Walk-off wins in the playoffs are rare, and always iconic. Walk-off wins to send a team to the World Series are even more rare, and the story will be forever told by the winning team — even if it completed a relatively painless four-game sweep.
That’s what happened to the 2006 Detroit Tigers, who dismantled the Oakland A’s in four games in the 2006 ALCS to move onto their first World Series since 1984, 22 years prior.
I chose to stream Detroit’s series-clinching win for the PL+ Game of the Day. Although I grew up in Oregon and watched Mariners games as a kid, I was always a Detroit Tigers fan — thanks to my dad who grew up in Detroit and was a 7-year old superfan when they won it all in 1968.
This game was personal for me. For most of my life, 1990-2005, the Tigers were bad. At some points they were just bad, and others, historically, 119-loss, bad. So, they weren’t the easiest team to root for, especially as a younger kid.
However, things changed in 2006. Dave Dombrowski turned a team with little talent into a roster with future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez and a band of high-quality, All-Star hitters like Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge. Factor in a pitching staff anchored by a young Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman and ageless veteran Kenny Rogers and you had a team destined for greatness.
And, up until the World Series, they were filling that destiny. They took care of the Yankees in the ALDS, setting up a showdown with the post-Moneyball Oakland A’s, anchored by Eric Chavez and an aging-but-still-slugging Frank Thomas.
Detroit took care of games 1-3, and a showdown between crafty right-handers Dan Haren and Bonderman set the stage for Game 4.
ALDS Game 4
Watching Haren and Bonderman was a fun experience, and watching them with color commentator Lou Piniella, an architect of the old days of baseball, was even more fun. Bonderman was one of my all-time favorite pitchers. He never lived up to his potential, with command issues and arm injuries a constant problem, but he had a high-90s fastball with late movement and a devastating slider that earned him the nickname ‘Mr. Snappy.’
Bonderman struggled early in this game, allowing veteran Milton Bradley to get a few knocks and hanging a slider to Jay Payton who deposited it into the seats for a dinger.
Meanwhile, Haren was excellent. He attacked in the zone with fastball and threw a ton of splitters, which flummoxed Tiger hitters all game long. Haren drew a ton of praise from Piniella for his ability to attack his fastball in the lower half of the zone — a far cry from the more modern approach of fastballs up and breaking balls down.
Haren eventually made a mistake, leaving a splitter up to Ordonez in the sixth inning — a pitch that was sent out into the left field bleachers with blazing speed, a precursor of what was to come.
The strangest thing that happened in this game, without a doubt, was A’s manager Ken Macha’s bullpen management.
The Tigers loaded the bases in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game, and Macha smartly brought in closer Huston Street. I lamented on the stream how managers are so willing to bring closers into tight situations in the playoffs, even though it took years and years for some coaches to finally start doing it in the regular season.
Regardless, Macha bringing Street in to get the final out of the seventh was a shrewd move. Leaving him in the eighth inning was fine, as he didn’t throw many pitches in the seventh.
The mistake was leaving Street in for the ninth. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why they thought going over two innings with a closer without much multi-inning experience was a good idea. I know he’s the closer, and you stick with your studs or whatever, but this was a flat out mistake — and it showed.
Street got Granderson out to begin the inning, although he hung a fastball that was scorched into right field and took a great play from Bradley to haul it in. Craig Monroe laced a single on another bad pitch, and then Polanco smoked another bad pitch for a hit on the very next pitch.
At this point, Street had thrown a ton of pitches, his fastball velocity was hovering around 88 (when it had been in the 90s earlier), and four of his last five pitches were right down the middle of the plate. Yet, somehow, Macha did not feel that any of his other relievers were better suited for the role. Maybe he knew the series was over (it was 3-0) maybe he really thought Street was the guy for the job, who knows.
But, after missing high and away, Street’s second pitch to the cleanup hitter Ordonez was hung up in the zone and Mags went yard to left field, his second of the game and a walk-off, series-ending blast to send Detroit to the World Series.
Myles Nelson will be hosting a PL+ game watch on Wednesday, focusing on the impressive MLB debut of Stephen Strasburg. Thursday will feature Ryan Fickes and the Orioles-White Sox game without a crowd from 2015, and Friday will be a look at Kerry Wood’s impressive 20-strikeout game from 1998.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)