Saturday, October 28, 2006

Countdown to pitchers and catchers

Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals, world champions. Four-plus months to pitchers and catchers.

Underdogs Cards Rule Baseball World

ST. LOUIS - The Detroit Tigers entered the 102d World Series as American League champions and exited as the Keystone Kops.

The St. Louis Cardinals entered the Fall Classic as the postseason's most unexpected participant and exited as world champions, thanks to a 4-2 win last night in the fifth and final game of the best-of-seven Series.

Numbers that were supposed to haunt St. Louis - an 83-78 record, a 12-17 September-October finish - instead seemed to inspire the team most often branded as this postseason's underdogs.

"Nobody believed in us coming in, only these 25 guys," Albert Pujols said as the crowd cheered during the trophy presentation at Busch Stadium. "I just thank God we proved everybody wrong. We never gave up. We're warriors."

"From the first game in San Diego [in the National League Division Series], the guys were so determined," shouted joyous Cards manager Tony La Russa, now the only man other than Sparky Anderson to manage teams to world titles in each league. "Way to go, fellas!"

Numbers that forever will haunt the Tigers include eight unearned runs, including two last night.

The plays not made, balls not fielded, throws not reaching their targets marked every game in Detroit's profoundly flawed Series performance.

Even before the loss - and Detroit's seventh and eighth errors overall - Tigers manager Jim Leyland had said, "I haven't seen anything like it, but I don't believe that's the reason [Detroit trailed in the Series]."

No, it wasn't just the fumbling and bumbling. To suggest that would overlook St. Louis' smoothly functioning pitchers, such as last night's winner, Jeff Weaver, and hitting heroes such as David Eckstein.

Eckstein, who hit .364 and was the main piston in an offense that never quit, was named the Series' most valuable player. The honor brought with it a new Corvette, a prize Eckstein said was won by more than just himself. The Series triumph, he said, "was a total team effort."

With the victory, St. Louis ended a drought of sorts, having lost three Fall Classics since last winning in 1982.

The Cards and the New York Yankees are the only teams with double-digit Series titles (10 and 26, respectively). St. Louis also brought a world title back to the heretofore-beleaguered National League for only the fourth time in 11 years.

Detroit, in the Series for the first time since 1984, had hoped to get home to put Game 6 in the hands of undefeated post-season hero Kenny Rogers.

To do that, the Tigers needed Justin Verlander, a 17-game winner, to rebound from a shaky postseason (1-1, 7.47 ERA entering last night).

"I just want him to be more relaxed and just get ahead," catcher Ivan Rodriguez had wished aloud before the game. "What we've got to do is set up a game plan and just make him be Justin."

Verlander's 35-pitch first inning, replete with a wild pitch, three walks and all-over-the-lot 100 m.p.h. pitches, suggested a long night ahead.

He wriggled out of that scare, but not the one just one inning later. After Cards catcher Yadier Molina's single and two groundouts, Eckstein's infield single was thrown away by Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge.

The error - and Eckstein steaming around the bases - joined similar lasting impressions of the this Series.

Eckstein's 4-for-5 performance the night before included his using a third double of the night to drive in the winning run in a Game 4 also marked by disastrous Tigers fielding.

The fourth inning was marked by a Cardinals error - the two-base variety on a dropped ball by rightfielder Chris Duncan. That gave the Tigers an opening. And Detroit pushed two runs through it, on a Sean Casey laser shot into the right-field stands on the next pitch thrown by Weaver to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.

But if the Tigers dominated this Series in one category, it was in costlier errors.

Verlander, unable to live large with the lead, committed a pitching no-no by allowing one-out back-to-back hits, by Molina and So Taguchi, just after his teammates had given him the lead.

Weaver then attempted a sacrifice, and seemed to play into Verlander's hands - because when the pitcher fielded the bunt he definitely seemed to have a shot at Molina at third.

But for the fifth time in five Series games, a Tigers pitcher committed an error; for the fourth time it was by badly overthrowing a base, which Verlander did for the second time in two starts, tying an ignominious Series record for pitchers.

As the ball rolled into foul territory past third, Molina scored. Taguchi did, too, moments later on an Eckstein RBI grounder.

What Detroit kept giving away, St. Louis gladly accepted - including, in the end, the World Series.

Friday, October 27, 2006

No Rogers? If He's the Best, Why Not?

ST. LOUIS - Kenny Rogers is the best pitcher remaining with a team still playing who might not get to pitch again. Because the Tigers continue to start him only in home games.

Thing is, the Tigers, down 3-1 in the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, may not get to the home game Rogers is scheduled to start. Because Game 5 of the Series is here, in St. Louis, and a Cards win ends the Series.

Still, when asked if there was any chance he might juggle his rotation and skip rookie Justin Verlander in favor of Rogers - 3-0 and unscored upon in 23 innings this post-season - Tigers manager Jim Leyland said: "Absolutely none. I'm not going to pitch him in this atmosphere."

Leyland went on to add: "We have to win three ballgames. ... If we had to win one game, if it was a seventh game, I'd pitch him. We have to win three games."

Still, by evoking the idea of a hostile atmosphere, Leyland makes necessary the question: Would Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, Christy Mathewson or any of the true greats, have accepted being shielded, or would they have demanded the ball in a game that absolutely must be won for there to even be a tomorrow to think about?

Series Slip-Sliding Away For Detroit

ST. LOUIS - Detroit and St. Louis emerged a from a rainout of their fourth World Series game the night before not only in search of traction on the slick turf of Busch Stadium but at the plate, as well.

Well, the bats came to life last night, even as the wheels came off in soggy St. Louis, resulting in the most entertaining game of the 102d World Series.

What else could be said of a game that resulted in Detroit now being close to slip-sliding away in this Series because a fielder and then a bullpen could not keep their feet under them?

The Cardinals, 5-4 victors in a bizarrely entertaining game, lead the Series, three games to one. David Eckstein's RBI double in the eighth was the decisive blow. Detroit literally and figuratively could not hold onto a game the Tigers had in hand.

First, centerfielder Curtis Granderson's stumble led to a pair of unearned runs for St. Louis in the seventh.

Granderson, one of the Tigers whose bat revival led Detroit to within nine outs of evening the Series, had cautioned about slick conditions just before the fourth game had been scheduled, then rained out the night before.

"In the outfield, you just have to make sure you get a grip, because the ball is going to be soaked by the time it gets to you," Granderson said.

He should have worried about his footing instead. That's what failed him when David Eckstein sent a fly ball his way leading off the bottom of the seventh.

When Granderson tried a mid-course adjustment, he slipped and fell. The ball flew by him, and Eckstein flew into second. Eckstein then scored when reliever Fernando Rodney threw So Taguchi's bunt down the right-field line.

When Preston Wilson followed back-to-back strikeouts of Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen with an RBI single, the Cardinals led, 4-3, and were within sight of the organization's 10th world championship.

But Ivan Rodriguez's double and a Brandon Inge two-bagger, off stopper Adam Wainwright, knotted the score, again in the top of the eighth.

Not to worry, Cardinals fans soon learned.

Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya walked the first man he faced in the eighth, then, two outs later, lost the game on Eckstein's backbreaking double.

Until last night, outbursts of offense had been as rare as good weather in the thrifty Series.

Neither the Tigers nor Cardinals, hitting .185 and .196, respectively, entering last night's game, could be accused of flirting with the Mendoza Line.
There had been exceptions, however, most notably Rolen on the Cardinals' side and Sean Casey on the Tigers. Their five hits, including two Rolen doubles and a Casey homer, showed in the first half of last night's game.

Game 5, weather permitting, will be played here tonight. Justin Verlander of the Tigers and Jeff Weaver of the Cardinals, two righthanders who had lost their earlier starts in the Series, will start.

The caliber of last night's starters suggested that the teams' offensive struggles would continue.

Detroit's Jeremy Bonderman finished second in the American League in strikeouts this season with 202. And the Cardinals' Jeff Suppan was nearly perfect against the Mets in the NL Championship Series, going 1-0 with a 0.60 ERA in two starts.

Granderson had predicted all it would take was one good swing to loosen the Cards' pitching stranglehold. Casey, seemed to provide that when he drilled the second pitch he saw from the righthander into the Cards' bullpen in right-center.

The one-out hit in the second produced Detroit's first run since the fifth inning of a Game 2, seemingly played a lifetime ago on Sunday in Detroit.
Casey was not finished. Granderson led off the third with a double, the centerfielder's first hit in 15 trips to the plate, and after Carlos Guillen walked, Casey doubled in a second run.

Rodriguez, 6 for 12 lifetime against Suppan entering the game, then singled in a run for a 3-0 Tigers lead.

The string of hits was what Tigers manager Jim Leyland had hoped would come of a shuffle in which Casey moved from seventh to fifth in the order, ahead of I-Rod; and Guillen jumped several spots to the third hole in place of the hitless Placido Polanco.

The Cardinals did not smoke the ball against Bonderman, but their timing proved impeccable at times. A pair of two-out doubles, by Eckstein in the third, and Yadier Molina in the fourth, plated two runs.

Molina's double drove in Rolen, who moments earlier had turned a hit to left into a hustling double.
Rolen's sixth hit in 14 Series at-bats continued his hot hand. So, too, did his double leading off the bottom of the sixth.

Sacrificed to third, Rolen was set up to tie the game.

Rodney, brought on to relieve Bonderman, had other ideas. He quickly silenced the Cardinals and their fans with consecutive strikeouts of second baseman Aaron Miles and pinch-hitter John Rodriguez to end the inning.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ah,The (Shivering) Summer Game

ST. LOUIS - The turf was soggier than a dishrag. The fans were dressed as if they were about to float on the boat rides that sail beneath Niagara Falls. For three straight hours.

