The 2006 Detroit Tigers season was the team's 106th season. They won the American League Pennant. They represented the AL in the World Series before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals 4 games to 1. The season was their 106th since they entered the AL in 1901. It was their 7th season since opening Comerica Park in 2000, and the first where the team finished with a winning record and made the playoffs for the first time since 1987.
A great deal of credit was also given to manager Jim Leyland. On April 17, after an uninspiring 10–2 loss at home to the Cleveland Indians dropped the team's record to 7–6, the manager launched into a tirade against the team about its lack of effort, telling the media, "We stunk. They [the players] were already on the plane to Oakland." It appeared to light a fire under the players, spurring them on to a stretch in which they won 28 of 35 games. Leyland repeatedly preached the concept of playing hard for nine full innings, and the players took up that mantra, as evidenced not just by their words but also by the team's propensity for late-inning clutch hits, rallies and comebacks.
The Tigers' newfound success attracted a new generation of fans, many of whom who had never seen winning baseball in Detroit. Detroit hit 16 home runs in their first four games, the most ever by any team in their first four games of the season. Tigers fans traveled to road games in large numbers, most notably at the interleague series with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field from June 16–18. The crowd could be heard chanting "Let's Go Tigers!" throughout all three games, all of which were Detroit victories.
The major doubt many fans and pundits had was whether the Tigers could compete against other top-tier American League teams. Early in the season, the team lost series to the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and lost five of six games to the reigning World Series champion (and AL Central rival) Chicago White Sox. However, on July 20, at a game which featured a particularly stirring rendition of the national anthem by local opera singer Eugene Zweig, and a standing-room-only crowd that included actor Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard, the Tigers beat White Sox pitching ace José Contreras to take the series two games to one from the White Sox, the team's first series victory against an upper-echelon AL team in 2006. In their next two series, against the AL West division-leading Oakland Athletics, and the red-hot Minnesota Twins, who were 34–8 over their previous 42 games, the Tigers also won two out of three.
On July 31, Tigers management traded minor-league pitcher Brian Rogers to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for left-handed hitting and three-time All Star first baseman Sean Casey. The move added a left-handed bat to the lineup, especially necessary after Dmitri Young was released in September.
By August 7, the Tigers were an astonishing 40 games above .500 (76–36) and cruising. They would lose their next five games, sixteen of their next 22, and the last six weeks of the season were punctuated by a nosedive, as a suddenly silent offense led to a 19–31 record in the last 50 games of the season. Perhaps the biggest loss the team suffered was not a singular game, but one of their best all-around players, Plácido Polanco, who separated his shoulder making a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch in Fenway Park against the Red Sox on August 15.
Only the big cushion built in the summer saved the Tigers from what would have been baseball's most statistically infamous collapse, as they clinched a playoff berth on September 24 with an 11–4 win over the Kansas City Royals. But even that cushion couldn't save a division title. On October 1, despite a rare relief appearance from Kenny Rogers, the Tigers fell out of the top spot in the American League Central with a 10–8 extra-inning loss to the 100-loss Royals in their last regular season game.
Detroit lost their last five regular season games, all at home, against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Royals. The final loss gave the Twins the AL Central title, and made the Tigers the American League wild card entrant in the postseason. Their opening-round opponent would be the New York Yankees.
The Tigers ended the regular season with a 95–67 record, marking the team's first winning season since 1993 and their most wins since 1987. They were the only team outside the American League East to win the AL Wild Card between 2003 and 2011.
There were many memorable moments during the regular season. Some of the highlights:
On April 20, the Tigers came into the ninth down 3–1, but clutch hits tied the game, and Brandon Inge's resolute 15-pitch walk (Jim Leyland called it a "1½ Marlboro" at-bat, in reference to his noted chain-smoking when in the dugout) forced in the winning run.
On May 3, in the eighth inning of a tense pitching duel, Brandon Inge beat a throw to second to avoid a double play, then Alexis Gómez singled him in for a 2–1 comeback victory.
Oy May 14, the Tigers swept the Indians in a three-game series with a 3–2 victory, the first time Detroit swept a series from the Indians in Cleveland since 1990.
On May 20, Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. hit a grand slam that put the Reds up, 6–5, but with two outs in the ninth inning, Curtis Granderson hit a home run that tied the game, and the Tigers won in extra innings.
On June 1, hits by Ivan Rodríguez and Magglio Ordóñez (and gum-chewing by Nate Robertson) set up Carlos Guillén's game-winning ("walk-off") single, completing a five-run comeback and defeating the Yankees.
On June 18, Kenny Rogers won his 200th game, becoming only the 26th left-hander in baseball history to do so; Detroit hit eight home runs to set a club record.
On June 27, Roger Clemens hurled a three-hitter, but Nate Robertson outpitched him and the Tigers won, 4–0.
On July 11, the 2006 All-Star Game featured three Tigers—Rodríguez, Kenny Rogers and Ordóñez—for the first time since 1987. Rodríguez was voted as a starter, while Rogers was named the starting pitcher. The battery combination of Rogers and Rodríguez was the first time a Tigers pitcher threw to a Tigers catcher to start the Mid-Summer Classic since Denny McLain threw to Bill Freehan in 1966.
On July 14, in a tie game, with two out and two on in the top of the ninth, reliever Todd Jones faced dangerous slugger Mark Teahen, who had already hit two home runs in the game. Jones threw Teahen every pitch he could, and Teahen repeatedly fouled each pitch off. Finally Jim Leyland walked to the mound—where he told Jones his visit was a ruse, designed to fool Teahen into thinking Jones would be throwing anything but a fastball. Leyland walked off the field, Jones threw a fastball, and Teahen swung and missed for strike three. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, Carlos Guillén hit the Tigers' first walk-off home run of the season for the victory. After the game, Jones said of Leyland's visit to the mound: "I thought, 'Wow, you're a really good manager.'"
