Tigers Just One Game Away

The offense wasn't firing on all cylinders like it did in the first two games, but Kenny Rogers was, as his two-hit shutout performance on Friday night gave the Tigers a 3-0 ALCS lead. One more win, and the Tigers return to the World Series for the first time in more than 20 years.

Sure, it's pitching that has fueled Detroit's surprising postseason, just as it was pitching that marked the Tigers' turnaround from 12 seasons of sub-.500 baseball.

But if Oakland is to keep Detroit out of the World Series, it is going to have to do something about keeping the Tigers off the bases, too.

Despite all the talk about how Detroit has such a high strikeout rate and low base on balls total, the team has done a remarkable job of concentrating at the plate since losing its last five regular-season games and first game in the postseason.

The Tigers have had a minimum of 10 baserunners (including errors) in every postseason game, with totals of 14, 10, 13, 16, 16, 14 and 13 as they have reeled off six straight wins since an opening loss to the New York Yankees.

They had only six hits Friday but blended in seven walks.

Visiting media types have marveled at how a team that was supposed to be so free-swinging and impatient has had the focus and concentration to take pitches off the plate and get into favorable hitting counts, resulting in a high number of baserunners.

"To be honest with you," manager Jim Leyland said, "I think playing the Yankees helped us with our offensive approach because by talking about how patient they are, some of our guys picked up on it.

"We're a little bit better than we were."

REPLAY: Detroit is just one step away from the World Series. Or maybe it's only a walk.

Left-hander Kenny Rogers limited Oakland to just two hits in 7 1/3 innings Friday and Craig Monroe had a setup single plus a solo home run to lead Detroit to a 3-0 victory over the Athletics and a 3-0 lead in their American League Championship Series.

Rogers has not allowed a run in 15 postseason innings and Friday cast doubt on the notion a "feel" pitcher who survives on changeups and breaking balls can't pitch in cold weather. The temperature was 42 degrees at game time and eased slightly downward through the game.

Rogers got a visit and a pep talk from manager Jim Leyland after walking Nick Swisher at the beginning of the eighth inning, and Rogers then got a forceout at second. But with Bobby Kielty pinch-hitting for D'Angelo Jimenez, Leyland replaced Rogers with right-hander Fernando Rodney and he got an inning-ending double play.

Closer Todd Jones pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his second save of the series. The A's managed just five runners off Tigers pitching, Rogers giving up two hits, two walks and hitting one batter.

Curtis Granderson opened the bottom of the first with a four-pitch walk off A's starter Rich Harden, the first of seven walks drawn in the game by the league's worst regular-season team at drawing a base on balls.

Monroe grounded a single to right on a hit-and-run play that sent Granderson to third, and Placido Polanco singled to right center, scoring Granderson and moving Monroe to third. Magglio Ordonez grounded into a force, and Detroit had a 2-0 lead.

Harden settled in after that and blanked the Tigers until Monroe opened the fifth inning with his fourth home run of the postseason.

--LHP Kenny Rogers wasn't quite as overpowering Friday as he was against the New York Yankees in the Division Series, but he still dominated Oakland with his curve and changeup playing off his fastball.

Rogers was throwing 92-93 mph against New York in throwing 7 2/3 shutout innings, but his fastball was back to its usual 88-90 mph Friday in his 7 1/3 two-hit innings in Detroit's 3-0 victory over Oakland.

Rogers relied more on his curve and changeup, using his fastball just once in awhile with two strikes or to set up something offspeed. He struck out six and walked only two.

Only once, in the first inning, did Oakland get two runners on against Rogers.

--RHP Joel Zumaya was ruled out of action again Friday night with the same right wrist soreness that sidelined him for more than a week once during the regular season.

A cortisone shot that time, plus rest, got Zumaya back on the mound, but Detroit's medical personnel ruled out another shot because they don't like to give more than one every three months.

Zumaya hasn't warmed up for two consecutive games, and with Detroit holding a 3-0 lead he probably will be held out of action Saturday if any tenderness remains. He has been taking laser heat treatments.

--LF Craig Monroe played a key role in all three of the Tigers' runs in their 3-0 victory over Oakland.

Monroe's hit-and-run single after CF Curtis Granderson walked to start the first put runners at the corners and set up the first two runs the Tigers scored -- one on a single and the other on a forceout at second.

Monroe then turned on a low fastball to lead off the fifth and drove it over the fence for his fourth home run of the postseason. It was the kind of pitch Monroe likes to hit.

He hasn't been red hot at the plate in the postseason, but his hits generally have been important ones.

--DH Omar Infante was another good lineup choice by manager Jim Leyland on Friday.

Leyland inserted Infante as his starting designated hitter, and while he didn't figure in the scoring, he walked and singled up the middle in his first two times at bat.

"I think it's a matter of having confidence in all your players," Leyland said. "And I think there's a little luck that goes along with it."

Infante hit nearly .300 while getting the bulk of the playing time when 2B Placido Polanco was out five weeks with a left shoulder separation. He did a good job as a part-time player for Detroit this season.

Infante batted only twice before being replaced by a pinch-hitter. He showed patience and discipline in both trips to the plate.

--2B Placido Polanco looks as if he'll be hitting third until or if 1B Sean Casey comes back.

Polanco entered Friday night's game 4-for-4 lifetime off Oakland RHP Rich Harden and got a single and a double his first two times up. He lined out to third his last time at bat against the Athletics' starter.

His only bad turn at bat was his last, and even that wasn't all that bad. Polanco bunted with runners on first and second in the seventh, but the lead runner was called out at third on the play, which came on a good effort by RHP Kiko Calero.

--RHP Fernando Rodney served as the bridge between LHP Kenny Rogers and RHP Todd Jones, the closer, Friday in the absence of RHP Joel Zumaya.

Rodney was brought in to get the final two outs of the eighth inning and did so by getting a double-play grounder. Jones finished the game.

Rodney has worked 3 2/3 innings, pitching all three games against Oakland without allowing a run. Walks bothered him at times during the regular season, but he has walked only one A's batter.

He's mixed up his fastball and changeup, using one more than the other even on a batter-to-batter basis, and this has helped Rodney keep Oakland hitters off balance.

--RHP Todd Jones earned his second save Friday against Oakland, pitching a perfect ninth to preserve Detroit's 3-0 win.

Jones has appeared in all three games but wasn't eligible for a save in the 5-1 opening-game win.

He has thrown strikes, especially first-pitch strikes, on a consistent basis, and that has allowed him to spot his fastball and use his breaking balls to get hitters out.

--CF Curtis Granderson, the American League strikeout leader during the regular season, must have been kidnapped by Jack Sparrow sometime before the start of postseason play.

Granderson has fanned just twice now in seven playoff contests, and Friday he drew three walks in an 0-for-1 game.

He's taking more controlled swings with two strikes and is focused in on what he has to do in each at-bat, which suggests that next season his strikeout total is going to be dramatically reduced. He has reached base 12 times in the postseason.

--SS Ramon Santiago was the choice over INF Neifi Perez to play shortstop Friday while regular SS Carlos Guillen played first base.

Santiago walked his first time to bat -- equaling his regular-season total -- and went to 3-2 counts his first three times up.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Number of lineup positions manager Jim Leyland changed for Game 3 of the ALCS after his team won the first two games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's a matter of having confidence in all your players. And I think there's a little luck that goes along with it." -- Manager Jim Leyland on his frequent lineup changes

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