- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

DETROIT — Between the end of the regular season and the moment Kenny Rogers stepped back on the mound for the postseason, something changed.

It wasn’t a pitching adjustment or something noticeable through the powers of human observation. No one knows exactly what changed, and Rogers probably doesn’t either. But there is no denying this: Since the Detroit Tigers began the playoffs, the things going Kenny Rogers’ way are not typically the things that have gone Kenny Rogers’ way.

Take yesterday, for instance, his first game since his remarkable outing against the powerful New York Yankees to clinch the division series for Detroit last week — he allowed no runs and just five hits in 72/3 innings in a 6-0 win. That’s coming up big. Based on his history of coming up small, it seemed likely that, at the age of 41, Kenny Rogers wouldn’t have another big game in his career — unless he pitched another 12 years or so, the span between that win over the Yankees and his perfect game in Texas in 1994.

But here it is, seven days later, and Rogers came up big again, holding the Oakland Athletics to just two hits in 71/3 innings in a 3-0 shutout. The victory gave the Tigers a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series, and no one shivering in the 42-degree temperatures at Comerica Park yesterday — even the A’s — should believe this series is going back to Oakland.

‘Being down 3-0 in the series, it’s not a good situation,” losing pitcher Rich Harden said.

This game was over after the first inning, though it didn’t look that way. As good as Rogers was, he didn’t get off to a good start, giving up a single to Jason Kendall to open the game, then hitting Frank Thomas two batters later. But the A’s failed to score, and when the Tigers scored two in the bottom of the inning to take a 2-0 lead, Oakland had just one more baserunner until the eighth.

Juxtapose that against the way things were going for Kenny Rogers the week before the postseason started. In his final start of the regular season, he gave up seven runs in 32/3 innings in an 8-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in Detroit. As manager Jim Leyland came out to the mound that day to get the ball, Rogers slammed the ball down on the rubber instead of handing it to the manager, and it bounced high in the air as he walked off the mound in disgust.

Three days later, the Detroit police were investigating a complaint that Rogers attacked a fan while leaving Comerica Park in an argument that started when a 37-year-old man and his 14-year-old son, reportedly limping from a football injury, approached Rogers for an autograph.

That was the Kenny Rogers everyone has come to know and loathe.

Perhaps the 2006 postseason Kenny Rogers is from Bizarro World, where up is down, black is white, good is bad and, therefore, bad is good.

Compare the numbers: In previous postseasons, Rogers was 0-3, giving up 19 runs in 221/3 innings, and vilified by the fans. In this postseason, he’s 2-0, giving up no runs in 15 innings.

“Nobody could have pitched better than what Kenny has pitched the last two outings, including John Smoltz [Leyland’s nemesis when he was managing the Pirates against the Braves in the 1991 and 1992 NLCS], who is the best postseason pitcher I’ve ever seen,” Leyland said.

Rogers is the most famous man in town now. As he walked off the mound when Leyland took him out in the eighth inning yesterday, Rogers tipped his cap to the standing, roaring sellout crowd of 41,669 at Comerica, turning around to acknowledge the entire ballpark. He was a regular man of the people. There may not have been a fan in Detroit, a city going nuts over its Tigers, who wouldn’t have gladly taken a beating from Rogers yesterday.

“This franchise, this city, has just welcomed me, and I’m just trying to reward the faith they had in me by going out there and trying to do my best,” Rogers said.

And for some reason, after 41 years on this earth and 18 major league seasons, that seems to be working for him now.

“It’s just amazing. Another outstanding performance by Mr. Rogers today,” said Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, who went 2-for-4 and drove in Detroit’s first run of the game.

It’s more than amazing. It’s Bizarro Kenny.

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