Robertson's head cool before tall task

Robertson keeps cool head as tall task awaits

NEW YORK -- Maybe Yankees manager Joe Torre put deep thought and concentration into formulating his lineup for Tuesday night's Game 1 of the American League Division Series, and maybe he didn't.

But whatever work Torre did put into that process was quickly trivialized by Tigers starter Nate Robertson -- a man who knows better than to think that a roster full of All-Stars leads to many difficult decisions.

"It's real tough choices over there in that lineup," said Robertston with a smirk, "when you're replacing guys that can hit the ball out of the park with guys that already do."

Robertson has faced the Yankees twice this season, going 0-2 with a 4.60 ERA. His last start against them, here at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 30, saw Robertson limit the Yanks to a pair of runs on 10 hits in seven innings in a tough-luck loss.

But with New York's injury troubles a thing of the past, this will be Robertson's his first look at the "real thing," as it were.

So here they are, Nate: Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano.

Try to trim the fat off that lineup, and your knife will file for unemployment.

It is, to say the least, a formidable challenge for the 29-year-old Robertson in the first postseason start of his career.

"I have faced all of them at one point, so it's [about] having an idea of what I want to do and going out there with a game plan," Robertson said. "Ultimately, it's the execution, what I am trying to do, and I don't know exactly what lineup is going to be out there, but 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.'"

The left-handed Robertson's 13-13 record might not indicate it, but he's been getting the job done for the Tigers all year, which is why manager Jim Leyland has no qualms about handing him the ball for Detroit's first postseason game in 19 years.

"We thought that was the best fit for this particular game," Leyland said. "He pitched a decent game against [the Yankees] before, and he was our choice, and I live with that and I think it's a good choice. Nobody gets into the playoffs and then all of a sudden, you know, reaches in their back pocket and pulls out [Sandy] Koufax and [Don] Drysdale and Bob Gibson. Nate Robertson is a good pitcher, and he deserves to be out there [Tuesday] night."

While Leyland's choice might come as a surprise, it wasn't a surprise to Robertson. The Tigers had gone over all the possible playoff scenarios with their starting pitchers before the weekend's turmoil against the Royals, so Robertson knew what was ahead.

Now, he has to capitalize on the opportunity.

The Tigers hope they are riding a hot hand. Robertson didn't fare particularly well in his last start of the regular season -- a 7-4 loss to the Blue Jays in which he didn't make it out of the fifth inning -- but September might have been his best month of the year.

In five starts, he went 2-2 with a 2.76 ERA -- a reliable rotation presence for a team that sputtered in the final weeks.

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The Yankees certainly don't appear to be shrugging him off.

"[Robertson] doesn't get as much credit as he should, but he knows how to pitch," said Damon, who has a .471 (8-for-17) lifetime average against Robertson. "He's been doing it there for three or four years, so he's been pretty consistent over that time. We definitely still have our work cut out for us."

Then again, so does Robertson, who will get his first taste of October baseball in a venue and environment synonymous with the month.

"This is the first time not just for me, but for a lot of the other guys in that clubhouse," he said. "It's a challenge, but every day is a challenge in this league. It's not easy, as we saw this weekend."

But what of that meaty lineup? What of this vaunted ballpark? What of the butterflies and the drama and the postseason emotion Robertson is thrusting himself into?

That's got to count for something, right?

"There's nothing extra that I can do, Robertson said. "I'm not going to develop a split-finger in two days. I go out there with what I've got, I prepare with what I've got and go have fun with it. It's [about] going out there with your head held high and coming off that field with your head held high."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.