Leyland falls just short with Tigers
Skipper has former also-ran poised to contend for long haul
ST. LOUIS -- Detroit manager Jim Leyland will get second-guessed for starting rookie Justin Verlander in Game 5 of the World Series instead of ace Kenny Rogers -- never mind the fact that Verlander allowed one earned run (to go with two unearned) in six innings.
But you couldn't find any second-guessers in the Tigers' clubhouse.
Leyland, who turned these Tigers into winners, remains their undisputed leader and the man they hope to win with in the future.
"He had faith in me, he had faith in this team -- every one of us," Verlander said. "We wouldn't be here without him. He helped us in a lot of ways, and he deserves a lot of credit."
Rogers also sang Leyland's praises, as well as that of the Tigers organization.
"I wouldn't trade places right now to be with St. Louis, because I appreciate this team and this organization more than anything," Rogers said.
Leyland took over a team that won just 71 games last year and molded it into pennant winners. Along the way, he earned the respect and trust of this team, many of whom were already talking about coming back and playing for Leyland in 2007.
"The future looks great," closer Todd Jones said. "When you look at all of the young talent on this team -- [Craig] Monroe, [Curtis] Granderson, [Fernando] Rodney ... Carlos Guillen is one of the elite players, Pudge [Rodriguez] sealed his Hall of Fame [credentials], Justin Verlander -- the sky's the limit.
"We played pretty good this year, and this team is going to be good again next year."
And Leyland, a leading candidate for the American League Manager of the Year Award, will be back for more.
"He set the tone for this team, we follow his lead," Granderson said. "He helped us become winners."
That fact may have been momentarily forgotten in the wake of their surprising upset by St. Louis in the World Series, but none of these Tigers will soon forget the job Leyland did.
"We owe him a lot," Jones said. "Everybody here believes in him, because he believed in us when no one else did."
First baseman Sean Casey called it an honor to play for Leyland.
"When you look at what he did this year and throughout his career, he's special," Casey said. "He's obviously one of the best managers in the game."
Leyland said he was proud of the Tigers and what they were able to accomplish this year.
"I just only hope that nobody forgets the job that we did, the players I'm talking about, to go from 71 wins to the World Series," Leyland said. "I just hope that nobody just totally writes us off that we're not a good team, because we are. We played very well in the postseason until this World Series. And we have no excuses. We got beat by a team that played a lot better than we did during the course of the series.
"If you want to continue to get better, you've got to make progress in those areas. And hopefully we can get back, and that's not going to be easy, because the American League has a lot of very good teams and we were very proud. I'm a little embarrassed we didn't represent it a little better, but we were very proud to represent the American League."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.