Welcome to the rain-soaked 102d World Series, in which inclement weather continues to stalk the Fall Classic from Detroit to St. Louis and now poses a very real threat of pushing it into November.

The unrelenting rain from a cold front that stalled over St. Louis and the new Busch Stadium, forcing the postponement of Game 4 last night, is not projected to leave the St. Louis area soon.

When the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals will get to play the two games needed to complete the Series' leg in the National League venue is not known. The forecast for today and tomorrow here is bad.

"They're going to be dicey," Jimmie Lee Solomon, vice president of Major League Baseball operations, said of the two days. "There is about a 70 percent chance of rain [today]... . Friday's forecast is pretty bad, also. We could get a soaking as much as 2, 21/2 inches, they say."

Game 4 is rescheduled for tonight at 8:27, with the Tigers' Jeremy Bonderman pitching against Jeff Suppan of the Cards.

In essence, baseball's schedule is as much a mess as the weather blanketing this Mississippi River city. Since baseball has no idea when the fourth and fifth games will be completed, there is no way to determine the future of Games 6 and 7, if needed. They originally were scheduled to be played Saturday and Sunday in Detroit.

Before baseball conceded the issue on Game 4 after a fruitless 1-hour, 51-minute delay last night, players were bracing for the worst. Like life in bullpens without propane heaters and little shelter other than the parkas on their backs.

"An 18-inch electrical heater, 12 guys with their hands over it, like we're sitting about singing around a barrel on the side of the street," Tigers reliever Todd Jones lamented.

Such weather is not surprising. Not in October in cities where fall happens. Ask the Cardinals, who have now been rained out of three games - once in New York and twice at home - since the playoffs began.

Still, no one in uniform had anything but disdain for any reference to a neutral warm-weather championship site, no matter how much rain was falling all over the Fall Classic.

"I would never go for that," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I think it would be a crying shame to take something like this away from the fans of St. Louis or the fans of Detroit."

St. Louis reliever Brad Thompson agreed. "The fans have been here all year long," he said. "You would never want to take this away from them.
"It's an advantage for them. It's an advantage for us, too, when you're home and your fans are cheering for you. So I would never want to go to a neutral spot."

So the sport deals with nights like the last, with its bone-chilling soakers and mist that the hound of the Baskervilles would have loved.

"I thought there was global warming going on, but apparently not," Jones said. But hey, Jones reminded, "It's the World Series, it's the Cardinals. If you have to do it frozen, you do it."

Where the fans at Comerica bundled in their seats in expectation of a rainy Game 1, Cardinals fans retreated to every nook and cranny they could find during the long delay.

That, too, the players had tried to prepare for.

"You just block it out: If we play, great, if we don't... we'll just figure it out," the Cardinals' Scott Spiezio said in the late afternoon. "We'll play when we can, all the way until spring training if we have to, then take a week off," he added with a laugh.

"I need an electric blanket," Jones said. "And anyone over the age of 25 should get to loosen up in the tunnel."

Ah, the summer game, happily played in October wherever the league championships are won, no matter the weather in which the pennants have to fly.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Carpenter Devours Tigers This Time

ST. LOUIS - When National and American League teams get early exposure to each other, thanks to interleague play, the danger is that a little thing like the World Series could lose some of its mystery.

Or so the Detroit Tigers had hoped.

After all, the AL champions went into Game 3 of the 102d World Series not only having seen St. Louis Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in this calendar year. They had also but having tattooed him in a June game when he yielded a season-high seven runs, on nine hits - six for extra bases.

So much for the familiarity breeding contempt, or Series edges.

Last night, a steely Carpenter stung the suddenly inconsistent Tigers attack, winning, 5-0, in front of a jubilant sold-out crowd at the new Busch Stadium.

His sharp outing - eight innings, three hits, zero runs, little sweat - and a Jim Edmonds two-run double early on, were more than enough to push the Cards up, two games to one, in the best-of-seven Series.

The National League's most storied World Series franchise had its first-ever Fall Classic victory in its new gem of a park. More important, the Cards had bounced back from a now-infamous Game 2 loss to Detroit pitcher Kenny "Was He or Wasn't He Cheating?" Rogers.

The sea of fans, heavily clad in Cardinal red and unfazed by the 43-degree weather, loved it. Because they know,They knew that another tough veteran, Jeff Suppan, cancould pull St. Louis within a victory of its 10th world championship with a Game 4 triumph tonight.

Tigers righthander Jeremy Bonderman will try to prevent that, and assureensure a Game 6 Saturday in Detroit.

Thank Carpenter for instilling that much drama into a Game 4.

"He's got a lot of weapons," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said of the former Cy Young Award winner who won 15 games in the regular season. "Everything moved. He had really good command."

La Russa's counterpart agreed - to a point.

"You've got to credit Chris Carpenter, but we've got a few guys not swinging the bat very well," the Tigers' Jim Leyland said of the team now hitting .159 in the Series games and likely facesfacing a new lineup from himthe manager by Game 4 tonight.

Carpenter credited the game plan drawn up by pitching coach Dave Duncan and catcher Yadier Molina - and, oh, yes, himself.

"I was able to execute," he said. "If you do that, you can have some good success."

The Cardinals, like the struggling Tigers, have had their share of issues on offense in this pitching-rich Series. So they were especially in need of Carpenter's being Carpenter, who was 8-4 in home starts - with a downright stingy 1.81 ERA - in 17 starts here this season.

Still, the Cardinals couldn't count on Carpenter alone. Not when they, like the Tigers, faced their own set of numbing negative numbers, primarily the 23-34 record in games against lefthanded starters this season. In the Series they stood 0-1, having meekly lost to Rogers, 3-1, in Game 2.

Last night they faced another southpaw in Nate Robertson. And he appeared primed for a duel, not allowing as much as a hit, for three innings.

Free-swinging leftfielder Preston Wilson, the one Cardinals batter who could match Robertson in confidence, ended all that.

Wilson, 5 for 5 with two home runs in his career against Robertson, lined out, hard, in his first-at bat, then singled in his second trip to open the fourth.
The Cardinals were in business moments later when Albert Pujols - hitless since homering in the third inning of Game 1 - doubled.

One out later, Edmonds, the only Cardinal with an RBI in Game 2, snaked a two-run double between first baseman Sean Casey and the bag.

"In moments like this, he doesn't get awed, he just concentrates better than ever," La Russa said of Edmonds, who has hit in four consecutive postseason games and is hitting .444 in the Series.

Detroit fell further behind late, thanks to a costly two-run throwing error to third base by reliever Joel Zumaya and a run-scoring wild pitch by another reliever, Zach Miner.

None of that mattered, though, because Carpenter had allowed nothing at all. In a Series marked by three dominating performances, St. Louis is winning the arms race.

"If you get into a World Series, you have to have good pitching," figured Leyland said, "and you have to beat it to win."

Baseball Labors Under Prosperity - And Peace

ST. LOUIS - By the time baseball's newly agreed upon collective-bargaining agreement expires in 2011, the sport will have enjoyed a historic 16-year run without a divisive strike or lockout.

The unprecedented era of peace was ushered in before the world's media last night on baseball's biggest stage: the World Series. It was further evidence of how the partnership between management and players has grown as impressively as the game itself in the last four years.

Gone was the acrimony that historically marked the beginning, middle and end of past negotiations. Gone were the divisive issues that led to so much mistrust and post-negotiation fallout, which usually did not dissipate before new talks were to begin.

"These negotiations were emblematic of the new spirit of cooperation and trust that now exists between the clubs and players," commissioner Bud Selig said during a news conference overflowing with players, union officials and club executives taking turns singing each other's praises.

Donald Fehr, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, agreed. Noting that he has been representing the players for 29 years, Fehr said: "I'd been waiting for most of that time to see if we could ever get to the place where we reached an agreement prior to [a contract's] expiration. . . . I'm not sure that I believed that it could happen - until this time."

The two sides reached agreement two months before the current deal was to expire. The new deal mirrors, in many ways, its predecessor:
The revenue-sharing agreement between large-market and small-market teams remains the same.

The competitive-balance tax (commonly known as the luxury tax) remains the same: 22 percent for teams over the threshold for the first time, 30 percent for the second time, and 40 percent for the third time.

The drug-testing program - with a 50-day suspension for first-time offenders, a 100-day suspension for second-timers, and a lifetime ban for third-timers - stays the same.

One of the more notable changes involved free agency, with the elimination of various signing deadlines, including the one that prohibited teams from talking to former-players-turned-free-agents until May 1.

The minimum salary will increase from $327,000 this year to $380,000 next season.

Among the new deal's declarations: no "contraction" (elimination of teams) / during the term of the agreement. Also, the home-field advantage for the World Series will still be awarded to the league that wins the All-Star Game.

The seeds for peace were sown not in the talks that preceded this five-year deal but in 2002, when the owners let go of their demand for a hard salary cap.
In place of that demand, the owners and players compromised on a luxury tax, and a work stoppage was avoided.

Since then, with the tax in place on the big-spending teams, money has rolled in and fan interest has boomed.

"We're in the midst of baseball's golden age," said Selig. "More than 76 million fans attended our games this season, setting a record for the third consecutive year. And we produced $5.2 billion in revenue, which quadruples our revenue total 14 years ago."

Both sides still see the luxury tax as a compromise. Policies to ensure that low-revenue teams roll the largesse into their product are once again written into the deal. However, markets such as Tampa Bay and Miami remain economic worries.

