Tigers manager Jim Leyland is confident his club isn’t doomed to repeat history as Detroit opens the World Series Wednesday in San Francisco.
In 2006, the Tigers dispatched the New York Yankees and Oakland A’s in winning the American League pennant. Then they waited six days to start the World Series against St. Louis, looked rusty and lost in five games to the Cardinals.
This year, Detroit has had a five-day break since beating the Yankees, and before that, the A’s, in the American League playoffs.
“We’re not dumb,” Leyland said this week. “We do learn from the past.”
The layoff six years ago was compounded by poor weather in Detroit, forcing the Tigers to practice indoors at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions.
Sean Casey, a first baseman for the Tigers in 2006 who’s now an analyst for the MLB Network, recently reflected on the extended break.
“We were hot, we were swinging the bats, we were doing everything well,” Casey said on the MLB Network. “We came into the World Series feeling great. We had six days off and we went flat-out cold in the World Series. No one could hit. We struggled the whole time.
“It was one of those things where we didn’t know what to do. We had six days off, and Jimmy Leyland said, ‘The first two days, you guys go home.’ (The) next four days, we tried to have simulated games, tried to do some things. We flat-out struggled.”
Indeed, the Tigers, who finished fifth in runs scored that year, batted just .199 against the Cardinals, and Detroit’s pitchers made an error in each game.
This time around, instead of sitting idle, the Tigers played a couple of games against a group of minor-leaguers.
Jason King, who played at Kansas State, was one of the farmhands who took part in Monday’s game.
“It was cool just being on the field with so many great players,” King told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s something I’ll remember forever, even if I never play in the major leagues.”
King wasn’t the only one who was pleased with the game.
“This has been good,” Leyland told the Detroit Free Press. “This is not exactly full-speed and with a lot of intensity, but it’s been good; they’re seeing pitches at 90 mph and stuff, and we’re getting accomplished what we want to do.”
One similarity between 2006 and this year is the Tigers’ starter in the opener: Justin Verlander.
Verlander was a rookie when he faced the Cardinals six years ago, but now he’s arguably the best pitcher in the game, having won the Cy Young and MVP awards last season.
“For me, 2006 was such a whirlwind, I never really got to appreciate how tough it is to get here, because it was my first year and we did go to the World Series,” Verlander said. “It almost seemed like it was easy.”
No one would say the Giants’ path to the World Series was simple this time around. They twice won three straight elimination games, knocking off the Cincinnati Reds in five games in the Divisional Series and the Cardinals in the NLCS.
While Detroit is rested, the Giants just finished off St. Louis on Monday night. But they will have the benefit of home-field advantage because Verlander was rocked in the All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium. San Francisco’s Matt Cain got the win in that game.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy won’t have to worry about rust for his team. His concern will be finding out about the Tigers.
“Well, you know, I’ll have to learn a lot about them real soon, to be honest,” Bochy said after Monday’s victory against St. Louis. “I was totally focused on this club here. And now we have to turn this page because we’re playing a game here in a couple of days. So I’ll come in tomorrow early and get to work.
“I know what a great club they are. And we know all about the guy we’re going to be facing opening day and their whole staff. They swept the Yankees — that tells you how good they are. But it’s similar to St. Louis. They have such a great lineup. We’re going to need to pitch well. We know it.”