- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

DETROIT — From the very first day of spring training, Jim Leyland demanded that his Detroit Tigers walk with the swagger of World Series champions.

One more win, and this once-lost franchise will get a chance to play for that golden trophy.

Kenny Rogers pitched the game of his life for the second straight week while the Tigers backed him with their bats, gloves and legs, beating the Oakland Athletics 3-0 yesterday to take a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series.

Pushing aside two decades of frustration and failure, plus a late-season collapse that threatened to wreck their year, the wild-card Tigers made it look easy — just like the 1984 team that stormed to the title.

Long gone was the embarrassment of 2003, when Detroit dropped 119 games.

“With what we’ve done now, it feels like that season has finally been wiped off the map,” third baseman Brandon Inge said.

On a cold day, the thought that Detroit was on the verge of the World Series sent a chill through the fans packing Comerica Park.

“That’s our goal. That’s what we play for,” Rogers said. “I can’t say enough for the way the guys played behind me.”

Leyland made another lineup hunch pay off yesterday as the team that started the year with five straight wins posted its sixth straight playoff win. The Athletics sense they’re up against something special, too.

“We’re running into a better team, and they’re knocking down everybody in their path,” third baseman Eric Chavez said. “It’s not frustrating, they’re better than we are.”

Added designated hitter Frank Thomas: “That’s a whole new team over there right now. That’s not the team I’ve been battling for years.”

Putting aside temperatures in the low 40s that forced both teams to put flame-throwing blowers in their dugouts, Rogers shut out the Athletics on two mere singles over 71/3 innings.

He drew a thunderous ovation when he left and took off his cap, waved it to the crowd and then spun around for all to see. The fans also got into the act, twirling white towels.

“You could really see the emotion building late in the game,” Tigers leadoff man Curtis Granderson said.

Craig Monroe homered, Placido Polanco delivered two more hits off losing pitcher Rich Harden and Tigers closer Todd Jones finished for his second save of the series.

The Tigers led 2-0 after the first inning, and at this rate, nothing seems able to stop them. Want evidence? Leyland pulled Game 2 star Alexis Gomez, put Omar Infante into his first postseason game and the DH singled and walked.

“I think it’s a matter of having confidence in all your players,” Leyland said. “And I think there’s a little luck that goes along with it.”

Certainly the Tigers’ luck didn’t change on Friday the 13th. And, a day after the earliest measured snowfall in the city’s history, the weather was no problem, though it helped the game was switched from nighttime to day.

The A’s get one last chance today in Game 4, with Dan Haren starting against former Oakland draft pick Jeremy Bonderman. Only once in baseball history has a team rallied from an 0-3 deficit in the postseason, with Boston doing it against the New York Yankees in 2004.

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