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Game 1 can mean everything or little

Game 1 can mean everything or little

OAKLAND -- The overall pitching edge in the 2006 American League Championship belongs to the Detroit Tigers, who led the AL in team ERA.

But the Game 1 pitching edge in the American League Championship Series appears to go in the direction of the Oakland Athletics. Tuesday night at McAfee Coliseum they will have their ace, Barry Zito, on the mound. Zito's credentials were already impeccable and now he is coming off a truly impressive Division Series victory over Minnesota's Johan Santana.

Zito by now is an established postseason pitcher, with a 4-2 record and a 2.43 ERA in six October starts. Admittedly, these were all Division Series starts, but Zito has certainly done what was asked of him the majority of the time in the postseason.

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Detroit's Game 1 starter, Nate Robertson was the only starter to lose a game in the Division Series victory over the Yankees. The opener of the Division Series was Robertson's first postseason start.

By staying with the same rotation order --Robertson, Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland is essentially casting a vote of continued confidence in Robertson.

Monday, the workout day for the teams at McAfee Coliseum, Leyland tried to be as matter-of-fact as possible about his selection of Robertson as his Game 1 starter.

"Well, there really wasn't much decision on that one," Leyland said. "It's kind of Nate's turn, and Verlander followed and of course, Bondo just clinched it. Those are our four starters and that kind of falls into place. That's just the way we're going to do it."

And again later, Leyland spoke with assurance about Robertson. "He's an outstanding pitcher," Leyland said. "His record (13-13) as I said, prior to the Yankee series, it should be better than what it was. He was kind of, at times, our hard-luck guy.

"I have total confidence in Nate Robertson. He's one of our guys. That's what you do when you get to these things, you go with your guys. I'll say the same thing I said in New York. You don't all of a sudden get in the Championship Series and pull Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson out of your back pocket. It doesn't work that way."

Robertson suggested that, from the standpoint of experience, having one postseason start was considerably better than having no postseason starts.

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"A lot of people talked about our inexperience and getting out there for Game 1, that inexperience in itself," Robertson said. "I don't care if it's one game or 10 years' worth of playoffs, it's the experience that helps guys go out there and be in a little more of a comfort zone, being there before.

"Especially in the stage that we were in last week and where we're at right now, it's pretty exciting. The first one is always the biggest, and now it's the experience with that and taking it to [Tuesday night] is going to be big."

Game 1 can mean everything in a postseason series or very little. It meant a great deal in the A's Division Series when Zito beat Santana in Minnesota, where Santana was considered to be something very much like unbeatable. But it meant very little in the Tigers' Division Series when Robertson lost to the Yanks in the Bronx, because the Tigers came from behind to win Game 2 and never looked back.

In this opening matchup of lefties, Zito winning would be seen as the usual order of things. Robertson winning would mean a double victory for the Tigers, beating the Athletics' ace and winning on the road, to boot.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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