For Leyland, AL Central crown is personal
While the Tigers made a champagne-soaked, cigar-smelling mess of the visiting clubhouse at Oakland Coliseum, Jim Leyland was tucked away in the manager’s office, enjoying a cigar he received from closer Jose Valverde. He had his hugs from players and coaches, and he got his share from champagne spray from Carlos Guillen, Phil Coke and others.
“There was a bunch of them that nailed me,” he said.
But there in his office, with the Tigers’ first division title since 1987 now official, Leyland got a little vindication, too. And he wasn’t shy talking about it.
He looked back in amazement at what they had done, not just over the last two weeks, but over the last 4 1/2 months. They were eight games behind the Indians on May 3, and they’re up 13 1/2 games now, a 21 1/2-game turn over the course of 121 games. They went from questions whether they were already out of the division race to becoming the first team to clinch a division title this year.
And Leyland went from a manager on the speculative hot seat to a potential AL Manager of the Year candidate.
“I’m an emotional guy. We all know that,” Leyland said. “I have a very special satisfaction, personally, for obvious reasons. Probably lot of people didn’t think I’d be managing the Tigers next year at the start of the season.”
Leyland managed this season in the final year of his contract without any guarantee of an extension coming. He and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski were under pressure to win now. When they got off to a sub-.500 start, the questions rose whether he would make it.
As mentioned, they’ve outplayed everyone else in the division by far since then, including the longest streak by a Tigers team since 1934. And several players credited Leyland’s drive with turning this into such a long streak.
“Skip’s been saying, ‘Keep your foot on the pedal, on the gas pedal and keep going at the end,” Brandon Inge said. “That’s honestly what everyone’s done. You’ve got to admire the focus that everyone’s had here coming down the stretch. Just watching Miggy, Peralta, Victor, all those guys. They just kept going and kept going and never let off. Even when you have a big lead sometimes, you tend to let up. They kept going. Those guys are unbelievable.”
So did Leyland. Friday was a chance for him to take pride in the fact that he’s still standing.
“I’ve been around a long time. I don’t think any one is more special than any other. But you always find a reason to make this one special,” Leyland said. “This one’s special for me for personal reasons.”
He was then asked whether he wanted to show something to the baseball world.
“I don’t think I want to show the baseball world,” Leyland said. “I’m just glad I’m managing the Tigers next year, when probably a lot of people thought I wouldn’t be here. It sounds kind of selfish, and maybe it is, but that’s why it’s personal.”