"No system is ever perfect in any sport, or in most everything in life, but we have made substantial improvements in the system," Selig said. "And I believe that the small- and medium-market teams today are in far better shape than they were five years ago."

As proof, both sides pointed to a second straight World Series featuring teams from baseball's small-market-dominated Central Divisions, and to the fact that when the Detroit Tigers or St. Louis Cardinals win the 2006 Series, they will be the seventh different world champion in seven years.

All sides placed credit on the end of the war between the two sides.

"Labor peace is good for the game," said Arizona infielder Craig Counsell, one of the players-negotiators said. "Interest is at an all-time high. We feel the focus is on the field. It's good for baseball. It's good for us, as well."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

La Russa: Dirt Under The Rug Should Stay There

Not a big fan of Tony La Russa. Fits too easily into that category of the "Importance of Being Me" school of managing.

But La Russa has done a fine job in a thankless position the last two days, having to explain why he didn't get down-and-dirty because of Kenny Rogers and DirtGate in Game 2 of the World Series.

La Russa explained that he didn't want to get into B.S. by having the umpires charge the mound and undress the Tigers starter despite the obvious: Rogers had some substance on his hand that shouldn't have been there, and was doing little to hide it in the first inning of his 3-1 victory over La Russa's Cardinals.

La Russa instead says he asked the umpires to take care of it - and they had Rogers wash his hands - rather than force the issue, and perhaps force Rogers' ejection.

"I have no regrets, because we got it fixed and," La Russa added - with a ton of class, "we still couldn't beat them."

La Russa also addressed concerns that some of his players might have disagreed with his approach. That is why he held a team meeting Monday, in part to explain to the Cardinals in uniform.

"I briefly explained where I was coming from and I said, anybody felt like I should do different, then I disappointed you, but I went to sleep at night and I looked in the mirror," La Russa said. "You've got to live with yourself. And they didn't raise their hand and say, hey, I disagree, they just didn't say anything."

Kenny Good, Christy Off The Charts

Sunday, Major League Baseball notes suggested that Kenny Rogers' 23-inning scoreless streak ranked second only to Christy Mathewson's 27 thrown for the New York Giants in the 1905 World Series.

Turns out Rogers is tied for third for such a streak in a single post-season, behind Lew Burdette (24 scoreless innings for the '57 Milwaukee Braves).
Rogers' seven scoreless innings in Game 2 put him in a tie with Jerry Reuss, who pitched 23 straight scoreless for the 1981 Dodgers.

It should be noted that Mathewson and Burdette shut down the opposition in the World Series - Mathewson doing so with three shutouts of the Philadelphia A's in a six-day span.

Burdette pitched three complete games and two shutouts against the '57 Yankees, the last on two days' rest after stepping in for flu-ridden Warren Spahn.

Reuss, like Rogers, pitched in the era of multi-tiered playoffs. Rogers' streak was built through three levels of playoffs and he pitched at least 7 innings of shutout ball, against the Yankees, A's and Cardinals, in each round.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tigers' Monroe Flexes Surprising Muscle

ST. LOUIS - His is not the first name to come to mind when one sets out to put a human face on the saga of the 2006 Detroit Tigers.

That line, that very long line, forms to the right of Jim Leyland. And Kenny Rogers. And Ivan Rodriguez. And Placido Polanco. And . . . well, you get the idea.
Yet, if Craig Monroe keeps traveling the lofty path he's been on since starting his first postseason, the youthful leftfielder will soon be able to tell those who wish to excel on baseball's biggest stage to line up after him.

For Monroe not only has played a large role in the Tigers' surprising overall success this October. His booming bat also has made it possible for the American League champions to be even with the National League pennant winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, after the first two games of the 102d World Series.

When the best-of-seven Series resumes tonight at Busch Stadium, Monroe and company will be challenged by a former Cy Young Award winner, Chris Carpenter. The Tigers' Nate Robertson will start the first of three games at the home of the National League champions.

The fact that the Series has been reduced to best of five has much to do with the personable, 29-year-old Monroe, who has enjoyed his turn on the big stage as much as any player in uniform in the Fall Classic.

Generous with his time and thoughtful in his interpretation of this unfolding October pageant, Monroe has made his locker a necessary stop for those in the national media.

His performances have increased the necessity to stop, look and listen to this Fall Classic World Series surprise. For example, on Sunday, Monroe used a first-inning home run in Game 2 - his second long shot in two Series games - to stake Rogers to a lead the lefthander never relinquished in a 3-1 victory in Detroit.

In a Series dominated by talk of Albert Pujols' batting prowess, it was Monroe who staked his claim to a bit of Series history after just two starts. He is the first player to homer in his first two career games in the Series since Barry Bonds did so for the San Francisco Giants in 2002.

What makes Monroe's accomplishments all the more impressive is that he has made this postseason thing look easy. Witness his five-game hitting streak dating back to Game 2 of Detroit's sweep of Oakland in the American League Championship Series.

"Not being in this situation before," he had been "shocked sometimes" by himself, he admitted. "I'm relaxed and having fun, and I'm staying focused on one thing, and that's trying to be a good player. I think the big thing for me is trying to compete and do everything that I possibly can to help this team win."

He has done so. Yes, most of the postmortems of Sunday's game at Comerica Park concentrated on whether Rogers was using an illegal substance on his pitches. But Monroe muscled his way into the spotlight by clobbering a Jeff Weaver pitch into the left-field bleachers with one out in the first inning.

"To see him jump-start us like that obviously made me feel pretty good," Leyland, the Tigers' manager, said of Monroe, who had been 0 for 6 with four strikeouts against Weaver in his career.

The night before, Monroe had homered in the ninth inning of a 7-2 loss, showing reticent Tigers bats the possibilities.

Monroe has five home runs among his 12 playoff hits, equaling a franchise record for post-season homers held by none other than Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg.

Greenberg, whose name and retired number adorn the backdrop at Comerica Park much the way they did for so long at venerable Tiger Stadium, built his home-run total in 85 at-bats over four World Series.

Monroe caught Greenberg in 37 at-bats through the course of eight American League division and Championship Series games and the two contests against the Cards.

"Wow," Monroe marveled at his production. "That's something I'll have to really reflect on down the road, not now, because I can't even process that kind of stuff right now. . . . I'm focused on one thing, and that's to help this team win games."

Rogers Dishing Dirt, Dealing Victories

DETROIT - The forecast was chilly, with a strong chance of an early onset of winter.

No, not the blanket of cold, wet, foreboding weather that hung over frigid Detroit last night but rather the wintry outlook that faced the American League champion Tigers last nightif they had lost to the NL pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals for a second time in the first two games of the 102d World Series.

Detroit needed, if not heat, then certainly some fire. And no one on the Tigers' 25-man roster seemed better equipped to bring that than Kenny Rogers, the 41-year-old lefthander who has reinvented himself as an emotional team leader.
Last night, Rogers stretched his storybook second season by stopping St. Louis, well, cold, 3-1.

Craig Monroe's home run that powered a two-run first was all the hottest pitcher in the postseason needed. Rogers did the rest, extending his postseason excellence to 23 scoreless innings - second all-time behind Christy Mathewson's 27.

"This is what it's all about, to come in here and do something like this," said Rogers, now 3-0 with a perfect 0.00 ERA in the postseason after allowing just St. Louis just two singles - one an infield hit - in eight innings.

St. Louis' only run - unearned - did not come until the ninth, against stopper Todd Jones.

Rogers dominated despite a mini-tempest in the form of an in-game investigation of a substance on his pitching hand during the first inning.
He later said it was nothing more than a clump of dirt mixed with a little rosin.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa? Though he huddled with umpires before the second inning, he preferred to say nothing much after the loss.

"I wouldn't discuss it," he said. "When a guy pitches like that, as a team, we don't take things away from anybody."

Tigers manager Jim Leyland's take: "Tony went out and said a couple balls were acting a little funny. So [the umpires] made him wash his hands. . . . And he was pretty clean the rest of the way."

"What they [the umpires] are doing is they're trying to remove doubt in that situation, and that's exactly what they did," Steve Palermo, the supervisor of umpires, said after the game.

With a controversy averted, the Series now moves to St. Louis and resumes Tuesdaytomorrow. Detroit lefthander Nate Robertson and St. Louis' Cy Young candidate, Chris Carpenter, will open the first of three games scheduled at Busch Stadium.

Both teams started the frosty evening hopeful that their Game 2 experience would merely include the flurry of white towels waved by the more than 40,000 Tigers fans rather than the snow flurries forecasters said were possible.

Local television weather stations had reported Detroit to be 40 degrees - before the sun went down - with a windchill of 30 degrees. And ominous warnings of "chances of rain/snow" crawled across television screens around Comerica Park well into the evening.

Precipitation never materialized. Not so the building anticipation of how a pitcher branded unreliable in previous postseasons again lifted all of Detroit just by toeing the mound.

"You feed off it," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge had said of Rogers' postseason run. ". . . And that's what wins games and series."

The Tigers had to know their chances of doing the latter would improved tremendously if Rogers won this game. Only 11 of the 50 teams that fell behind by 2-0 in World Series - 22 percent - ultimately won.

Tigers hitters, stymied so badly by little-known rookie Anthony Reyes in Game 1, awakened somewhat against righthander Jeff Weaver.

Monroe's second homer in the Series, with one out in the first, was followed by an RBI double by Carlos Guillen. "Fortunately for me, I got a fastball down the middle and I took a good swing," said Monroe, who extended his franchise record for postseason home runs to five.

Weaver allowed nine hits but only one more run through five.
"He pitched well enough to win, if we could have done something better offensively," La Russa said.

