Despite losing slugging outfielders Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui to wrist injuries for much of the year, the Yankees won their ninth straight A.L. East title in 2006, finishing the campaign with a league-best record of 97-65, 10 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Blue Jays. The success the Yankees experienced helped obscure to some degree the rather mediocre performance turned in by their pitching staff over the course of the regular season. New York finished tied for sixth in the junior circuit with a team ERA of 4.41. With 42-year-old Randy Johnson struggling much of the year, Chien-Ming Wang emerged as the ace of the staff. The Taiwanese right-hander finished 19-6 with a 3.63 ERA, en route to earning a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting. Meanwhile, despite winning 17 games, Johnson posted an ERA of 5.00. Mike Mussina was the team’s only other reliable starter, going 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA. Mariana Rivera continued to anchor the Yankee bullpen, saving 34 games and compiling a 1.80 ERA.
Fortunately for the Yankees, they had the league’s most potent offense. New York led the American League with 930 runs scored and a .363 team on-base percentage, placed second with 210 home runs, 139 stolen bases, and a .285 team batting average, and finished third with a .461 team slugging percentage. From top to bottom, the Yankees had nary a weakness in their batting order. Free-agent acquisition Johnny Damon hit 24 homers, drove in 80 runs, scored 115 others, batted .285, and stole 25 bases. Jorge Posada hit 23 homers, drove in 93 runs, and batted .277. Jason Giambi led the club with 37 home runs, knocked in 113 runs, and scored 92 others. Alex Rodriguez batted .290 and finished among the league leaders with 35 home runs, 121 runs batted in, and 113 runs scored. Robinson Cano drove in 78 runs and finished a close third in the A.L. batting race with a mark of .342. Derek Jeter placed second in the batting race with a mark of .343. He also knocked in 97 runs, stole 34 bases, and finished among the league leaders with 118 runs scored and 214 hits, en route to earning a close second-place finish in the league MVP balloting.
Also featuring an outstanding lineup were the Detroit Tigers, who awaited the Yankees in the ALDS. Detroit earned the right to face New York in the first round of the playoffs by finishing one game behind the first-place Minnesota Twins in the A.L. Central, with a record of 95-67. However, despite advancing to the postseason as the American League’s wild-card entry, the Tigers had to be disappointed somewhat since they remained in first place for most of the year, before losing their final five games to finish one game behind the Twins.
Although the offensive numbers the Tigers compiled over the course of the regular season paled by comparison to those the Yankees posted, they had one of the American League’s better offenses. The Tigers finished fifth in the junior circuit with 822 runs scored, and they placed third with 203 home runs. Marcus Thames hit 26 home runs in only 348 at-bats. Craig Monroe led the team with 28 home runs, knocked in 92 runs, and scored 89 others. Brandon Inge finished second on the club with 27 homers. Ivan Rodriguez placed second on the team with a batting average of .300. Magglio Ordonez batted .298, hit 24 homers, and led the club with 104 runs batted in. Shortstop Carlos Guillen hit 19 home runs, drove in 85 runs, and led the team with 100 runs scored, 20 stolen bases, and a .320 batting average, en route to earning a 10th-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.
While New York had a considerable edge over Detroit on offense, the Tigers held a decided advantage over the Yankees in pitching, having compiled a league-leading team ERA of 3.84 during the regular season. The tandem of Justin Verlander and Kenny Rogers headed Detroit’s starting rotation. Verlander finished 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA, while Rogers posted a record of 17-8 and a 3.84 ERA. Hard-throwing Jeremy Bonderman gave the Tigers a third strong starter, finishing the year with 14 wins and a team-leading 202 strikeouts. Closer Todd Jones saved 37 games, while set-up man Joel Zumaya compiled a 1.94 ERA and struck out 97 batters in 83 innings of work. Heading into their first round playoff matchup with the Yankees, the Tigers knew they would have to depend heavily on their superior pitching to eliminate New York from the postseason tournament.
New York’s powerful offense prevailed in Game One, with the Yankees scoring seven times against Detroit starter Nate Robertson in the first six innings, en route to posting an 8-4 home victory. The Yankees jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning, scoring their first three runs on RBI hits by Bobby Abreau and Gary Sheffield, before Jason Giambi drove home the final two runs with a two-run homer. Detroit closed the gap to 5-3 in the top of the fifth with a three-run rally against Chien-Ming Wang. But a two-run single by Abreau in the bottom of the sixth inning increased New York’s lead to 7-3. Curtis Granderson homered off Yankee reliever Mike Myers in the seventh inning, but Derek Jeter countered with a solo blast in the eighth inning for New York’s final run. Jeter’s home run capped a perfect five-for-five day for the Yankee shortstop. Wang came out on the winning end for New York, while Robertson took the loss for Detroit.
Detroit grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the second inning of Game Two at Yankee Stadium when Marcus Thames doubled home Craig Monroe. However, New York went out in front in the bottom of the fourth when Johnny Damon launched a three-run homer off Justin Verlander. The 3-1 Yankee lead turned out to be their last of the series. Verlander and three Tiger relief pitchers kept New York off the scoreboard the rest of the way, as Detroit continued to peck away at Yankee starter Mike Mussina by scoring single runs in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings. Carlos Guillen tied the score at 3-3 with a home run off Mussina in the top of the sixth. Curtis Granderson then delivered what turned out to be the game-winning blow with an RBI-triple off Mussina in the seventh inning. Todd Jones earned the save for Detroit by working a scoreless ninth inning. The 4-3 Tiger victory evened the series at one game apiece, with the next two contests scheduled to be played in Detroit.
Game Three at Detroit’s Comerica Park turned into the “Kenny Rogers show,” as the Tiger left-hander shut out the Yankees on five hits over 7 2/3 innings before giving way to the Detroit bullpen. Meanwhile, the Tigers scored five times in the first six innings against Randy Johnson, en route to coasting to a 6-0 victory that gave them a 2-1 series lead.
Detroit’s pitching staff continued to befuddle New York’s lineup in Game Four, holding the Yankees scoreless for the first six innings as the Tigers built an insurmountable 8-0 lead against the combination of Jaret Wright and Cory Lidle. Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe each homered and drove in two runs. Meanwhile, Jeremy Bonderman worked 8 1/3 strong innings, allowing the Yankees just three meaningless runs in the top of the ninth inning. The 8-3 Detroit victory eliminated New York from the playoffs in the first round for the second straight year.