- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

DETROIT — They will be talking about it for years to come in this town, and the legend will grow to mythic proportions. Devout fans of the Detroit Tigers will tell the story of the 2006 postseason and the 41-year-old pitcher who simply refused to give up a run.

Someone, probably a St. Louis Cardinals supporter, inevitably will bring up the mystery of the foreign substance seen on Kenny Rogers’ left palm during the first inning of Game 2 of the World Series. And the Tigers fans will insist it had nothing to do with Rogers’ brilliance on the mound. The veteran lefty was just that good, plain and simple.

It’s hard to argue with that logic; few pitchers in the history of this game have performed so exquisitely under such bright lights. With eight more innings of shutout ball last night at Comerica Park, Rogers added another chapter to his magic October, and the Tigers got back into this series with a 3-1 victory over the Cardinals.

Rogers was the star again, surrendering only two singles and three walks to extend his scoreless-innings streak to 23 over three brilliant starts this month. That’s tied for the third-longest streak in postseason history, only four innings shy of Christy Mathewson’s record from 1905.

“I’ve had scoreless streaks before. I’m so glad it’s happening for us now; it’s helping us win,” Rogers said. “But I will never put myself in a category with someone like that [Mathewson].”

Pulled by manager Jim Leyland after 99 pitches on a brutally cold night, Rogers watched from the dugout as closer Todd Jones escaped a ninth-inning jam. Jones allowed one run to score and loaded the bases before getting Yadier Molina to ground into a forceout and send the series to St. Louis tied at a game apiece.

Down after the opener of a World Series they were expected to dominate, the Tigers still felt comfort knowing they had Rogers on the hill last night. The crowd of 42,533 was plenty riled up as Detroit took the field, jumping up and down and clapping hands simply to stay warm on a 44 degree evening.

And the Tigers gave their fans plenty of reason to cheer early on, with No. 2 hitter Craig Monroe launching a solo homer (his second of the series and fifth of the postseason), and Carlos Guillen roping an RBI double in the first to put Detroit up 2-0.

Given that lead to work with, Rogers dug in and did exactly what he has been doing for the last three weeks: dominating opposing hitters. He retired 10 in a row at one point, and after surrendering an infield single in the first didn’t give up another hit until Yadier Molina’s liner to right in the eighth.

But might there have been more going on than meets the eye? The Cardinals apparently thought so after a couple of batters in the first inning noted his pitches were moving in an unnatural manner. Television cameras zoomed in on Rogers’ throwing hand and found a brownish spot on his lower palm that Rogers later said was “a big clump of dirt.”

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, though, brought it to the attention of the umpiring crew, and when Rogers retreated to the dugout after the inning, he wiped the hand clean.

“I went and wiped it off,” he said. “I didn’t know it was there.”

Whatever the substance was, the crew decided Rogers would be allowed to remove it without facing punishment, perhaps not wanting to let what appeared to be a little thing sabotage a World Series game.

There is precedent, though, for a pitcher to be ejected for using a foreign substance during a postseason game. In the 1988 National League Championship Series, Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Jay Howell was ejected and later suspended two games for having pine tar in his glove on a cold, rainy afternoon at New York’s Shea Stadium.

Last night’s crew evidently felt such punishment would be extreme, so a clean-handed Rogers continued to pitch. And pitch extraordinarily well.

“It’s not important, so I wouldn’t discuss it,” La Russa said. “When a guy pitches like that, as a team, we don’t take anything away from anybody.”

As Rogers posted zero after zero after zero on the scoreboard, it didn’t seem to matter what (if anything) he had on his hand a couple of hours earlier.

“He washed his hands and came out the second inning,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “And he was pretty clean the rest of the way.”

The Cardinals could do nothing to slow Rogers down. It didn’t help that their own starter, former Tigers pitcher Jeff Weaver, was out of sorts. He allowed three runs on nine hits in only five innings, not nearly enough to topple the most dominant pitcher on the planet.

“I’m just glad I hung in there and persevered, just so I could be here at this time,” Rogers said. “I’m probably getting lucky in a lot of ways.”

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