Rogers did not allow that, though. In fact, he allowed nothing - zilch - beyond Scott Rolen's two-out infield single in the first and Yadier Molina's harmless leadoff single in the eighth.

"He's on a mission," Leyland said.

MLB, Players: Peace, At Last?

DETROIT - A person familiar with labor negotiations between Major League Baseball owners and the players stopped just short of confirming reports that the two side had reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year basic agreement.

But, the person, who requested anonymity, did acknowledge baseball was on the verge of doing something not seen "in at least 35 years," he said - and that was reach a deal before suffering a destructive strike or lockout.

"It is fair to say we have reached understandings on a lot of things," the person said, though he added "there is still a lot of work to do before anything is finalized."

Members of the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals, for understandable reasons, mostly wanted to talk about baseball and their World Series matchup yesterday. But the news of a deal that circulated through Comerica Park before Game 2 did not escape their attention.

Rather it sent a wave of relief through both clubhouses.

There is relief that what is building into one of baseball's golden eras at the box office will continue uninterrupted because, in a historic turn, the present deal will be supplanted before it is to expire on Dec. 19.

There is relief that no gargantuan issues arose, such as a salary cap, or controversies, such as how to wed the right of privacy to the policing of illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs.

In the past, such dicey issues and distrust easily pushed the game to the precipice time and again, resulting in hostile labor stoppages that seemed as routine as they were inevitable in the 1980s and '90s.

The deal now in place was made in August 2002, just hours before a threatened players' strike. "I'm excited for the game," said Detroit leftfielder Craig Monroe. "Keep this game rolling."

According to the Associated Press, the deal that was reached this weekend in New York essentially continues the status quo. Economics obviously made that possible.

With the boom at the box office, concerns over big-market, small-market disparity have faded. Commissioner Bud Selig said last week that the game generated an estimated $5.2 billion in revenue this year, up from $3.6 billion five years ago.

The players are benefiting along with the owners, as reflected by the increases in their average salaries. According to figures published on yesterday, the average player salary will be about $2.7 million this year. It was $1.1 million in 1995, the first season after the 71/2-month strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series, and just under $2.3 million in 2002.

The average salary is likely to jump to $3 million next year or in 2008, said.

"Baseball is at an all-time high point right now," Monroe said. "You've got low-market teams doing well and different teams winning every year. Getting this done couldn't have come at a better time."

Monroe's teammate, Nate Robertson, agreed.

"It's fun to see the owners and our union all get together to try to work things out because of what the game of baseball means to people, especially with what's going on in today's world," said the lefthander, who will start Game 3 for the Tigers Tuesday

Why the harmony?

Robertson, for one, spoke to both sides' enlightened perspective when it comes to relating to the average fans - something millionaire players and billionaire owners weren't often accused of having in past labor wars.

"I just got a letter of presentation from a helicopter squadron that flew countless missions in the Middle East," the pitcher said. "They were presenting a flag to this team because [the Tigers are] something they could hold onto. That's how important baseball is."

Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan agreed. "The fans are such a big part of our game, and we appreciate all that they do."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Underdogs? Cards Ravish Tigers

DETROIT - Call it the World Series without ego.

The National League pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals and their hosts last night, the American League champion Detroit Tigers, couldn't have shown less interest in being considered the favorites to win the 102d Fall Classic. So much so, each team seemed to vie for the right to be called the underdog.

Even the fact that Detroit played St. Louis this season in interleague play - and dominated - was downplayed in the hours leading into Game 1, a 7-2 win by the Cardinals.

"That was the middle of the season," cautioned Tigers centerfielder Curtis Granderson. "And we didn't face everybody, especially in the bullpen. So we might have been swinging the bat really good then, and they might not have been throwing that well then. . . . A lot of stuff could change this time around."

The guy in the home whites proved more right than he could have hoped. Albert Pujols' two-run home run, Scott Rolen's solo shot, and the pitching of the underdog of underdogs, Anthony Reyes, propelled St. Louis past a surprisingly sloppy Tigers team.

Just like that, the Cardinals ended Detroit's seven-game postseason winning streak and stole home-field thunder from a quieted Comerica Park as add attendance if we get itTigers fans watched their team commit three errors and fail on the mound for just the second time in this postseason.

The Cardinals? The team that was supposed to be catatonic after a draining seven-game National League Championship Series against the New York Mets turned out to look like the team that had a relaxing week off.

Reyes especially turned prognostications inside out. The man who brought the least number of regular-season victories (five) to the mound for Game 1 of a World Series, the first to get the prestigious assignment after having a losing season, dominated. He allowed just two runs on four hits, retiring 17 straight at one point, and pitched into the ninth inning.

"I don't know if I could top this," said a triumphant Reyes, who had not even started the postseason on the playoff roster. "This definitely is the best thing to happen in my career."

"I thought if he went five or six innings, he'd done a great job," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "To get us into the ninth, he gets us rolling."

Tonight, the Cards will try to keep rolling, against veteran Kenny Rogers, who has yet to allow a postseason run after two starts. The Tigers will try to rebound against righthander Jeff Weaver.

By looking cool - with offense, defense and pitching clicking - St. Louis not only opened eyes here. Perhaps the Cards also finally laid to rest the belief that they were once again in a playoff series they had no chance to win.

"When you look around the locker room, that kind of motivates us more," Pujols had promised going into Game 1.

Pujols' home run came in a three-run third against Tigers righthander and rookie-of-the-year candidate Justin Verlander. It followed Chris Duncan's RBI double off the 17-game winner, a hit that snapped a 1-1 tie and lowered appreciably the decibel level in what had been an ebullient sold-out Comerica Park.

With first base open, Verlander pitched to Pujols. Why?

"It was ultimately my decision. Obviously, he burned us," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

St. Louis added three more runs in the sixth on Jim Edmonds' RBI single, a double by Rolen, two errors and an obstruction call.

"I thought he was very tentative; I didn't think he attacked them early," Leyland said of Verlander. "And that was kind of disappointing."

The team that saw a late-season slump limit it to a mere 83 victories was well on its way to another surprise of the sort thrown at the favored San Diego Padres in the NL division series and the mighty Mets in the NL Championship Series.

When that Cardinals magic continued against a Tigers team that counted among its 95 regular-season wins that three-game sweep (10-6, 7-6 in 10 innings, and 4-1, from June 23 to 25), it had to make it all the sweeter for St. Louis.

The good feeling started in the second inning when Rolen ended a personal 0 for 15 in World Series play with a tracer into the left-field stands.

Rolen, a member of the 2004 St. Louis team that was swept in the Series by Boston, used his homer to erase a 1-0 Detroit lead.

"I thought he was very tentative, I didn't think he attacked them early," Leyland said. "And that was kind of disappointing."

The Tigers stung Reyes in the first inning when the righthander looked like he felt the enormity of his start.

He had given up a one-out double to Craig Monroe and an RBI single to Carlos Guillen. In between, he pounded pitches into the ground well short of catcher Yadier Molina, who had to scramble to save Reyes more than one wild pitch.

But he settled in, walking just one batter in eight-plus innings. "I just tried to stay in Yadi's glove all the time," said Reyes, who left only after Monroe led off the ninth with a home run.

But he survived the excruciating test. Then, buoyed by Rolen's blast, Reyes settled in, as his seven-pitch, 1-2-3 second inning showed.

Shortly after Reyes learned Friday that he would take the hill for the Series opener Friday, Molina spoke of what the Cardinals needed to see - and what he, himself, expected.

"We have to try to keep him down, try to keep him focused, try to work down with the fastball and the changeup and try to hit location," Molina had said. "That is the main thing for him."

Another underdog with a bite had become legend in St. Louis, something Cardinals foes should be getting used to.

Pujols Now Channels Howard, Not Bonds

DETROIT - The first day of the 102d World Series presented itself early as the kind of drizzly, chilly fall day perfect for many things, if not exactly baseball.

It was, however, a perfect time for quiet reflection before the storm for the American League champion Detroit Tigers and National League pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals, their obligations to explain their feelings and thoughts on hold until after Game 1.

Such is the cloistered atmosphere in which Cardinals manager Tony La Russa insists the real Albert Pujols comes to life.

Take his word for it, La Russa implored at every postseason stop leading to the Fall Classic. And most of the world had little choice, as the man who is arguably the game's most prolific and versatile hitter constructed a wall this postseason between himself and the public.

Which is why Friday - the workout day before the start of the 102d World Series - proved so enlightening.

Pujols, who smacked a two-run homer in last night's 7-2 victory over the Tigers,end stepped into this World Series in a big way by stepping away from a growing opinion that he not only is mimicking Barry Bonds, the great player - but also Barry Bonds, the sometimes grating, churlish personality.

Friday, however, Pujols was channeling another larger-than-life slugger - outgoing Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, his main competition for 2006 National League most-valuable-player honors.

"I'm in the World Series," Pujols declared. "Of course I am happy."

The 26-year-old not only wanted the world to know his mind-set, but his teammates as well.

"I've been in the postseason five of the last six years. I've been blessed. So I told the young guys, 'Enjoy. You don't know when you're going to be here again.' "

Then there was his message to the media, an entity those he believes are responsible for the "underdog" labels his team has carried throughout October.

"I'm just glad those people who told us we were going to be out in the first round and in the second round - that the Mets would get us in five [games] - hey, here we are," he said.

Alas, the Cards are viewed as underdogs again.

"People say we're going to be gone in four games," he said with a thin smile. "We'll see."

Pujols desperately doesn't want that prediction to play out - as it did in 2004 when he and the Cardinals were swept from the Series by the Boston Red Sox.

So his modest first wish for this Series was understandable: "To win one game."

