It would be easy for the Detroit Tigers to start dreaming about playing in the World Series after taking a commanding 3-0 ALCS lead over the New York Yankees on Tuesday night. But they must remember the clinching game is often the hardest one to win.
They are playing the Yankees, after all. At any moment, New York's dormant offense could explode and start producing runs at the rate that allowed them to finish second in the league during the regular season. The talent is obviously there.
Players like Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson have transformed from key pieces of an elite offense to borderline bench material. If they break out of their slumps in Game 4, suddenly things have the potential to get dicey for Detroit.
The Yankees are sending ace CC Sabathia to the mound on Wednesday night with hopes he will provide the spark the team needs. He would also likely return for a possible Game 7 matchup with Justin Verlander, decreasing the Tigers' advantage if the series ever got that far.
In other words, the Tigers still have plenty to worry about even though they are one win away from reaching the Fall Classic. If they don't slam the door quickly the momentum will shift to the other dugout and then anything can happen.
If there's any team that understands that, it's the Yankees, who watched a 3-0 lead evaporate against the rival Boston Red Sox in 2004. It doesn't happen often—just once in each of the big four sports—but it's not impossible.
How will the series end?
Luckily for the Tigers, they have one of the game's best managers in Jim Leyland. The baseball lifer has seen it all during his career and should be able to keep his team level-headed when the tendency is to start thinking ahead.
Another thing that should really help the Tigers is their experience in the regular season. They were widely selected to dominate the AL Central after bringing in Prince Fielder to team with Miguel Cabrera, and that hype might have creeped in their heads.
Instead of running away with the division due to their superior talent, it took until the season's final days before they finally locked up a spot in the postseason. The Tigers should know they have to keep playing up to their potential to finish off the Yankees, nothing less.
The best way to eliminate all of those lingering concerns is to end it in Game 4. Max Scherzer will take the mound for Detroit after a terrific start in the ALDS. The pressure is on him to silence the Yankee bats for one more night.
Although the World Series is within the Tigers' grasp, they haven't grabbed their spot yet. That's a big difference.