DETROIT (AP) – The Detroit Tigers didn’t waste this homecoming, and Kenny Rogers made every pitch count.

In a ballpark normally locked up by October, the Tigers got 7 2-3 shutout innings from Rogers and outplayed New York in a 6-0 victory, pushing Detroit within one win of shocking the Yankees into an early winter.

The 41-year-old Rogers, one of the few Detroit staffers who doesn’t fire 100 mph fastballs, used every pitch in his personal stash to blank a revamped Yankees’ lineup for his first career postseason win.

As if conjuring the spirit of former Tigers phenom Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, Rogers spent much of the evening talking to himself on the mound. It was unusual behavior on a night when a full moon hung over the ballpark.

Rogers’ first win over the Yankees since 1993 came at the perfect time for the Tigers, who were playing their first postseason game in Comerica Park, the first playoff game in The Motor City since 1987.

Last weekend, the Tigers, baseball’s darlings during the regular season, had a chance to wrap up their first division title in 19 years and secure home-field advantage in the first round of the AL playoffs.

Instead, they flopped. Detroit got swept by Kansas City and in the process the Tigers gift wrapped the AL Central title for Minnesota and wound up as a wild card with a playoff appointment in New York.

Well, whatever magic dust that carried the Tigers through the regular season is blowing in the Michigan wind again.

Detroit, which left New York on Thursday with a split after rallying to win Game 2, scored three runs in the second inning off Randy Johnson and two more in the sixth. And, Rogers, whose career highlights include a perfect game in 1994 for Texas, made them stand up.

Showing more emotion than normal, Rogers confounded the Yankees with fastballs, sinkers, changeups and curves. The left-hander struck out eight – his most since June 13 – and walked two.

After striking out Bobby Abreu for the second out in the eighth, Rogers was lifted by manager Jim Leyland and received a long, loud ovation on his walk to the Tigers dugout. Joel Zumaya got one out and Todd Jones finished the combined five-hitter.

Sean Casey had two RBIs and Curtis Granderson hit a solo homer as the Tigers, who won just 43 games in 2003, moved within one win of taking a best-of-5 series few thought they had a chance in.

Jeremy Bonderman will start Game 4 on Saturday against New York’s Jaret Wright.

The Yankees’ offense sputtered again, and this time it wasn’t all superstar Alex Rodriguez’s fault.

A-Rod was still AWOL following an 0-for-3 performance that dropped him to 1-for-11 in the series. New York’s $25 million man is batting just .116 (5-for-43) in his last 12 postseason games and hasn’t drive in a run in his past 11.

Citing Bernie Williams’ stronger numbers – a .353 average with two homers – against Rogers, Yankees manager Joe Torre shook up baseball’s bash brothers from the Bronx by using the 38-year-old as his DH while resting first baseman Gary Sheffield.

Jason Giambi, New York’s DH in the first two games at Yankee Stadium, played first and Rodriguez, who was dropped to sixth in the lineup for Games 1 and 2, was back in the cleanup spot.

The shakeup didn’t stir a thing.

Williams went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, Giambi 0-for-3 with a K and Sheffield sat on the bench with a blue-hooded sweat shirt pulled up over his head. The Yankees, who haven’t scored in 14 innings, went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position after going 1-for-8 in Game 2.

Johnson required an epidural shot in his back a week ago to ease the pain from a herniated disc. On a chilly 50-degree night, the Tigers were the ones needling him with timely hits and aggressive baserunning.

The Big Unit allowed five runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings, dropping to 0-2 in the postseason since joining the Yankees. Not bad, but not enough to slow the Tigers.

From the moment beloved Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline threw a strike with the ceremonial first pitch, Detroit fans were rocking the way they used to in Octobers past at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, about one mile from the Tigers’ new home.

Manager Jim Leyland was concerned about his young club getting too caught up in the emotion of Detroit’s playoff return.

“You can lose your concentration if you’re not careful,” he warned before the game.

No to worry, Skip.

The Tigers, who have 18 players making their postseason debuts, were locked in. In the second, they strung together three straight singles off Johnson – the last by Sean Casey – for a 1-0 lead.

New York nearly got out of the inning when Johnson got Curtis Granderson to hit a grounder toward center. Second baseman Robinson Cano stopped it with a gorgeous backhand before flipping the ball to Derek Jeter for the force. However, the speedy Granderson beat out the return throw as Ivan Rodriguez scored.

That should have been it, but the Yankees blew a second shot at getting Granderson, who was caught leaning by Johnson. The left-hander didn’t bother freezing Granderson and Giambi had to stretch for his throw before the first baseman fired too high as Detroit’s left fielder swiped the base.

Placido Polanco followed with an RBI single, giving the Tigers a 3-0 lead and their fans more reason to party. The Tigers used a two-out rally to make it 5-0 in the sixth. Carlos Guillen singled with two outs and Ivan Rodriguez and Casey hit consecutive doubles.

Notes: The Four Tops performed the national anthem with one off-key moment. One of them wore a Pistons No. 3 jersey with Wallace on the back. Nice, but popular center Ben Wallace signed as a free agent with Chicago this summer. … It was the Tigers’ first postseason win at home since Oct. 10, 1987, 7-6 over the Twins. … Wright and Leyland last crossed paths in the postseason 1997. The right-hander started for Cleveland in Game 7 against Leyland’s Florida Marlins, who won their first title in extra innings. “He has my ring,” Wright said.

AP-ES-10-06-06 2319EDT


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