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Playoffs Ready to Take Flight for Yankees, Tigers

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Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Jose Valverde, center, throws with teammates during a workout for the AL division series, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, at Yankee Stadium in New York.  The New York Yankees are slated to host the Tigers in Game 1 on Friday. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Jose Valverde, center, throws with teammates during a workout for the AL division series, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, at Yankee Stadium in New York. The New York Yankees are slated to host the Tigers in Game 1 on Friday. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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By RICK FREEMAN
AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ After a long flight, a pre-dawn arrival and a
workout that came all too soon, Derek Jeter is ready for the
playoffs.

Almost. First, a good night’s sleep would be nice.

“Man, I got home at 4:30. I don’t even know what I’m saying
right now,” a bleary-eyed Jeter said Thursday, a day before he and
the New York Yankees face Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers
in an AL division series opener. “It’s not fun yet.”

It’s about to be, though. Justin Verlander vs. CC Sabathia in
Game 1 is about as good as postseason matchups get.

“It’s funny. The season has kind of gone full circle,” Yankees
first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “We started in March with
Verlander and CC opening day and now the playoffs. It should be
fun.”

Verlander, who went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts,
looms as one of the biggest first-round obstacles for the Yankees.
Of course, the Yankees have an ace of their own in Sabathia, who
goes against a Tigers’ lineup that carried Detroit to a 30-9 finish
to the season.

The Yankees have been coasting since wrapping up the AL East.
The last time these teams met _ the 2006 division series Detroit
took 3-1 on its way to an AL pennant _ it was the Tigers who came
in cold after losing their last five. This year, The Yankees
finished by being swept in Tampa Bay and losing their last four.

“A whole new season starts tomorrow for everybody,” Tigers
manager Jim Leyland said.

No more setting up rotations, no more bench players starting and
no more protecting key relievers _ as Yankees manager Joe Girardi
did by not using Mariano Rivera, David Robertson or Rafael Soriano
against the Rays. No more anything but trying to make every out
count.

It all starts Friday night with the tastiest of first-round
pitching matchups.

“Hopefully, it’s a good one,” Sabathia said. “We’ve faced off
a lot, me playing in that division for a long time. He’s had one of
the best seasons for a pitcher ever, I think.”

In Game 2, it’s New York’s Ivan Nova vs. Doug Fister, with
Detroit’s Max Scherzer and Freddy Garcia slated for Game 3. If
there’s a fourth game, Girardi plans to bring back Sabathia on
short rest. Leyland has said he won’t pitch Verlander on short rest
in the first round, even if Detroit is facing elimination in Game
4.

While most of the attention has been on Verlander, a near lock
for the AL Cy Young and a strong candidate to be the first starting
pitcher to win the AL MVP since Roger Clemens in 1986, Fister has
been even better since the Tigers traded for him in July.

Fister is 7-0 with a 0.65 ERA in his last eight outings. Fister,
picked up in a six-player deal with Seattle on July 30, has gone 20
innings without walking a batter.

He and Verlander are a combined 14-0 with a 1.61 ERA in 16
appearances since Aug. 16. Of course, Verlander has been doing it
all year _ he’s 22-2 since throwing a no-hitter against Toronto on
May 7.

division series ap Playoffs Ready to Take Flight for Yankees, Tigers

Graphic compares AL Division Series matchup between the Yankees and Tigers


“There’s not really a chance to sit back and kind of let it
soak in,” Verlander said. “Once the last pitch is thrown _
hopefully, after we have won a World Series _ I can sit down and
look back and enjoy it. For right now, I’m focused on Game 1.”

The Tigers also have some pop in their lineup. While not as
daunting top to bottom in the order as New York, Detroit features
AL batting champion Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jhonny
Peralta. And catcher Alex Avila has been a revelation, with 19
homers and a .295 average.

The Yankees, of course, have Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and
Teixeira slugging away at the heart of their order. A-Rod will hit
behind Cano in the postseason, swapping their usual order from the
regular season. And then there’s former Tigers outfielder Curtis
Granderson, who had a career year with 41 homers.

“I’ve seen his numbers, and they’re amazing,” Verlander said.
Not that it will matter Friday night, when everyone’s stats are
reset to zero and what happens from then on is all that counts.
It’s almost here.

“I’m not excited yet,” Jeter said. “The excitement starts
tomorrow.”

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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