Obviously, Pujols wants more than just that.

"You need to be greedy," he said. "I don't care how much money you would make or how many awards you win. It's not about that. If you don't win a World Series for you and your fans and your family, it's not enough."

Winning it all, said Pujols, "That's every little boy's dream."

The yearning explained somewhat the intensity and, yes, surliness that Pujols displayed through a tense seven-game National League Championship Series.

First, Pujols was banged up throughout. On top of that, Mets pitchers, borrowing from the How Not to Pitch to Bonds playbook, didn't exactly go after him.

In the end, Pujols had but one RBI in 22 at-bats despite seven hits off Mets pitching. Pujols' overall frustration spilled over and was most visible in curt comments he made about Mets veteran pitcher and future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine.

Friday, whatever was eating Pujols seemed in the past. Ahead, he saw nothing but things to be grateful for.

Things such as competing for the crown against his fellow Dominican Republic native and best friend, Placido Polanco.

Let Tigers manager Jim Leyland and La Russa play down their close friendship for the duration of the Series. Pujols will do no such thing. Not when it comes to the former Phillie-turned-Tigers second baseman he planned to dine with Friday night.

"You can't mess with a relationship you have with your best friend just because of a ball game," said Pujols, godfather to Polanco's son. "If we lose, I am going to be happy for him. Whoever wins, we're both going to be happy."

Albert Pujols, happy. The world is about find out whether that added dimension makes a dynamic player even better.

Unproven Reyes Is Weary Cards' Best Hope

DETROIT - One week to the day after his Tigers last played, Detroit manager Jim Leyland will learn tonight whether having a set, well-rested rotation is as big an advantage as it appears at the start of the 102d World Series.

"You never know what any pitcher, theirs or ours, is going to take out there on any given night," Leyland said Friday.

Spoken like a manager whose rotation is not only fresh, but deep, talented and, so far in October, absolutely dependable. More important, Leyland spoke like a man who has luxuries his counterpart, Tony La Russa, could only dream about as the series between the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals and the American League pennant-winning Tigers loomed.

La Russa arrived in Detroit knowing that while the Tigers had seven days to prepare for yesterday's workout and walk-up to that organization's first World Series since 1984, his Cardinals had about seven hours.

That's the remarkable difference in lag time between a team that swept its league championship series as opposed toand the one forced to play a seven-game war of attrition.

Because the Cards couldn't finish off the New York Mets until Game 7 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night, La Russa couldn't align his rotation to counter Detroit's Game 1 starter, Justin Verlander.

Chris Carpenter? Jeff Suppan? Jeff Weaver? Simply not available.
Instead, La Russa announced yesterday after much deliberation, "we're going to start with Anthony Reyes."

Reyes, as in the rookie who lasted only four innings in a three-hit, two-run, four-walk no-decision in Game 4 against the Mets. As in the pitcher who was 1-2 with a 6.10 ERA in Septemberin the regular season after August.

No starter has ever brought fewer regular-season victories to the mound for Game 1 of a World Series. Reyes is also the first to get the opening assignment after posting a losing record in the regular season. He went 5-8.

So he won't be confused with fellow rookie Verlander, a Cy Young Award candidate after a 17-9cq regular season. For that reason, this was not the ideal way for the Cardinals to return to the World Series for the first time since being swept in four games by the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Not with a pitcher who didn't make the Cards' postseason roster until after St. Louis defeated San Diego in the NL division series.

Still, La Russa knows, it beat the alternative of not playing at all. Now he can only hope that Reyes, 5-8 with a 5.06 ERA in 17 regular-season startsall cq, is the better bet than, say, Jason Marquis, the 14-16 pitcher who lost eight of his final 10 decisions and may not make the Series' active roster.

"It's not an easy call," La Russa said one day before the rosters have to be set. "We wrestled with this - not really anything clearly against Jason Marquis; he really helped get us here. But the way he ended the season, it was a tough assignment to give."

Leyland, of course, likely spent more time trying to decide where to make dinner reservations than he did figuring out how to deploy his comparative embarrassment of riches against Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds & Co.

Verlander will be followed to the mound by Game 2 starter Kenny Rogers, simply the most impressive veteran pitching this October (two starts, 15 scoreless innings, two victories).

Lefthander Nate Robertson (13-13cq) gets Game 3. Game 4 will belong to Jeremy Bonderman - the hard-throwing righthander who stifled the New York Yankees in the AL division series clincher, allowing two runs in 8 1/3 innings.

"Basically, we wanted Kenny to pitch two games at home - 2 and 6 - if it goes that far," Leyland said.

Tonight, Verlander will make his third postseason start after pitching to a no-decision against the Yankees in the AL division series (51/3 innings, 3 earned runscq) and a victory over the Athletics in Detroit's four-game sweep of Oakland (51/3 innings, 4 earned runs).

"We think he's an excellent choice because he obviously has real good stuff," Leyland said.

As he said, that good stuff can come from any arm on any given day.
That is what La Russa and the Cardinals are counting on from Reyes.
Getting to Weaver, Carpenter and Suppan is now his responsibility, a heavy one Reyes admitted had not hit him "quite yet."

"I'm just trying not to think about it right now, just trying to relax and just get rested up and ready for tomorrow," he said.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Emotions soar With Lidle Air Salute

COVINA, Calif. - Major League Baseball players are conditioned to not blink or blanch.

Not when being shrilly serenaded by the famed Phillies boobirds, bombarded with Bronx cheers, or bruised by Ryan Howard's home-run blasts.

So it was that members of the game's extended family felt that they were handling their emotions yesterday.

Interspersed with the 1,100 mourners gathered at an outdoor memorial service for former Phillies pitcher Cory Lidle, their intent had been to come to Forest Lawn Memorial Park and bid adieu to their former teammate with the same professional dispassion they had displayed when Lidle died in an airplane crash in midtown Manhattan last Wednesday.

"Everybody was doing fine - until the planes flew over," said Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf, still struggling with raw emotions a full three hours after the service.

It wasn't a Blue Angels precision exercise. It wasn't organized, precise or even a part of the official program.

Yet the planes - private, different in size but of one mind and in onein formation - did two flyovers, catching the attention of the somber audience gathered below at the foot of Forest Lawn's Mausoleum of Christian Heritage.
They had come to pay their respects to a budding pilot, Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal said.

Yet in that moment, the symbols of Lidle's latest love and a family's resulting loss were, in the end, "eerie," Lieberthal said.

"And it was sad for Melanie," Lieberthal added, referring to Lidle's widow. "You could see?? how sad she was, especially when the planes went by."
As the planes flew over, they did so against a backdrop as roiled as the week had been for Lidle's relatives and friends from his hometown in West Covina as well as his baseball family.

One moment clouds would darken the hills surrounding the expansive memorial facility, where mourners had started gathering a good three hours before the morning service.

Then, in the next instant, the sun would burst through, bathing the surrounding hills with glorious brush strokes of light and painting the canopy above this Southern California suburb 20 miles east of Los Angeles a brilliant sky blue.

It was, without a doubt, a day a passionate flier like Lidle would have loved.
"I think he definitely would be [flying today]," Lieberthal said as he and Wolf stood outside the Faith Community Church in West Covina, where a reception was held for friends and family after a private interment.

"And I was probably one guy who would have gone up with him at some point in this off-season," Lieberthal said.

He had planned to fly with the 34-year-old Lidle last spring training, but they never got a chance. So the two California residents had planned to get together this off-season to fly, conditions permitting.

Conditions like yesterday's.

"I probably would have been with Cory at this moment, but I'm not because of a tragic accident," Lieberthal said. "It's just crazy to believe how something like that could happen."

Aside from Wolf and Lieberthal, the Phillies' organization, which employed Lidle until a July 30 trade to the New York Yankees, was represented by Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Geoff Geary and Aaron Rowand. Also attending were assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., employee assistance program director Dickie Noles, and director of community relations Gene Dias.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, manager Joe Torre, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, and team captain Derek Jeter represented Lidle's last team.

All attended what had been a service open to the public but, at the request of the family, closed to members of the media. Most, like Lieberthal and Wolf, would later address reporters at the reception. So, too, did Lidle's widow.

Standing at a podium outside the church, Melanie Lidle, in a quiet, halting voice, thanked both her and Lidle's families, "our beautiful son, Christopher . . . the Yankees, who have been absolutely wonderful, and Major League Baseball. I couldn't do it without them."

Melanie Lidle then gave way to tears and departed, a touching moment that summed up a morning Wolf earlier called an emotional roller coaster.


When Cory Lidle's fraternal twin, Kevin, spoke during the service, more than one listener shivered because, as Amaro explained, "he's obviously the spitting image of Cory. And, if you close your eyes, you could actually hear Cory's voice."

How about Kevin Lidle being given his choice of clothing from his brother's closet by Melanie Lidle and choosing a leather jacket in which he found a little yellow ball with a happy face on it?

"He felt that was a message from Cory," Torre said.


One of the lasting memories of the day will be the dozens of mourners who, at the end of a trying series of events, lined up at a large food trailer provided by the fast-food chain, In-N-Out Burger, a Southern California staple and Cory Lidle favorite.

"You see the truck and it tells you one thing: It is about his spirit and what he is all about, just a fun-loving kind of guy," said Amaro, smiling. "It is obvious: He lived life to the fullest."

Now that life is over. And all those who gathered together yesterday will face tomorrow without a man who touched them more than perhaps they knew, then left too soon.

