ALDS Game 5: Jim Leyland pre-game interview
JIM LEYLAND: I have an announcement to make. This will explain why you think I’m so old and grumpy and messed up. I got a telegram today from a professor from a prominent university. These are my instructions for tonight. I won’t tell you the university, because I don’t want the place to empty out tomorrow, but I will tell you I am supposed to pitch Valverde the first five innings tonight, then I’m supposed to pitch Verlander the last three, quote, the seventh and eighth.
So that’s where we’re at. Are there any questions? (Laughter).
Q. Hi, Jim. I’m glad my first question is about a hitter and not about a pitcher, then. Knowing how much you care about your players, with Don Kelly, what’s it mean to you just how much he has grown as a player and grown in importance to this ballclub?
JIM LEYLAND: Great question. He deserves to be in there tonight. That’s why he’s playing. You don’t get sentimental at this time of year. I think he deserves to be in there. He’s been swinging the bat very well. He’s played very well for us. He’s got a lot of big hits. I think he deserves to be in there.
I think that’s a guy that’s a great story. Here’s a guy that’s the 25th guy on the team, I guess, but I wouldn’t rather have another 25th guy. It’s kind of a nice story. Good for Don Kelly.
Q. On the other side of the spectrum, Austin Jackson has had some problems at the plate. He hasn’t got a hit yet, 0-for-12.
JIM LEYLAND: It would be great if he could have a good game for us tonight. That would be huge for us, because he kind of energizes us, to be honest with you. If he’s hitting the ball in the gap and running around the bases, that’s really good tonic for the Tigers. That would be huge for us.
Q. Jim, you managed two Game 7s with the Pirates in ’91 and ’92. I was there. What did you learn from those games? What do you take away from them as to how much impact a manager can have on those decisive games, all hands on deck, using the bench or the difference of a deciding game?
JIM LEYLAND: I don’t really know the answer to that. I managed Game 7 in the ’97 World Series that we won. It’s amazing the emotional ups and downs of one of those games.
For instance, in that game, we were behind 2-1 in the ninth inning and we tied it up. We went to the 11th inning, loaded the bases with one out with Devon White hitting. I thought oh, my God, a fly ball we’re going to win the World Series. I was working on my pitching because we were short. Devon hit a little groundball to the second baseman and they forced the guy out at home. Now I’m really working on my pitching. It’s amazing because now all the outfielders went back; they were playing in because of the fly ball. I was working on my card and I looked up and it was strike one to Edgar Renteria. I was scratching and looking for my pitcher, and all of a sudden, boom, a base hit to center field and we won the World Series.
It’s amazing the up and down of what goes on. It’s exciting, it’s all that stuff, but that’s just the way this game is. Something like that could happen tonight. I don’t know. This could be — somebody could get blown out, it could be a one-run game. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. You try to prepare for all scenarios as much as you can.
Q. Jim, I know you’ve told the story about Game 7, getting to the ballpark early in the morning for a night game. I was wondering what today was like, how much different the feeling is for a game like this?
JIM LEYLAND: That was a little bit different, because my wife comes from 11. My wife is one of 11. All her brothers and sisters were there that morning and they were partying and having a good time. This was 7:00 in the morning. I went to the ballpark at 8:00 in the morning for an 8:30 game because I couldn’t take it. To be honest with you, it was brutal. (Laughter).
So today I went over to my clothing store. I wish I had my new suit on for you, it’s a humdinger. It’s a nice one. I went over to that clothing store, I had lunch with my buddy that runs the clothing store. He had a car take me and Mac out here. Mac got a new suit. He looks good. We kind of had an enjoyable day.
The problem with this stuff is the waiting around so much. It takes so long. We got here at 1:30. You look up and you say seven more hours we’re going to take batting practice, or six more hours, whatever it is. So it can be long days. A little anxiety. Just the way it is.
It’s fun. It’s exciting. A lot of phone calls, a lot of texts.