On July 20 (see above), the Tigers essentially beat the White Sox on a Marcus Thames slide into second. The slide broke up a seemingly sure double play, which allowed the winning run to score later that inning.
On July 24, the Tigers became the first team since the 1891 St. Louis Cardinals to score 5 runs or more in the first inning in three consecutive games.
On August 5, Iván Rodríguez hit a walk-off home run with two outs in the ninth inning to complete a comeback against the Cleveland Indians.
On August 27, a 7–1 victory over the Cleveland Indians secured the Tigers an 82nd victory—and their first winning season since 1993.
On August 30, with two outs in the top of the ninth, Craig Monroe hit a dramatic three-run home run, erasing a one-run deficit, stunning the crowd at Yankee Stadium, and giving the Tigers a 5–3 come-from-behind victory over the Yankees.
On September 12, Craig Monroe tied a club record with three outfield assists, including throwing two runners out at the plate, and Carlos Guillén hit two home runs, one from each side of the plate, the second being a walk-off in the bottom of the ninth that won the game, 3–2, over the Texas Rangers.
On September 23, the Tigers scored ten runs in the first inning in a 15–4 victory over the Kansas City Royals. The game marked Plácido Polanco's return from the disabled list; he had three hits.
On September 24, the Tigers scored nine runs in the second inning en route to an 11–4 victory. The win secured their first playoff appearance since 1987.
The New York Yankees were heavy favorites over the Tigers to win the series because of their "modern-day Murderers' Row" lineup. All nine batters were current or former All-Stars. The Yankees won the first game, 8–4.
In Game 2, the Tigers took an early 1–0 lead before Johnny Damon hit a three-run homer for New York in the 4th inning. The Tigers came back with single runs in the 5th, 6th, and 7th, including a game-tying home run by Carlos Guillén and a go-ahead RBI triple by Curtis Granderson, to come from behind to win, 4–3.
In Game 3, which was the first postseason game played in Detroit since 1987 (and the first ever at Comerica Park), the Tigers shut out the Yankees, 6–0. Kenny Rogers pitched 7+2⁄3 scoreless innings and struck out eight in winning for the first time in his postseason career and defeated the Yankees for the first time since 1993.
In Game 4, the Tigers defeated the Yankees 8–3 to win the American League Division Series, 3 games to 1. Jeremy Bonderman threw a perfect game through five innings, and allowed just one run on five singles over his 8+1⁄3 innings in giving the Tigers a second straight dominating starting pitching performance. It gave the Tigers their first Postseason series victory since 1984
The final out kicked off a joyous celebration of players and fans throughout Comerica Park and Downtown Detroit. The celebration even included Kenny Rogers pouring champagne over a Detroit Police officer's head. In the process of winning the final three games, the Tigers held the fearsome Yankees lineup scoreless for 20+2⁄3 consecutive innings (from the 4th inning of Game 2 until the 7th inning of Game 4) while scoring 17 runs in that span.
The A's had defeated the Twins in a three-game sweep in the ALDS.
The Tigers won Game 1, 5–1, as Nate Robertson scattered six hits and three walks over his five shutout innings. In the fourth inning, with men on second and third and nobody out, Robertson memorably struck out the side to preserve his own victory.
Detroit won Game 2, 8–5. Oakland had an early two-run lead before the Tigers' four-run fourth inning gave them the lead for good. Seldom-used outfielder Alexis Gómez got the surprise start as the designated hitter. Gómez hit a homer and drove in four runs, providing another example of Jim Leyland pushing all the right buttons this season.
Returning to Comerica Park for Game 3, the Tigers shut out the A's, 3–0 behind Rogers who allowed only two singles and ran his scoreless streak to 15 innings. The A's did not get a hit off relievers Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones. The two hits were the fewest allowed in a postseason game in franchise history.
In Game 4, with Detroit looking for the sweep, Oakland jumped out to an early 3–0 lead. The Tigers fought back with two runs in the fifth inning, on RBI doubles by Granderson and Monroe, before Magglio Ordóñez tied it with a solo home run in the sixth.
In the bottom of the ninth with the game still tied, two outs and Polanco and Monroe on first and second base respectively, Ordóñez hit his second home run of the night, a three-run walk-off home run off of A's closer Huston Street that sent the Tigers to their first World Series since 1984. The Pennant was the 10th in Tigers history, and the ALCS was won on a walk-off home run for only the third time ever.
The Cardinals won the first game of the World Series in Detroit 7–2, behind excellent pitching from unheralded Cardinals starter Anthony Reyes.
In Game Two, Kenny Rogers continued his astounding postseason, allowing two hits and no runs through eight innings, as the Tigers triumphed 3–1.
But the Tigers lost the next three games. They were shut out 5–0 in game three by Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter; they lost a 5–4 heartbreaker in game four; and in game 5, the Tigers committed two costly errors, lost a 2–1 lead, and fell 4–2. In the first inning rookie pitcher Justin Verlander threw two wild pitches, tying the Series record (AP); this was in sharp contrast to the five total that he had thrown in all of his previous games. Verlander would go on to commit a throwing error in the fourth inning, allowing the tying run to score.
In the series, the Tigers committed eight errors, five by the pitching staff alone, the most in World Series history.
The Tigers would not return to the postseason until 2011 and they would not appear in the Fall Classic again until 2012
Postseason player stats
Note: G = Games played, AB = At bats, H = Hits, Avg. = Batting average, HR = Home runs, RBI = Runs batted in