seasons and approximately three billion dollars left on his contract ...
It was more dramatic than it looks.
But all of that can wait awhile. The Detroit Tigers, who were big preseason favorites to win their division but had to fight like hell just to qualify for the championship tournament, are heading to the World Series, where they'll face either the Giants or the Cardinals.
The Tigers will have to wait awhile, though; they've got five days off until the World Series opens, either in St. Louis or San Francisco, next Wednesday night.