"The future that you sort of planned? Now, there is no future, other than his memory," Torre said.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Leyland: Detroit Tigers' Hope Diamond

Jim Leyland hoisted from the ground by by his joyous Detroit Tigers team. MLB Photos

DETROIT - Jim Leyland, possessing baseball memories older than some of his young Detroit Tigers, knows he's invested more than just one giddy pennant-winning season in the organization he loves.

Seventeen-plus consecutive dues-paying years in the backwaters of the organization went into this "overnight success" - six as a low-level minor-league catcher, another dozen as either a coach or manager in Detroit's far-flung farm system.

So it is not lost on the 61-year-old Leyland that his first opportunity to wear the classic Tigers powder-white uniform is more than a dream fulfilled.

One week after being carried off on the shoulders of his players following an AL division series upset of the Yankees, Leyland played a major role in delivering Detroit its first pennant since 1984.

"It took me a helluva long time to get here," Leyland told an adoring crowd at Comerica Park Saturday during on-field celebrations following Detroit's American League Championship Series sweep of Oakland.

Always humble and humorous, the former manager of the Pirates, Marlins and Rockies brought a once-proud franchise the credibility it desperately needed.

"Without him, we're not here," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said.

"He's just a very good baseball man," said Tigers president Dave Dombrowski, the GM in Florida when the 1997 Marlins managed by Leyland became the first wild-card team to win a World Series.

"You see it in so many ways, from the way he sets a standard that the players have to follow to the way he handles a pitching staff."

Now Leyland has returned yet another wild-card team to the big show, a remarkable comeback for a man who had last managed the 1999 Colorado Rockies before retiring for personal reasons.

Two years ago, a recharged Leyland sought to manage, again, as the Phillies well know. Both they and the New York Mets took looks before the 2005 season.

The Phillies hired Charlie Manuel instead, a decision the often-embattled manager and postseason-starved Phils are sure to be reminded of often in coming days.

The Mets? Willie Randolph, like Leyland, is still managing, in the NL Championship Series against St. Louis.

When Leyland landed in Detroit, the 42-year baseball lifer inherited a team that had lost an alarming 502 games from 2001 to '05, including a near-record 119 in 2003.

The man who had skippered the Pittsburgh Pirates to three division titles (1990-92), among other accomplishments, felt he could change Detroit's culture of losing. All he asked of Tigers, young and old, was that they believe and perform.

"Early on in spring training, we had a lot of good players," Leyland said. "We didn't have a good team. Today I can make the statement that we've got a good team, and that's the thing I am proudest of."

Some changes were needed. Enigmatic first baseman Dmitri Young was kicked to the curb late in the season. An unconventional move? Yes. But quintessential, no-nonsense Leyland.

In this postseason, Leyland has been mischievously mixing and matching lineups - using four different ones in the four-game sweep of the A's.

Along the way, he drew uncanny performances from the most surprising quarters.

Leyland passed over righty bat Marcus Thames (26 home runs) when Oakland started righthander Esteban Loaiza in Game 2. Instead, he used as DH a seldom-used lefthanded batter, Alexis Gomez, a wild swinger once released by the lowly Kansas City Royals and twice designated for assignment by Detroit this season.

Gomez proceeded to homer and drive in four runs in an 8-5 win, astounding considering he had one long ball and six RBIs in 103 at-bats in the regular-season.

That performance led Tigers stopper Todd Jones to quip: "If I walk in . . . and I'm batting cleanup, I'd expect to get a hit.

"We just know when Jim Leyland puts nine guys out there, it's the right nine. Whatever he does is cool with us."

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Polanco: Ex-Phil Shines For Tigers

DETROIT - Call the Phillies' efforts to turn a new leaf the gift that keeps on giving - to other clubs. Never was that more true than yesterday.

Placido Polanco, onetime infield cog turned dispensable commodity in Philadelphia, helped the Detroit Tigers complete their four-game dismantling of the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series.

The 31-year-old veteran second baseman did so with such authority by going 9 for 17 with two runs scored and an RBI, he was named the most valuable player of the series.

How do you become a series MVP on a team that seemed to trot out hero after hero to the mound and the plate?

How about getting three of your nine hits in the finale? How about continuing a two-out rally in the ninth inning of a taut 3-3 game by following a Craig Monroe hit with your third single, extending the inning for cleanup hitter Magglio Ordoñez?

Polanco's good work once again out of the three-hole in the lineup paid the best dividend to date for Detroit, because Ordoñez followed Polanco's hit with his second home run of the game.

Just like that, the Tigers walked off with a 6-3 victory.

"I knew it was gone as soon as I hit it," said Ordoñez, who was mobbed by his teammates at home plate. "This is what I've dreamed about my whole career, my whole life. I don't even remember running around the bases."

Just like that, a storied franchise nestled in this once-again baseball-mad city had its first World Series berth since 1984. And just like that, Polanco sat atop the baseball world.

"This is by far the best moment of my career," said Polanco, who was traded by the Phils to Detroit in June 2005 for Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez.
On Saturday, the Tigers will host the opener in the Series, against the National League champion, yet to be determined in the series between the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals.

No matter who wins, Polanco will be in an exclusive club within a club, because he will face off against other notable ex-Phillies, either Scott Rolen (Cards) or Billy Wagner (Mets).

Just knowing he will make his Series debut did not cause Polanco to gloat. Rather, it seemed to humble the player.

"It's hard to make the playoffs. It's hard to win. It's harder to do this," he said. "So it makes it special, very special."

That seemed all the more so when Polanco turned to the Tigers' coaches and trainers personnelwho nursed him back from a shoulder separation, one he once stated would cost him the season. He was out "I have to thank the hitting coaches who really worked hard with me," said Polanco, who was outfrom Aug. 16 to Sept. 22.

"When I came back, I had to take so many extra swings. I thank them. I thank the trainers. I thank everybody."

Such stories of redemption and rehabilitation abound among the veteran Tigers interspersed among Detroit's impressive, talented young team.
Manager Jim Leyland. The 41-years-young Kenny Rogers. All-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Former Phillies pitcher turned invaluable Tigers stopper Todd Jones.

And finally Polanco.

"He's a great player. He's awesome, a guy who loves to play and comes ready to play every day," Rodriguez said of Polanco. "He deserves the MVP."

"He's a special player," agreed Rogers, the Game 3 starter and winner.
"I kind of got that about him early on. But what he did in this series was just spectacular - always being a tough little out, doing the things that he needed to do.Said Rogers, "It was something marvelous to watch."

Detroit's resiliency was proven when the Tigers came back from a 3-0 deficit in the fifth. Ordoñez hit a solo home run off A's starter Dan Haren in the sixth to knot the score and set up a battle of the bullpens.

No reliever was more valiant than A's closer Houston Street, who came on with one out in the seventh and the bases loaded. He ended that threat by inducing Carlos Guillen to hit into a double play.

But Street could not get past Polanco, or Ordoñez, in the ninth. Because he could not, the Tigers had their pennant. And Polanco had the most cherished moment of his career.

Lyons: Unfunny - And Unemployed

DETROIT - Sometimes a self-promoting funny man is anything but.

Steve Lyons, aka the player once known as "Psycho" who took his gonzo act to television, hasn't been funny in a series of blunders and embarrassments on television. His latest cost him his job Saturday.

For the Fox network fired the baseball analyst for making racially insensitive comments about fellow commentator Lou Piniella's Hispanic heritage during Friday's broadcast of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

Piniella had no comment yesterday other than to confirm that Lyons was not at Comerica Park after his dismissal the night before.

"Steve Lyons has been relieved of his Fox Sports duties for making comments on air that the company found inappropriate," network spokesman Dan Bell told the Associated Press.

Two years ago, Fox suspended Lyons after he made what were considered insensitive remarks about Shawn Green, who is Jewish, after the rightfielder, then with the Dodgers, chose not to play on the Yom Kippur holiday.

In making an analogy involving the luck of finding a wallet, Piniella used a couple of Spanish phrases Friday.

Lyons said that Piniella was "hablaing Espanol" (hablar is Spanish for "to speak") and said he still couldn't find his wallet.

"I don't understand him, and I don't want to sit too close to him now," Lyons said.

Yesterday, Lyons said he was just joking.

"If I offended anybody, I'm truly sorry," he told the AP in a phone interview.

Last week, Lyons and boothmate Thom Brennaman issued an on-air apology the day after they made fun of a New York Mets fan during a telecast. The fan, partially blind, was wearing an apparatus that enabled him to view the game. Neither announcer was aware of the fan's affliction.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times reported yesterday that the Cubs and Piniella could begin negotiations tomorrow for the team's vacant manager's job.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sad week for Philadelphia

This past weekend, legendary Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist Frank Dolson died after a brave fight with cancer and heart troubles. He was 73.

On the day Dolson was remembered at a well-attended memorial service, the city learned that Cory Lidle, the former Phillies pitcher, was at the controls of the private plane that crashed in Manhattan, killing Lidle and his flight instructor. Lidle was 34 and left behind a wife and six-year-old son.

Two days after that tradegy, the Phillies issued another somber release, announcing yet another loss in the Philaldelphia sports family.

Johnny Callison, a smooth-hitting lefthander and three-time All-Star outfielder with the Phillies, had died Thursday night after a long illness. He was 67.