Q. Jim, the two teams have split the road games. There hasn’t really been a home-field advantage. How do you overcome the home-field advantage in these series?
JIM LEYLAND: I probably shouldn’t say this, the Yankees don’t need to be revved up. Sometimes I’m not so sure it’s better to play the seventh game on the road. You have so much hype at home, build-up about it, the fans are so excited. You have people calling and the tickets aren’t right and the hotel is not right. You got so many distractions if you let them be, sometimes I’m not so sure it’s all that bad to play the seventh game — in this case the fifth game — on the road.
This is great for the Yankee fans. It was great for our fans. I think it’s been great for baseball. If you look at what’s going on right now, three of the four series are going to five games. And that’s just great tonic for Major League Baseball. The Commissioner has got to be happy, I would think. They’re all going down to the wire. I just think it goes to show you that there’s a lot of good teams. If you look at what’s left in the American League, you’ve got the New York Yankees 97, Texas 96, Detroit Tigers 95. That’s pretty good. And here we are 2-2. It’s great.
It’s great tonic for baseball. If you’re a baseball fan, we’re the only show tonight. I don’t believe there’s any other games. I think those guys are both off. This is a TV delight, I would think. I don’t know. I know we’re competing with the NFL, according to the article I read in the paper. The NFL did a little bit better. But hopefully tonight we’ll do pretty good and everybody will be happy.
Q. You’re on Bud’s committee.
JIM LEYLAND: I am.
Q. And the thing is are you for just keeping this format at five, because of everything you just talked about? Because I know there’s some people that want to take the first round to seven. There are some that want to add an extra round of playoffs, maybe –
JIM LEYLAND: I think, to be honest with you, I think the whole idea — I’m part of that. I’m not really allowed to talk about that stuff. The whole idea is to try to eliminate November baseball. I think that’s why they’re talking about doing something with the playoffs or doing something — like they started the season a little earlier this year.
I’ll get in trouble for this, because I am not in favor of a one-game playoff. I am not in favor of that. That’s probably going to happen, but I am not in favor of the one-game playoff. And I might not be on the committee tomorrow. (Laughter).
Q. Jim, given the way the Yankees have been able to score against some of your relievers, is it a hard decision for you to say you’re not going to use Verlander in a situation tonight?
JIM LEYLAND: No, I’m going to use Scherzer. Scherzer is my Sabathia tonight. And I’m going to use Scherzer. But I’m not going to use Verlander. I am not under any circumstances. He threw a side today hoping to pitch in the near future. We’ll see how that plays out.
Q. Was that a hard decision for you to say you’re not going to use him?
JIM LEYLAND: No, that was not a hard decision for me. It was a decision that is a delight for all you people, because you can write what you want about it, and the second-guessers can come out. It’s a fun thing. I understand that. But I’m not going to pitch him.
One thing you have to remember, he went a little longer than CC the other night. He also was throwing 100 miles an hour in the eighth inning. He’s also thrown a lot of pitches under stressful circumstances. And I also remind you that Scherzer did a pretty good — he has more rest and he did a pretty good job against the Yankees.
So Scherzer would be my first guy tonight if I needed a long guy. And that’s the reason for all that. But I understand all that. Sometimes I think it’s just people that — the hype about a Verlander would be more attractive, if people said Justin Verlander might be coming out of the bullpen tonight. It might make for a better story. But I don’t think it’s a common-sense thing to do term to be honest with you.
Q. Jim, how hard is it as a manager to treat a decisive game like this like any other game and stick with the game plan that you go with every other game when it comes to your bullpen and your lineup or decisions you make?
JIM LEYLAND: It’s hard. This is a hard game for everybody, but it’s a fun game for everybody. That’s just the way it is. It’s a hard game. We’re either going back to Detroit or we’re going to Texas. The Yankees are either staying here against Texas or going home. That’s the way it is.
It’s fun. You guys, I assume, are baseball fans. You guys ought to be happy about all this, especially you New York writers. You got the home team.
