Justin Verlander took the mound 17 hours later than he was originally expecting to – which certainly didn't help his nerves, being his first ever postseason start, in Yankee Stadium, against the lineup Joe Morgan continuously referred to as "the best I've ever seen."
Verlander wasn't perfect by any stretch, struggling with his control and often times having to work out of jams. But while it wasn't always pretty, he was effective, and though he needed 106 pitches to get through just 5 1/3 innings, it was enough to turn the game over to the Tiger bullpen, who were ready to go head-to-head with the Bronx Bombers.
Carlos Guillen had tied the game up in the top half of the sixth inning with a solo shot that everyone knew (including Yankee starter Mike Mussina) was gone the second it left the bat, and now the Tigers needed to preserve the lead. Jamie Walker came into the game in the middle of an at bat with the count 1-1, but manager Jim Leyland was not interested in risking anything with the go-ahead runner on base. Three pitches later, Walker got the ground ball right to Guillen that resulted in a double play and got the Tigers out of the inning.
In the seventh, Marcus Thames singled, moved up on a passed ball, and then was sacrificed over to third by Brandon Inge, bringing up Curtis Granderson. Much like Verlander, Mussina was struggling at times to hit his spot, and on an 0-2 count, he missed again, and Granderson took advantage, driving the pitch to deep left center field, scoring the go-ahead run.
After that, it was the Joel Zumaya show, as the fearless 21 year old would come in with one out in the 7th, looking to hold on to the Tigers' one run lead. Simply put, Zumaya was unhittable. He faced five batters in the 7th and 8th innings, retired all five, including three on strikeouts, two on 100+ MPH fastballs. The Tigers win on Thursday afternoon was a team effort, but after the game, the one everyone wanted to talk about was Zumaya, and his 103 MPH fastball (which registered twice on the stadium radar gun).
But no Tiger playoff game would be complete without an appearance from the Rollercoaster. Todd Jones entered the game, and in prompt fashion, gave up a leadoff single to Hideki Matsui.
But the Tiger bullpen is a good one, and also well aware that had they held on just once last weekend, they'd have started the playoffs at home and won their division. And Jones most certainly wasn't going to be the one that was going to allow the Tigers to lose that lead.
He retired the next three Yanks in order, finally getting Johnny Damon to fly out to shallow centerfield, clinching the game for the Tigers and turning a series around that could have been sealed up with a Yankee win.
Now, the series returns to Detroit, for the first postseason baseball in the Motor City since Sparky Anderson was in the Tiger dugout, Tom Monaghan was in the owner's box (metaphorically anyway), Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and the club still played at Michigan and Trumbull.
A lot may have changed since the last home playoff game, but one thing can be certain; Tiger fans are ready, and on Friday night, they'll show the world how much they missed their boys on the diamond.