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Archive for Monday, October 2, 2006

Tigers get wild card, date with Yanks

October 2, 2006

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— If the Detroit Tigers are going to extend their surprising season by making a run in the playoffs, they'll have to get past the New York Yankees.

After wasting several chances to wrap up an AL Central title, the slumping Tigers slipped to a wild-card spot Sunday and now must open the postseason Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium against Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and the rest of New York's powerful lineup.

"Once we get to New York, we'll be ready to go," Tigers first baseman Sean Casey said. "It's a new season come Tuesday night."

All the other first-round matchups were also settled on the final day of the regular season. The playoffs begin Tuesday, when AL West champion Oakland visits Minnesota at 12:09 p.m.

In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals play at San Diego in Game 1 at 3:09 p.m. Tuesday. The New York Mets will face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who took the wild card, in a series that starts Wednesday at Shea Stadium.

"We have to come out and match their intensity," Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd said. "They've been playing to the wire with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of heart the last couple of weeks. We shouldn't have a problem with that."

All four first-round series are a best-of-five format.

Making their first trip to the playoffs since 1987, the Tigers pulled out all the stops Sunday as they tried to win their division and earn home-field advantage in the first round. But they squandered a six-run lead against last-place Kansas City and lost 10-8 in 12 innings for their fifth consecutive defeat.

All-Star starter Kenny Rogers came out of the bullpen for his first regular-season relief appearance in three years, but he gave up the go-ahead runs.

Detroit's loss coupled with Minnesota's 5-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox gave the Twins their fourth AL Central championship in five years. Playing at the earsplitting Metrodome, Minnesota will send rested ace Johan Santana (19-6) to the mound in Game 1 against Oakland curveballer Barry Zito (16-10).

"We match up well - great pitching, great defense. They're grinders, we're grinders," Athletics slugger Frank Thomas said. "I tell people, they have the ultimate home-field advantage. When you get 50,000 people in there, it's very noisy."

Nate Robertson (13-13) will pitch Detroit's opener against Yankees right-hander Chien-Ming Wang (19-6).

"It's a lot easier to beat them three out of five than four out of seven," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We needed our pitchers to give us more than we got in the last five days. If we keep pitching like this, nothing else is going to matter."

The NL East champion Mets, who tied the Yankees for the best record in the majors at 97-65, also are concerned about their pitching.

The Mets will be without an injured Pedro Martinez throughout the postseason, while the Dodgers have Derek Lowe and Greg Maddux lined up to pitch the first two games. Los Angeles ended the season on a seven-game winning streak, while New York won its final four.

"One benefit we have is we faced them a short time ago," Dodgers outfielder J.D. Drew said. "It will be a tough matchup. Their bullpen is pretty much set. I'm sure the loss of Martinez is disheartening to them."

The Padres and Cardinals held on to win division championships Sunday, so they will meet in a rematch of a first-round series last year, when the Cardinals cruised to a three-game sweep.

"We don't come out in spring training saying we want to win the wild card," Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said. "We come in saying we want to win the West. We wanted to start off at home. We didn't want to fly across the country and play the Mets in New York. Being able to start out at home is big."

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