It’s amazing how stuff changes so fast to me. I love to look at it. It was only a couple of days ago that some people in New York were writing the Yankees off. “Here we go again.” And then they beat us that game. Then all of a sudden, Yankees, we’re ready to go, baby! Here we go, baby! Yankee Stadium. All the memories all everything, all the magic. It’s funny, you know. After the first game, well, the Tigers aren’t enough for the Yankees. It’s over with. We won a couple of games and everybody was fired up. That’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and that’s the way it is.
Q. Jim, I know this isn’t the first thing on your mind, but what kind of challenge do you think Texas is going to pose to whoever wins tonight?
JIM LEYLAND: Some of the Yankees might be watching my press conference. I don’t want to be talking about the Rangers right now.
The Rangers are a great team. And the Yankees-Rangers was a great series last year. Hopefully it will be the Rangers and the Tigers in a great series this year. Everybody that’s left, basically what’s going on is there’s a few teams left that are trying to get to the Final Four.
Q. I guess if that professor couldn’t talk you out of using Verlander, that was it. You’ve gone out on a limb as far as your feelings about the one-game playoff, the one-game sudden-death thing in the wildcard, or whatever. Would you be willing to go out on a limb as to your feelings about the five-game playoff as opposed to a seven-game first round?
JIM LEYLAND: Well, I think it’s always better if you can have a seven-game playoff. I think it’s more credible, to be honest with you. But I guess what they try to do is, like I say, not get too far into the cold weather. In ’97 we were taking batting practice in Cleveland and it was snowing. I’m not exactly sure what the date was.
There’s no perfect scenario. We all think we have it. I’m just on the committee to make some suggestions. The idea of the committee is to try to make the game better. There’s probably people in this room that have better ideas about it than I do. But I think I have some.
Like I said, I’m a little squeaky voice. I’m not sure Bud takes me real serious, to be honest with you. (Laughter).
Q. Jim, you’ve said that you didn’t think your hitters were patient enough when you saw Nova last time and your cleanup hitter agreed with you. Do you expect the approach to be different tonight?
JIM LEYLAND: Well, I don’t know if the approach will be different. I just hope we can lay off some bad pitches. That was really the first time we had seen him other than I think one relief appearance.
That’s also a Catch-22, because I’ve always said you have to be careful when you tell your hitters to be aggressive but don’t swing at bad pitches. That’s kind of a Catch-22. So hopefully we’ll be able to zero in a little bit better on him tonight and not chase some of those pitches we did in the first game. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
But I think that the fact that we are seeing him so close together helps a little bit, but it also helps him a little bit. The pitcher always has the advantage. Hopefully we can lay off some of those bad pitches and make him elevate a little bit and get him in the strike zone a little bit better.
Q. Jim, a lot of times there’s a lot of gamesmanship between teams in these kinds of situations. Did you think about not telling everybody that Verlander wasn’t going to be available and just letting the threat of him out there exist?
JIM LEYLAND: No, but if you call that professor, he might have told you that.
I don’t know. I don’t play gamesmanship. It is what it is. There’s no secrets here. I’m not going to pitch Justin Verlander. You can argue till the cows come home, I’m not going to do it. I don’t think it’s a wise decision. Like I said, those innings he pitched the other night, all the innings he’s piled up this year, all the strikeouts, all the adrenaline, and the fact that he’s throwing 100 miles an hour in the eighth inning the other night, if he comes in this game tonight, there’s no telling what he would be throwing with the way this crowd is going to be and everything. I just don’t think it makes sense. I really don’t.
And I think you’re forgetting that Scherzer did a good job against this team, and he’s rested better. That’s just the way it is.
I did scare him a little bit earlier on. He came up to me in the clubhouse a little bit ago and said, “I can’t believe you’re not pitching me tonight.” I says, “What do you mean?” I said, “I might pitch you.” He said, “What? I just threw my side.” I said, “I told the pitching coach not to throw you.” And I finally got one over on Justin Verlander. (Laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Thanks a lot for coming in.
JIM LEYLAND: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports