Rogers tosses another gem vs. A's
Lefty blanks A's over 7 1/3 innings; Tigers on cusp of Series
DETROIT -- Before Kenny Rogers can be haunted by his postseason history, he'd have to give up a postseason run first.
He isn't the typical clutch postseason performer. He didn't win at an early age to establish himself. He's not calm and collected, whether he's good or bad. He doesn't overpower hitters by will, and he doesn't know how to separate himself from the moment. He knows how to set up a hitter, change his speeds and make a hitter work against himself.
He also knows how to win, no matter what time of year. Friday's 3-0 win over the Athletics only adds to the study. But with a 3-0 lead in the AL Championship Series, it makes a trip to the World Series all but certain. As strong as the Tigers looked in Oakland for two games, Rogers and his finesse simply overwhelmed the A's on Friday.
"I normally don't give pitchers any credit," Milton Bradley said. "I get myself out. But he was outstanding. You can't pitch any better than that. I don't want to disrespect anybody, but I almost feel like going over there and high-fiving him myself. He was that good."
There were plenty of fans in the sellout crowd at Comerica Park who wanted to do the same. Again, they chanted his name every time he reached two strikes with two outs in an inning, and sometimes even before. They went wild every time he struck out a batter, and they seemingly responded in kind every time he pumped his fist after a big out.
All those moments, they were waving their rally towels.
"Those waving towels out there," Brandon Inge said. "Every time he got to a two-strike count, I thought I was going to pass out. The whole stands looked like they were swaying back and forth."
It was the response to the emotion of a 41-year-old pitcher who, as Inge put it, has the enthusiasm of a 12-year-old when he's competing on the mound.
"I would hope when I'm 78 and still playing," Inge joked, "I'm the same way, too."
But it's also the release of a pitcher who has never been in this role as the postseason hero, who has been dogged by the questions of not performing in the biggest markets or the biggest situations. He has failed, he admits, but the key is he's better for it.
"Before, I tried to take the crowd, take the emotions out of my game and just focus on pitching," Rogers recalled, "and I don't think I was very good at doing that early on. But these last couple [starts], I've used it to my benefit, tried to be aggressive and stay focused as much as possible, and it's a huge benefit.
"That's the experience of failure. A lot of these things come with just finding the right recipe. Early on, I didn't have the right recipe and I didn't understand how to go about my business under those kind of circumstances."
He learns from his mistakes, but coming to Detroit isn't appearing to be one of them. Only the 2004 Red Sox have ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series, but they got back into their ALCS against the Yankees by winning two straight at home. The Tigers have two chances to finish out this series at Comerica Park and clinch their first berth in the Fall Classic since 1984. Their six-game playoff winning streak is a feat last accomplished by the last two World Series champions.
Before the game, as Tigers players emerged from the clubhouse and surveyed the blustery, chilly conditions, Craig Monroe almost predicted the performance. He'd play a little deeper to give him a longer look at the winds, he said, but he'd hope Rogers would take that out of play with ground-ball outs.
Just a half-dozen balls reached the outfield against Rogers through his first seven innings, and only one of them fell for a hit.
Instead of questions about postseason performance, the question with Rogers was how the 40-degree weather and wind chill would affect the grip on his arsenal of offspeed pitches. Even that couldn't cool him down.
"Today, too much effort would've been a bad thing," he said, "because the balls were harder and very slick. I wanted to make sure I was under control, but I still fed off of [the crowd]. When they got up with two strikes and two outs, I knew it was a big deal. I think you have to understand what you can take out of it that doesn't take you out of your game plan."
Mixing curveballs, sinkers and fastballs, Rogers held Oakland to two singles, two walks and a hit batter. After the A's batted 3-for-21 with runners in scoring position over the first two games, the only runner they put into scoring position Friday came after Rogers hit Frank Thomas with an 0-2 pitch in the first inning, moving Jason Kendall to second.
Not only did Rogers retire 16 of 17 hitters from the second inning until walking Nick Swisher to lead off the eighth, he struck out four of five batters against the heart of the A's order in the third and fourth, including Mark Kotsay, Bradley and Thomas consecutively. He set up two of them for fastballs on the corner for called third strikes, sent down Bradley whiffing at a curveball and induced Eric Chavez to chase a high fastball.
"He didn't pitch anybody the same," Kotsay said, "and he never throws the same pitch twice in the same at-bat. You could see five, six pitches in an at-bat and he'll throw them at five or six different speeds."
It continued Rogers' historic domination against another of his former teams, adding onto his 21-7 career regular-season record against the A's, but on a much more historic stage.
Combine Friday's performance with last Friday's 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees, and he has a 16 1/3-inning playoff scoreless streak since pitching in relief for the Twins in the 2003 AL Division Series.
He's only the second pitcher with consecutive scoreless starts in the postseason since Roger Clemens in 2000, joining Tom Glavine from his performance Thursday night for the Mets.
Rogers knows the stage well, even though last week was his first postseason win. The difference now is that he knows how to handle it, knows how to use the emotion for him.
When he heard the standing ovation on his way off the mound in the eighth, he could finally allow the emotion to take him. One more Tigers win, and he'll have plenty of company.
"I wish sometimes I could just step outside of my body while it's all going on and just go take a seat and watch," Rogers said. "You can't, but that would be probably the best scenario you could ask for, to be able to revel in it and soak it all in when it's happening. I'm very fortunate to be here."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.