Tigers Lose Grip on AL Central, Head to Bronx as Wild Card

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The New York Sun

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

After wasting several chances to wrap up an AL Central title, the slumping Tigers slipped to a wild-card spot yesterday and now must open the postseason Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium against New York’s powerful lineup.

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

All the other first-round matchups were also settled on the final day of the regular season.The playoffs begin Tuesday, when AL West champion Oakland visits Minnesota at 1:09 p.m.

In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals play at San Diego in Game 1 at 4:09 p.m. Tuesday. The Mets will face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who took the wild card, in a series that starts Wednesday at Shea Stadium.

All four first-round series are a bestof-five format.

In St. Louis, the Cardinals celebrated in a raucous clubhouse, despite backing into their third straight division championship and averting perhaps the biggest September collapse in major league history.The Cardinals lost nine of their last 12, nearly squandering a seven-game lead. But they finally clinched a playoff berth yesterday in the fifth inning of a 5–3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers when Houston was eliminated with a 3–1 defeat at Atlanta.

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

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

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

Nate Robertson (13–13) will pitch Detroit’s opener against Yankees righthander Chien-Ming Wang (19–6).

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

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

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

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

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

Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer went 2-for-4 against the White Sox yesterday, finishing the season with a .346 batting average — one percentage point ahead of Derek Jeter and three ahead of Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano.

‘Everyone would love to win a batting title,”Jeter said yesterday after going 1-for-5 in the Yankees’ 7–5 loss to Toronto. “We’ve got bigger and better things starting on Tuesday, so that’s our main focus.”

Jeter singled in his first at-bat and moved .0005 behind Mauer. But the Yankees’ captain took a called third strike in the second inning, hit an RBI groundout in the fourth, grounded out again in the sixth, and struck out in the eighth.

After Jeter went to shortstop for the ninth, acting manager Bernie Williams sent Andy Cannizaro out to replace him, and Jeter walked off to a standing ovation.

“It was Joe’s idea to have him pull out after everybody had their warmup pitches and warmup throws,” Williams said. “Just to let the fans acknowledge him as he deserves.”

The New York Sun

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