Tue, Oct 03, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Wang to face Tigers today as Yankees chase pennant

THE BIG STAGE Taiwan's baseball hero has been chosen to be the starting pitcher in the playoff series for the Yankees, the most famous team in the sport

AP , NEW YORK

Wang Chien-ming of the New York Yankees watches the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles during the third inning of their baseball game on Thursday at Yankee Stadium. Wang will open the playoffs today against the Tigers.

PHOTO: AP

If the Detroit Tigers are going to extend their surprising season by making a run in the Major League Baseball playoffs, they'll have to get past the American League East champion New York Yankees and star right-handed pitcher Wang Chien-ming (王建民) (19-6).

Wang will pitch against Detroit's Nate Robertson (13-13) in the series opener.

After wasting several chances to wrap up an American League Central title, the slumping Tigers slipped to a wild-card spot on Sunday and now must open the postseason today 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.

In other American League playoff games, AL West champion Oakland visits Minnesota.

In the National League, Central division champions St. Louis play Game 1 at San Diego, winners of the West, today. The New York Mets, winners of the East, will host the Los Angeles Dodgers, who took the wild card, in a series starting tomorrow.

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

Making their first trip to the playoffs since 1987, the Tigers tried to ensure that they left nothing to chance on Sunday as they tried to win their division and earn home-field advantage in the first round. But they squandered a six-run lead against last-place Kansas City and lost 10-8 in 12 innings for their fifth consecutive defeat.

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

Detroit's loss coupled with Minnesota's 5-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox gave Minnesota its fourth AL Central division 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).

"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 Yankees were heartened by a 41-pitch bullpen session from Randy Johnson on Sunday. Seemingly over the back spasms which have forced him to miss his last two starts, Johnson was expected to start Game 3 on Friday.

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

The Mets will be without 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 on Sunday, so they will meet in a rematch of a first-round series last year, when the Cardinals cruised to a three-game sweep.

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