Rogers Personifies Dominating Ace

DETROIT - Just as a bat has a sweet spot, so do major-league pitching rotations.
It's the turn teams depend on when they need their sagest, most undaunted arm to dominate and inspire.
In Detroit, that spot belongs to Kenny Rogers, the veteran pitcher who has refused to allow the opposition so much as a postseason run in two starts.
Rogers stretched his scoreless streak to 15 innings in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series yesterday against Oakland, allowing the mesmerized Athletics just two hits over 71/3 innings.
When sizzling second baseman Placido Polanco delivered a first-inning RBI single, Rogers had all he would need for what ultimately became a 3-0 victory at Comerica Park.
Because Rogers put the Athletics' bats in an even deeper freeze than the one that gripped Detroit yesterday, a storied franchise pulled within one victory of its first World Series since 1984.
The A's will send righthander Dan Haren (14-13) to the mound todaycq to try to prevent a sweep from the best-of-seven series in four games.
Detroit will counter with righty Jeremy Bonderman (14-8).
Of the previous 28 league championship series best-of-sevens to start 3-0, 22 have resulted in four-game sweeps. Only the 2004 Boston Red Sox survived such a deficit (against the New York Yankees).
It will be the second time Rogers has made it possible for the 23-year-old Bonderman to clinch a series, thanks to his having awed a series opponent for a second consecutive outing.
"You can't pitch better than that," A's rightfielder Milton "0-for-4" Bradley said. "I had respect for Kenny Rogers before, but - this may tick people off - I almost felt like going over there and giving him a high five, he pitched that good."
Only one A's batter reached scoring position against Rogers, and that was in the first inning.
Rogers (17-8 regular-season, 2-0 postseason) cleaned up the thin threat by inducing Jay Payton to hit into an inning-ending force-out.
Frank Thomas, the A's powerful designated hitter, was especially frustrated. The only hit associated with him was the one he absorbed when Rogers plunked him in the side in the first inning - on purpose, a message pitch, Thomas later speculated.
Message or not, from then on, Rogers bruised more egos than the A's would bruise his pitches.
"Crafty pitcher . . . pitches to the park . . . lot of off-speed stuff," said Thomas, reciting a now familiar litany of the hitters left in Rogers' wake. "Ground balls, pop-ups. . . . That's Kenny, a veteran - he's been doing that for years."
The hard-luck loser was Rich Harden. Little could the A's starter know that hitting Curtis Granderson to lead off the bottom of the first, then yielding consecutive singles to Craig Monroe and Polanco and a run-scoring grounder by Magglio Ordoñez was, for all intents, the ball game.
When the two runs grew to three on a Monroe homer in the fifth inning, the Tigers had a lead as secure as Fort Knox.
Rogers pitched into the eighth. After a walk and a force-out, his day was done. Seconds after he left the field waving his cap to the standing, roaring crowd of 41,669, Rogers saw his shutout preserved when reliever Fernando Rodney got pinch-hitter Bobby Kielty to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Rogers has pitched 15 scoreless innings in two playoff games, the first 72/3 against the Yankees in the AL division series.
All told, the 41-year-old Rogers has surrendered all of seven hits in his two starts, proof that the self-deprecating pitcher who claims to not have A-caliber stuff has perhaps something even more important.
"I believe in myself," he said. "I believe I can make pitches and I'll find a way."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland declined to say these were the most dominant back-to-back postseason performances he's ever witnessed, reminding all to remember a guy named John Smoltz, owner of a record 15 postseason victories.
"But I tell you this: It couldn't be any better," Leyland said. "It's a little-bit-different type of stuff, but nobody could have pitched better than what Kenny has the last two outings, including John Smoltz."
For Kenny Rogers, how sweet that is.

Swisher, phone home

DETROIT - A's manager Ken Macha has expressed concern that second-year first baseman Nick Swisher may have been pressing when he went 0 for 6 with five strikeouts in the first two AL Championship Series games.

Macha's advice for Game 3?

"I was going out to eat [Thursday night] and he was standing on the corner on the cell phone, and I said, 'Nick, singles are OK. Nick, singles!' " Macha said with laugh before Game 3.

Not many laughs could be hear after Game 3, though. Not after the Tigers, led by Kenny Rogers, shut out Oakland on two hits. Swisher? He went 0-for-1 with two walks, a good night all things considered.
DETROIT - Weather, not a conflict over which league's playoff game deserved prime-time coverage, was the reason Game 3 of the American League Championship Series between the Oakland Athletics and Detroit Tigers started at 4:30 p.m. yesterday, baseball commissioner Bud Selig said.

Game 2 of the National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the host New York Mets, pushed back into what originally was a day off by Wednesday's rainout of Game 1, got the 8:05 p.m. time slot.

"I talked to all four teams yesterday in the morning, because I'd been up worrying about things," Selig said. "I said, 'I want you guys to tell me what you think you should do. You're there. I'm not in Detroit; I'm in Milwaukee, where it's colder than hellok-ds,' " Selig said before Game 3 started at a frigid Comerica Park.

"By noon, I had talked to all four clubs again - and a lot of meteorologists. Detroit said they'd rather play earlier because of this [forecast of cold and possible late-evening rain]. And the Mets said because of rain [expected] earlier in the day, we'd rather play at night. So it was easy."

As it was, the game-time temperature was 42 degrees, made to feel all the colder by winds gusting at 24 m.p.h. throughout the day Clouds and a threat of rain also hovered over the heavily bundled Tigers crowd one day after Detroit was hit by hail, sleet, snow flurries, high winds, and, incongruously, a spate of sun showers.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Piniella: Sweet on Job Done By Manuel

DETROIT - After every baseball season there emerges a managerial candidate who is the pick of the litter of would-be replacements.

Lou Piniella is that man of the moment, with his name surfacing early and often as the favorite to replace the fired Felipe Alou in San Francisco, Frank Robinson in Washington and Dusty Baker with the Chicago Cubs.

Heck, for the early part of this week, it was said the onetime Yankees manager was again being measured for the pinstripes - even though Joe Torre still occupied the manager's office at Yankee Stadium.

One job Piniella was not being linked to was skipper of the Philadelphia Phillies. Not a word. Not a whisper. And that, Piniella said Wednesday, was a testament to his friend Charlie Manuel and the job he did in the second half of the season for the once-embattled Phillies manager.

"I know Charlie well; I saw him a few times during the course of the summer, once in Houston and once in San Francisco, and we had nice talks," Piniella, an analyst with Fox Sports, said Wednesday. "And I told him, 'Hey, keep your chin up. You guys will get it going.' And they did."

Piniella, of course, was referring to how the Phillies, and Manuel, charged back from the brink with a 45-30 second half - the best in baseball.

That turnaround - and a serious flirtation with the wild-card playoff berth before losing out to Los Angeles by three games- saved Manuel. Within days after the end of the Phillies' 85-77 season, general manager Pat Gillick informed the 62-year-old Manuel that the team would honor the final year of his contract.

That Manuel got the new lease on life from Gillick is key to the Piniella story. For Gillick and Piniella are close, - have been ever since they were GM and manager, respectively, while with the Seattle Mariners. "Pat is a very, very good friend," said the 63-year-old Piniella. during an interview in Oakland before Game 2 of the American League Championship Series between the Detroit Tigers and A's.

For that reason, Piniella will always be associated with Gillick, especially when the GM 's name will always link up quickly with Gillick's. If Piniella is between managerial jobs. If Gillick has an open position, or merely a manager perceived to be in trouble.

Manuel seemed perilously close to being in trouble the latter positionaround the all-star break. And a close associate of Piniella's, who requested anonymity, recalls that Piniella's curiosity about the Phillies appeared to peak about that time.

The associate picked up on that over dinner with Piniella during the all-star break.

"We talked a lot of baseball all night, and 90 percent of the conversation was about the Phillies," the person said. "He clearly liked that team a lot."

"That's true," Piniella said Wednesday. "I was very impressed with that team. I thought that sooner or later they would get it going because they had some darned good talent. And they did once they got their pitching a little healthy.
"And they did. They got themselves in position for post-season, but they just fell a little short. But they're a talented bunch of kids over there."

The kind of kids he'd like to manage?

Piniella smiled, knowing the very mention of his name had already caused his good friend, Torre, to squirm in the Bronx. This week, he is a somewhathounded interview target in the Bay Area because of the Giants' opening. It has turned Piniella cautious.

So he wanted to make something very clear Wednesday.: "I was happy for Charlie, happy to see it turn around for him," he insisted. "Because he is a good man, he really is. Now he's got next year to look forward to."

So instead of replacing Manuel, might he eventually have to match managerial wits with him?

Piniella laughed. "Could be," he said the man who once managed the Yankees, Reds, M's and Devil Rays and has a 1,519-1,420 record, said, before declining to reveal where he would favor resuming his managerial career.

All Piniella would confirm is that he does have more than one option and
a decisioncould come soon, perhaps as early as next week.

Motown? Try Snow Town

DETROIT - No, it was not quite this bad. But baseball is coming to Detroit and it better be ready for a cold dose of reality.

Through chattering teeth, let's just say that just because you're heading to the Fall Classic doesn't mean your town will be ready to provide classic fall weather.

The Detroit Tigers learned that today when they returned home to weather that had even Motowners scratching their heads. Because all the gods did to ready Detroit for its first possible World Series since 1984 was hit this area with sleet, hail, rain, snow flurries, more sleet, more flurries and then sunshine. And, oh, did I mention the 50 Mph winds?

The passengers on the flight I took from Oakland (via Phoenix) to Detroit cheered the pilots, because after much wrestling, they were able to put that bucking bronco of ajam-packed jet liner down on the ground safely.

While airborne, the winds above the Windy-City-for-a-Day tossed the plane around like a kite. Then the gusts threw the plane towards the runway like a 500-ton knuckleball.

It was scary, especially given the rough ride came on the heels of Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle's fatal plane crash Wednesday.

Friday night, the temperature is expected to be 57 degrees when the A's and Tigers take the field for Game 3.

Lidle Death Stirs Memories of Munson

OAKLAND, Calif. - Lou Piniella remembers the body blow as if it hit him yesterday.

