Sun, Oct 22, 2006 - Page 23 News List

Tigers set to battle Cards

DETROIT RESTS, ST. LOUIS PLAYS Detroit got a week off to get ready for the World Series, while St. Louis had only two days to prepare after winning against the Mets


Crews install a giant Detroit Tigers uniform on the Spirit of Detroit statue located in downtown Detroit on Friday. The Tigers were set to play the St. Louis Cardinals in game one of the World Series yesterday.


Ivan Rodriguez gave Placido Polanco a playful slap on the side of the head and they both cackled. Ready to go, they grabbed some bats, left the clubhouse and got ready to hit.

Having claimed their berth in the World Series a week ago, the Detroit Tigers are now eager to start their bid for US Major League Baseball's championship.

So are the St. Louis Cardinals -- sort of.

Coming off a draining Game 7 win at New York in the National League Championship Series, they pulled into their suburban Detroit hotel at 5am on Friday. By late afternoon, they straggled onto the field at Comerica Park in Detroit for a workout.

"Maybe that champagne is still stinging their eyes," Tigers reliever Jason Grilli said.

This year's championship series between Midwestern underdogs who limped into the playoffs was scheduled to start last night with a great debate: Is it better to go into Game 1 fully rested or riding an emotional high?

"It doesn't matter how you get here," Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols said.

Maybe, but the statistics show otherwise.

October fact: The last six teams that began the World Series with five or more days of rest all went on to win. Further, only twice in history have World Series teams with such a long break not won -- and both were led by Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

"I think the game is so mental," La Russa said. "If you sit around and you're mentally strong, you're ready."

An unlikely championship gets off to a unique start when, for the first time ever, a pair of rookie pitchers match up in Game 1.

Justin Verlander brings his fastball for the Tigers; Anthony Reyes starts for the worn-down Cardinals because no one else is fresh.

Some of these Tigers were a bit tired, too, after staying up until nearly midnight to see St. Louis beat the Mets 3-1 for the National League pennant.

"It was one of the few times in my life where I watched another game with two other teams playing that my heart was racing, and that's not really normal for me," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.

"I thought that was one of the best baseball games I've seen in a long, long time," he said.

Leyland told La Russa so, calling his good friend early on Friday to congratulate him. They regularly phone each other, but said they intend to slack off for the next 10 days or so.

The Tigers hope to keep flying along in this postseason. After losing Game 1 to New York, they've gone on to win seven straight playoff games, making quick work of the Yankees and Oakland along the way.

Three years removed from being the worst team in MLB, the Tigers want to complete the turnaround with their first World Series title since 1984.

At 83-78, the Cardinals have the second-worst record of any World Series team, trailing only the 82-79 mark of the 1973 Mets.

Understandably, a lot of baseball experts expected to see a different pairing, and perhaps that's why television ratings have been down.

Then again, that's what makes this time of year so interesting.

"It's been a little bit weird," Leyland said. "It's been crazy. It's been tremendous for baseball.

"I was reading a lot about that in the paper today, the average attendance and all the teams, it's just been great," he said. "And, hopefully, this Series will not be a letdown for anybody."

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