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Squandered chances set Tigers' tone

Squandered chances set Tigers' tone

NEW YORK -- The Tigers were seeking an early statement on Tuesday night -- a definitive notice to the Yankees that they were nursing no hangover from the disappointment of the lost division crown.

Manager Jim Leyland wanted to make such a statement on the basepaths: Get guys on, get guys running and get guys home.

Oh, if only things had worked out that way for Detroit in Tuesday's 8-4 ALDS Game 1 loss at Yankee Stadium.

The Tigers got the first part of the equation right in the early going. But they ran themselves out of a potential big second inning, grounded their way out of the third and whiffed their way out of the fourth.

Had those innings gone more to plan, the Tigers might not have been in as much trouble as they were when the Yankees strung together a five-run third off Nate Robertson.

"We've got to learn to get those guys in," Curtis Granderson said. "We had opportunities early, but we weren't able to capitalize on them."

Witness one particularly noteworthy play in the second, after Magglio Ordonez had led off with a double and Carlos Guillen had drawn a walk off Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang.

Ivan Rodriguez stepped to the plate and got the bunt signal, but Wang's first-pitch offering was a ball.

Now the Yankees' corner infielders were drawn in for the bunt, and Leyland decided to go for the throat with a hit-and-run play. With Wang prone to getting ground balls, it was Leyland's best effort to counteract any chance of a double-play ball.

But Wang wasn't having it. The right-hander threw a nasty sinker near Rodriguez's knee. With the runners going, Rodriguez made the best stab at the ball that he could to at least foul it off, but he couldn't get to it. Ordonez was easily gunned down at third by catcher Jorge Posada.

"We tried to move some runners, and it was the perfect situation for it," Leyland said of the play. "[Wang] threw probably the nastiest sinker that he threw all night."

Rodriguez seconded that notion.

"That ball was at the back of my knee," he said. "That's a tough pitch to hit. I did my best, but I just couldn't make contact."

The play took all the wind out of the Tigers' sails for that inning. Rodriguez went on to strike out and Craig Monroe grounded out to end it.

In the third, Marcus Thames led off with a double and Granderson singled with one out to put runners on the corners. This time, Wang did get the double play, with Placido Polanco hitting into it.

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And after the Yankees put together their big inning, the Tigers had a nice chance to retaliate a tad in the fourth, when Carlos Guillen doubled with two outs. But when Rodriguez struck out again, it was another opportunity gone awry.

"That's part of the game," Rodriguez said.

It's been an all-too-common part of the Tigers' game in recent days. In Sunday's heart-wrenching loss to the Royals, Detroit had three instances in which a runner was at third with less than two outs, and the club didn't get a run in any of them.

But the Tigers did take an important step in the right direction as this ballgame wore on, putting up three runs in the fifth and another in the seventh, on Granderson's solo shot.

"The guys were ready to play," Leyland said. "I felt good about the way we swung the bats. We kept battling back to get ourselves in the ballgame, and we did get back in it. We just didn't come up with a couple more big hits. But overall, I thought we swung the bats halfway decent."

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

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