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Wang, Yankees face slumping Tigers in playoff opener

Oct 3, 2006 - 2:36 PM Detroit vs. New York Yankees 8:19 pm EDT American League Division Series Game One

BRONX, New York (Ticker) -- With the Detroit Tigers backing their way into the postseason, the New York Yankees are favorites to breeze through the first round of the American League playoffs.

The Yankees will send Chien-Ming Wang to the mound against the wild card-winning Tigers in the opening game of a best-of-five AL Division Series on Tuesday.

Finishing with a five-game losing streak, including a three-game sweep at home against the lowly Kansas City Royals in its regular-season finale, Detroit squandering a chance to clinch its first division title in 19 years.

The Tigers were 76-36 on August 9 before their season started to unravel. Detroit dropped 28 of its previous 47 games heading into the final weekend against Kansas City, a team it had beaten 14 of 15 times prior.

However, New York manager Joe Torre believes the Tigers are more dangerous than people give them credit for.

"They didn't back their way in," Torre said. "They had the best record for a reason, they won a lot of ball games.

"Yeah, they have cooled off lately since the All-Star break, the job that Jimmy (Leyland) has done with that ballclub in bringing along the young pitchers, and the fact that, you know, he had had contributions from a lot of different people, they are dangerous."

The Yankees won their ninth consecutive AL East Division title and tied the crosstown rival New York Mets for baseball's best record. New York, however, has the highest payroll in the league at more than $200 million and carries similarly high expectations. They have not won a World Series championship since defeating the Mets in 2000.

Wang (19-6, 3.63 ERA), who tied Minnesota's Johan Santana for the most wins in the AL, will look to continue his success in the postseason. In his only playoff start, he allowed four runs - one earned - and six hits in 6 2/3 innings in a 5-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Game Three of the 2005 ALDS.

Wang said that he is surprised to be starting Game One ahead of veterans Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson, but is not nervous about stepping on the Yankee Stadium mound under the postseason microscope.

"I feel the same in the season and in the playoffs, the same," he said.

The 26-year-old righthander has pitched well against Detroit in his career, going 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA in four starts. He will look to become the first Taiwanese pitcher to pick up a playoff victory.

He will be opposed by Nate Robertson (13-13, 3.84), who is 0-2 with a 4.60 ERA in two starts against the Yankees this season. After playing parts of four seasons with Florida and the Tigers, Robertson is making his first career playoff start.

With young stars Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman struggling down the stretch, the 29-year-old Robertson was one of Detroit's top hurlers in September, going 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA in five starts.

"He's a good pitcher. That's what we have to deal with," Torre said. "We know they are capable of scoring a lot of runs. We certainly know that.

"But to me, their strength is where your strength needs to be in the postseason, their pitching."

Tigers manager Jim Leyland also is not convinced that his squad should be written off because of its disappointing finish.

"This is what you go to spring training for. That's what we're in the business for," he said. "When you accomplish that, you have to embrace it and enjoy it, but you also have to remember that you're working.

"You get in these postseasons and if you get hot at the right time, you can win it all. I think any one of the eight teams can win it all. That's just the way it is."

Game Two will be here on Wednesday.






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