It was Aug. 2, 1979. Piniella, then a leftfielder with the New York Yankees, was enjoying a day off at his home in North Jersey, helping his wife, Anita, celebrate her birthday.

"I was in the swimming pool and got a call," Piniella said.

It was George Steinbrenner, owner of the team.

"Mr. Steinbrenner said, 'Thurman passed away,' " Piniella recalled. "I couldn't believe it."

Thurman Munson, the grizzled Yankees catcher and team captain, had used his off day to fly home to Ohio. Piloting his private jet, Munson died when he crashed short of a runway at Akron-Canton Regional Airport while practicing touch-and-go landings.

"You play sports, and sometimes you feel infallible because you take care of yourself so well," Piniella said quietly. "It's obviously a dangerous passion that can have bad endings."

Never was that more true than yesterday. The shock and sadness in Piniella's voice illustrated his point as the analyst with Fox Sports addressed the latest air-related tragedy to touch baseball.

Earlier in the afternoon, Cory Lidle, a much-traveled pitcher who split time between the Phillies and Yankees this season, perished when the plane he was in crashed into a high-rise in Manhattan.

"It's eerie . . . tragic," said Piniella, who was in Oakland to cover Game 2 of the American League Championship Series between the Detroit Tigers and the A's.
And, for Piniella, it was déjà vu. "We lived it firsthand, in New York . . . 1979 . . . Aug. 2. It was so difficult, but this thing here, oooh," he said, moaning.

Just feet away in the press box of McAfee Coliseum, television screens showed a live feed of the news coverage from New York. Overhead, the voice of Tigers manager Jim Leyland was being piped in from a news conference. Leyland was extending condolences. "It gives you a little bit of a flashback," Piniella said. "Different circumstances but the same sad ending."

The death of the pitcher, who also played for the A's, cast a pall here. Piniella was certain that would hold true throughout what he termed the greater baseball family.

"He had a lot of teammates in a lot of places, both in the American and National Leagues," said Piniella. "And I am sure that everybody is in mourning."

No one likes to be taken back to one of the worst days of his or her life. Piniella was, and all he could think of was Munson, "a really, really good friend."
He was a friend, who, like Lidle, had a passion for flying, which he proudly shared with teammates.

"I flew with Thurman a lot," he said, quietly. "Never in the jet, but in his King Air."

The 1979 Yankees, unlike the now-idle 2006 team, had to mourn their teammate, then play.

Also, many members of the '79 squad had come of age with Munson and had long teamed with the larger-than-life heart of the team.

It is often said that the '79 Yankees, trying to repeat World Series titles won by the organization in '77 and '78, never recovered from the Munson tragedy.

Already numbed by the death, the team was forced on its own harrowing journey on Aug. 6, to Canton for the Munson funeral, then back to the Bronx for a game that night against the Baltimore Orioles.

Piniella, along with Munson's best friend, Bobby Murcer, had delivered a eulogy.

Many a Yankee, including Munson foil Reggie Jackson, wept during the somber pregame salutes.

Then the game was played in a Yankee Stadium rife with emotion.

The Yankees won, 5-4, that night. A distraught Piniella did not play, but Murcer did, driving in five runs and ending the draining night with a game-winning two-run single in the ninth inning.

That Aug. 6 night had inspired many. But the shock that set in four days before never did go away.

"It lasted the rest of the summer," Piniella said,

Now the player-and-manager-turned-commentator imagines that those feelings will course through the playoff games on both coasts this week because of Lidle, even for those players and uniformed personnel who did not know the 34-year-old pitcher.

"It's going to take a lot of luster off these games," he said.

As for Lidle's friends, the level of grief is guaranteed to reach a whole different level - just as it did 27 years ago for the Yankees.

Lidle's Death Hits A's Hard

OAKLAND, Calif. - Cory Lidle was remembered as a man who pursued his love of games, hobbies and competition with all his might during his brief stay with the Oakland Athletics.

Yesterday, the A's, who shared a locker room with the pitcher in 2001 and 2002, mourned him after learning of Lidle's death after a plane he piloted was aboard crashed into a Manhattan high-rise yesterday afternoon.

But perhaps no one put the 34-year-old Lidle in better perspective than Ron Washington, the A's veteran third-base coach.

"He was a gambler, a big competitor who loved playing games, whether it was playing golf, playing cards, whether it was on the baseball field," a shaken Washington said while sitting at the end of a bench filled with somber A's coaches and players.

Like the rest of the Oakland team, Washington was preparing for the second game of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. But his heart and mind were elsewhere - to be precise, 3,000 miles to the east, where Lidle died.

"When Cory put his mind to doing something, there was nobody who could convince him to do otherwise," said Washington, dealing with yet another tragedy after the March death of his best friend and former teammate, Kirby Puckett.

"He was definitely headstrong," Washington said of Lidle. "And I guess he was still competing up there, with the air. Sadly, the airplane won."

Ken Macha, the A's manager, could not recall whether Lidle's passion for flying began in Oakland. What he did remember was that the pitcher enjoyed some of his finer moments in Oakland.

"I remember the August he had for us: His ERA was like 0.05," said Macha, referring to an August 2002 run in which Lidle threw 32 consecutive scoreless innings.

"He pitched a one-hitter against the Rangers when they had a very potent lineup."

Both Macha and Washington addressed how Lidle's death would affect the A's who played with him.

"I don't think it's going to affect us when it comes time to go out and compete and play baseball," Washington said. "But I think right now, we definitely have some sympathy for his family.

"He had a kid and a wife he left behind. They will be taken care of, but they will be alone, too. And I don't think they envisioned having to be without their dad, their husband. That's a hard pill to swallow."

"I imagine our chapel guy will be around," Macha said. "I'm sure people are going to have their feelings about it, just maybe put the game in perspective. I know myself, personally, this thing could end at any second, and sometimes that is the way life does end."

Every Tiger Bearing Fangs

OAKLAND, Calif. - When Placido Polanco, the former Phillie-turned-invaluable table-setter for the Detroit Tigers, singled to start the fourth inning, he was on his way to a 3-for-4 effort tonight.

Detroit, happy to draft along behind yet another unsung player-turned-October hero, was on its way to a 8-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

Polanco & Co. had provided enough offense to overcome the A's vaunted pitching. They had overcome Milton Bradley's two-homer explosion. And because they did, they came away with an edge of two games to none in the American League Championship Series.

The ravenous Tigers had devoured what had been Oakland's home-field advantage. Now the best-of-seven series now moves to Detroit, where the next three games are scheduled this weekend.

The Tigers' ace, Kenny Rogers (1-0, 0.00 ERA in the playoffs) will take the mound Friday to try to pull Detroit to within one victory of its first World Series since 1984. He will be opposed by A's righthander Rich Harden, who has yet to pitch in the playoffs.

Polanco, now 11 for 25 in six playoff games thus far, is one of only seven Tigers who had experienced the postseason before this October.

After tonight, no one will dare call any of the Tigers novices.

That is how well-rounded Detroit's attack continued to look against A's pitching.

Leftfielder Craig Monroe, designated hitter Alexis Gomez and third baseman Brandon Inge - the seventh, eighth and ninth batters in Jim Leyland's lineup - drove in seven runs themselves in the first six innings.

"When you start to get down to the bottom, you think you can kind of mess around with these guys," said Monroe. "well, it doesn't matter. The guys definitely believe., and we like being down there. There's no break in our lineup, top to bottom."

Gomez, a player'd been designated for assignment twice, made the first postseason appearance of his career, memorable, accounting for four of those runs, thanks in part to a two-run home run in the sixth.

"today they give me the biggest chance I had in my life, in my career," Gomez said. "I've been in situations that I go down, go up [from the minors], but I never put my head down.

"In all the time that I got sitting down, I said I've got to be ready for when you need me."

He was. And that was not quite the result sought by the A's, a team that desperately needed some of the young Tigers to start acting their age. If not, Oakland knew, the consequences could be immense in a series in which Detroit had already filleted the A's ace, Barry Zito.

Justin Verlander, Detroit's 23-year-old rookie-of-the-year candidate, initially seemed to be Oakland's man.

The righthander, making his second start of the postseason, did so in poor fashion. The A's had a run in before he had secured two outs in the first inning, thanks to a Mark Kotsay double, a wild pitch and a Bradley single.

But in keeping with Detroit's now-familiar recurring theme of October, the run proved to be no problem. The Tigers erased it by the second inning on a Carlos Guillen double and a Monroe sacrifice fly.

Things would worsen for Esteban Loaiza two innings later, and not just because the Tigers kept coming at him with the tenacity that belied postseason rookie jitters.

The third inning was bad for the A's starter because he once again could not thrive after being given yet another lead, 3-1, on a double by Kotsay and a two-run homer by Bradley (a prelude to his seventh-inning solo).

Polanco led off the fourth with a single and the merry-go-round was set in motion. Before Loaiza could halt the Tigers' dizzying rotation around the basepaths, four runs scored.

The rally involved the usual suspects responsible for making Detroit arguably the most balanced attack in the postseason. That much was evidenced by what followed Polanco's hit.

Magglio Ordoñez, single.

Ivan Rodriguez, one-out walk.

Monroe, RBI single.

Gomez, two-run single.

Inge, the Game 1 hero who had homered and driven in two runs off Zito?

Sacrifice fly.

Because they could strike that quickly and, unlike Oakland, make the lead hold, the Tigers have two wins in the books.

All they need are two more in the five games left in the series to secure a World Series berth.

The Tigers couldn't have returned home in better shape. And the A's couldn't have hit the road in a bigger state of shock.