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Published: Tuesday, 10/3/2006

Tigers have to get it together in the Bronx

NEW YORK - The underdog Detroit Tigers don't have time to weep.

If they do, they could face a possible three-game sweep at the hands of the vaunted New York Yankees.

The tumbling Tigers slink into the opener of their best-of-five AL division series tonight with their tails tucked between their legs.

Detroit not only dropped its final five home games and had to settle for a wild-card berth instead of the AL Central title, it lost 31 of its last 50 overall.

Hard-luck left-hander Nate Robertson (13-13, 3.84 ERA) is the guy Tigers manager Jim Leyland hopes can prevent his team from getting gobbled up in Game 1 in Gotham.

Robertson will oppose right-hander Chien-Ming Wang (19-6, 3.63 ERA), a sinkerball pitcher who was the Yankees' best starter.

The Tigers' Game 1 hopes rest on starting pitcher Nate 
Robertson (13-13, 3.84 ERA). The Tigers' Game 1 hopes rest on starting pitcher Nate Robertson (13-13, 3.84 ERA).
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"Every start is big, and this one is no different," Robertson said.

Robertson was 0-2 against New York this season. He dropped a 6-1 decision to Game 2 starter Mike Mussina on May 31 at Comerica Park and suffered a 2-0 setback to Wang here Aug. 30.

The Yankees, who have by far the game's biggest payroll, batted .313 against Robertson.

Their lineup is star-studded, and includes potential AL MVP Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreau, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Jason Giambi.

"They're tough at the plate the whole way through the lineup," Robertson said. "They're aggressive, but they don't swing at many bad pitches."

That's not good news for Robertson and the Tigers' frail pitching staff, which was pounded for 43 runs and 76 hits the last five games.

In his final start six days ago, Robertson was roughed up for 10 hits, six runs and four home runs in a 7-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

It's been exactly a week now since a Tigers starter last won a game - Jeremy Bonderman beat the Blue Jays 4-3 - and lasted at least six innings.

"I've got my last bad start out of my system, and I've already moved on," Robertson said. "I'm ready."

The Tigers are making their first playoff appearance since 1987, when they won the AL East but lost to the Minnesota Twins in five games in the AL Championship Series.

Detroit hasn't won a World Series in 22 years.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have won nine consecutive AL East titles and 26 world championships.

Since 1923, no stadium has hosted more World Series games than legendary Yankee Stadium.

This historic landmark has seen its share of Hall of Famers in pinstripes, ranging from the Bambino (Babe Ruth), to the Iron Horse (Lou Gehrig), to Mr. October (Reggie Jackson), to the Yankee Clipper (Joe DiMaggio), to Yogi (Berra).

Although the Tigers had the best road record in baseball at 49-32, they were just 2-5 against the Yankees this season.

And Detroit won just once in Yankee Stadium in three tries, a 5-3 victory courtesy of Craig Monroe's two-out, three-run homer in the ninth inning on Aug. 30 that earned the Tigers a doubleheader split.

"The Yankees are used to being in the playoffs," Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson said. "They'll be amped."

There is some good news for the Tigers. They are guaranteed at least one home game.

The heavily favored Yankees won't be able to break out the brooms in the Bronx.



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