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Must C Clinch: Tigers advance to the World Series

DETROIT -- As devastating was Max Scherzer's changeup was on Thursday, it was nothing compared with the curveball that the Tigers threw the rest of baseball to get to the World Series.

"This team," catcher Gerald Laird, "has been battle-tested."

The same Tigers team that battled until the final week of the season to pull ahead for good in the American League Central never trailed in the AL Championship Series. The team seemingly built to slug its way to the top, only to struggle to find its offense for most of the year, pitched its way there instead.

It wasn't that the Tigers completed an ALCS upset of the Yankees with an 8-1 win in Game 4. Many believed they had the pitching to outlast the Bronx Bombers coming into the series. It's the way they dominated the series that was the surprise.

"This is the moment that we wanted," said shortstop Jhonny Peralta, whose two-homer effort Thursday punctuated the sweep. "We need to keep going. I know we're not finished yet."

They're just the fourth team in Major League history to sweep a best-of-seven series without trailing. Not even Jose Valverde's ninth-inning collapse in Game 1 put them down.

The Yankees scored four runs off Valverde in that series-opening rally. They scored just two runs in the next three games.

Delmon Young, who was named the ALCS MVP after going 6-for-17 with two homers, drove in as many runs (six) as the Yankees scored in the series.

"You have to give a lot of credit to our pitchers," center fielder Austin Jackson said. "They didn't really give them a chance. They kept going out and making great pitches and getting outs and keeping them off the bases. That definitely gave us a chance offensively."

For close to five months, Detroit looked like one of baseball's underachievers. For one month, the Tigers played playoff-type baseball to get into the race. For two weeks, they've played some of the stingiest baseball in postseason history.

"It was tough," first baseman Prince Fielder said. "I don't know what happened, or else I would've tried to make it happen earlier. But it started to click."

It all culminated in one magical evening and a flat-out mismatch. Once Miguel Cabrera and Peralta hit two-run homers in a fourth-inning surge that built a 6-0 lead and chased Yankees ace CC Sabathia, the rest of the game became a celebration for the crowd of 42,477 who could make it after Wednesday's rainout.

At that point the Tigers were pulling away in the fourth, and the Yankees didn't have a hit off of Scherzer, who had only a Fielder error and an Ichiro Suzuki walk on his record.

After three games of hearing what the Yankees were doing wrong, the Tigers punctuated their sweep by doing nearly everything right. It was no contest.

"To be honest with you, people kept asking me the whole series about how the Yankees were struggling," catcher Alex Avila said. "That's not the way I look at it. When I look at the paper and I see all the home runs and RBIs and the averages, you have to attack them. You can't concern yourself about that, as long as you win the game. That's still a pretty good team."

They ran into some incredible pitching, punctuated by the return of the dominant Scherzer. Once he sent down the side in order in the fifth, having picked up a 6-0 lead, he had struck out nine of the first 16 batters he faced. Save for the velocity, he looked more like the midseason co-ace who led the big leagues in strikeouts for much of the summer.

"I was really just trying to keep it as relaxed as possible," Scherzer said. "For me, I was the one who lost last year in Game 6 of the ALCS, so I just used that as motivation. Just to have a chance and if I ever had a shot to pitch well in the ALCS again, I would do it. And sure enough I was able to do it and we're going to a World Series."

Said Laird: "It was just like, 'What do I want to put down now?' because he was just executing every pitch."

Eduardo Nunez's triple on Scherzer's first pitch of the sixth inning took care of the no-hit bid, and Nick Swisher's double two batters later broke up the shutout. Nothing, however, was going to break up the Tigers' celebration.

Scherzer finished with 10 strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings before another Peralta home run and a Jackson solo shot padded the margin.

Add that to the zeros they had already posted, and the Tigers' rotation owns a 1.02 ERA, seventh lowest in a single postseason. No team has a lower ERA playing more than five games in a postseason.

As much as the Yankees struggled, it wasn't just them.

"That's a team that I have so much respect for, because they can strike at any time with a home run," manager Jim Leyland said. "That's how they beat you, and we were able to shut that down. So we were very lucky in some ways, fortunate in some ways, and we played awful good. I don't want to take any credit away from my team. We played awful good."

Out by out, the Tigers were counting down. So were the fans. Drew Smyly, Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke shut down the Yankees over the final 3 1/3 innings, the last two by Coke.

"When Prince caught that [final] ball was when I could finally relax," Jackson said.

They were that worried. The way they pitched the whole series, the way they hit when it counted, it was never that close.

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