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Published: Sunday, 10/8/2006

Granderson has grand playoff debut

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Curtis Granderson, right, and Ramon Santiago celebrate their 8-3 win over the New York Yankees that put the Tigers into the American League championship series with Oakland. Curtis Granderson, right, and Ramon Santiago celebrate their 8-3 win over the New York Yankees that put the Tigers into the American League championship series with Oakland.
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DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers are returning to the AL championship series for the first time in 19 years, after disposing of the New York Yankees 8-3 yesterday at Comerica Park.

The Oakland Athletics, who host Game 1 of the best-of-seven series Tuesday night, are making their first appearance in 14 seasons after sweeping the Minnesota Twins.

"We're going to enjoy this celebration tonight and then turn our attention to the A's tomorrow," Curtis Granderson said. "We'll be ready to go Tuesday."

Granderson, the Tigers' 25-year-old center fielder, is enjoying his first playoff experience immensely.

He has found his swing again after slumping badly late in the season.

Granderson was batting .417 in the AL division series until yesterday, when he went 0-for-5.

But he hit two solo home runs in the series and collected five RBIs.

"I'm just trying to help the team in any way I can," Granderson said. "It's finally starting to sink in, just how exciting the playoffs are."

Granderson led the AL with 174 strikeouts during the regular season, but the former Mud Hens player batted .260 with 19 homers and 68 RBIs in his first full season in the majors.

However, he struck out just once in 17 plate appearances against the Yankees. He batted .294 with three runs and five hits.

But when his bat went silent in the months of August and September, Granderson didn't seek out any help.

Matt Stairs, who is not on Detroit's postseason roster, talked to Granderson about his approach. And close friend Craig Monroe offered words of encouragement to try to pump up Granderson's confidence.

Slowly, but surely, Granderson's bat came alive.

In Game 1 of the ALDS, he had three hits and homered in Detroit's 8-4 loss. In Game 2, his tie-breaking triple to left-center in the seventh inning carried the Tigers to a 4-3 victory. He also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.

In both games, he batted from the No. 1 spot.

In Game 3 at Comerica Park Friday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland dropped Granderson to No. 9 in the order. He responded with another homer, two RBIs and two runs in the Tigers' 6-0 victory.

Granderson returned to the leadoff spot yesterday, but he was the only Tigers starter without a hit.

Even so, Granderson's coming-out party is one of the biggest reasons the Tigers kicked aside the Yankees.

"He's had some great at-bats," Leyland said.

NOT WRIGHT: Jaret Wright, the Yankees' Game 4 starter, and Leyland are very familiar with each other.

Wright, then a 21-year-old phenom with the Cleveland Indians, pitched Games 3 and 7 of the 1997 World Series against Leyland's Florida Marlins.

Wright pitched Cleveland to a victory in Game 3 and struck out seven batters in 61/3 innings in Game 7.

He left with a 2-1 lead, only to watch the Indians' Jose Mesa and Charles Nagy blow it, 3-2 in 11 innings.

"We were on the wrong side of that one," Wright said. "[Leyland] has my ring basically."

Wright won three games in the 1997 playoffs for the Tribe.

He figured his career would be full of big Octobers, but he hasn't won since, going 0-6 over five starts and seven appearances.

Yesterday's start was Wright's first in the playoffs since 2004. He lasted just 22/3 innings, allowing five hits, four runs (three earned) and two homers.

He has a 2-3 record and 8.41 ERA in five career appearances in the ALDS.

ODDS & ENDS: Magglio Ordonez hit his first postseason homer, a 422-foot shot off Wright in the second. And Monroe hit his second of the series, a two-run shot in the second. .•.•. The Tigers had two doubles yesterday and 12 in the four games. It was the team's most doubles in a series since the 1934 Fall Classic. .•.•. Carlos Guillen went 3-for-4 and finished the series with a .571 average, three doubles, a homer and two RBIs. The eight hits are the most by a Tigers player in the postseason series since Alan Trammell collected nine in the 1984 World Series.



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