Game 1 starters take center stage
Wang, Robertson have big roles if not biggest names
NEW YORK -- Historically, the postseason is about pitching. If form holds, the opener of this 2006 American League Division series would then be about Nate Robertson and Chien-Ming Wang.
If the Detroit Tigers are to win this AL Division Series, they would have to do so with what was the strength of their team when their team was performing at its best -- pitching. The New York Yankees have one of the most imposing lineups in recent history, but still, the record says that even they cannot get by in October with mediocre pitching.
Robertson and Wang are not the biggest names on either staff, but they make perfect sense as Game 1 starters. Robertson had a 2.76 ERA in September and pitched well against the Yankees and he's a left-hander. Wang was the Yankees' biggest winner this season, with a record of 19-6 and 3.63 earned run average.
Robertson appeared composed, focused and resolute when he met the inquiring media Monday at Yankee Stadium. The Tigers are well aware of the task at hand and Robertson was neither understating nor overstating the case.
"It's real tough choices over there in that lineup when you are replacing guys that can hit the ball out of the park with guys that already do," Robertson said. "I have faced all of them at one point, so it's having an idea of what I want to do, and going out there with a game plan. Ultimately, it's the execution, what I am trying to do. It's respecting the guys that you've got to play against, but going in there with an attitude of 'I can get this job done.'
"Baseball, it's as simple as throwing the ball, catching the ball, hitting the ball. Then it's as tough as throwing the ball, catching the ball and hitting the ball. ... I prepare with what I've got. And go have fun with it. It's going out there with your head held high and coming off that field you're your head held high."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that Robertson was "the best fit for this particular case. ... Nate Robertson is a good pitcher, he deserves to be out there [Tuesday] night and he will be out there."
Robertson was 13-13 this season with a 3.84 ERA. It was his best year in the Majors and gave evidence of further success to come. The central question is whether this start will be part of that success.
On the Yankees side, when you think of this team in the postseason, you think of Jeter and Posada and Rivera -- players who have populated October after October for this team. And yet, they will be giving the ball to a pitcher with one prior postseason start.
But Wang's work this year merits this high-profile start. He has been dependable and durable. He throws a hard, heavy sinker and when his command is on, he capable of producing ground-ball outs seemingly at will.
"He can get double-play balls any time he wants," fellow starter Mike Mussina said on Monday. "He can give up a lot of hits, but at the end, he's only given up two runs.
"He doesn't strike out a lot of people, but he doesn't have to. He's got the ability to pitch. He's got an idea of how to pitch. And he throws a 95-mph sinker."
Wang, who is Taiwanese and does not speak much English, still met the media without an interpreter. This was to his credit.
When he was asked how he felt about getting the honor of starting Game 1 he said he was "very happy and proud. A lot of Taiwan people are watching."
Asked if he was nervous, Wang transcended the language barrier with this gem: "On the field, no. In here, yes."
The opening game can be an isolated event in a series or it can set a tone. Nate Robertson and Chien-Ming Wang have been given a considerable honor getting starts in this game, but they have also been handed a weighty responsibility. The one who better handles the spotlight, the pressure and the obligation can set his team on the road to victory.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.