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It's all about the right moves

It's all about the right moves

DETROIT -- The first two games of the American League Championship Series couldn't have gone any better for the Tigers if it had been scripted in Olde English.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland has had the magic touch, while some of Oakland manager Ken Macha's moves have backfired or misfired and, as a result, the Tigers lead the best-of-seven series 2-0 with Game 3 set for Friday afternoon at 4:30 ET at Comerica Park.

Two of the more significant series-impacting decisions will play out in Game 3 when Leyland sends his lefty ace, Kenny Rogers, against the A's, while Macha plays his joker, hard-throwing Rich Harden.

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That both pitchers are starting this game was something of a surprise going into the ALCS. Many observers thought Leyland would send Rogers, who is 23-1 in his last 24 starts in Oakland, in Game 2 of the ALCS at McAfee Coliseum. But Leyland went with Nate Robertson and Justin Verlander in the first two games and was rewarded when both pitched well.

That decision proved to be shrewd now as Leyland has Rogers ready to go in Game 3, as well as a possible Game 7 in Oakland.

Macha raised eyebrows by going with Harden over Dan Haren after the latter pitched well in the American League Division Series against Minnesota. But Harden is something of a wild card; he has tremendous stuff and is capable of coming through with the type of huge performance that could change things around for the A's.

This much is certain: Harden is no stranger to pitching in frigid conditions like those predicted for Game 3. The native of Canada grew up in Calgary and Victoria, B.C., and has experience playing baseball in icy conditions. He also likes pitching in Comerica Park and has pitched well there for his career (2-0, 2.08 ERA).

For Macha, a strong outing from Harden could be the momentum-changer his club needs. But the right-hander is also something of a gamble, as he hasn't pitched much this season because of back and elbow injuries. He was pronounced ready after throwing in an Arizona instructional league stint.

"They felt he was pain-free, threw the ball free and easy [and he] breezed right through the first three innings," Macha said. "In the fourth inning, he gave up some hits and they got some runs, but it might have been just part of fatigue or whatever. [In the] first three innings, they said he was outstanding."


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Harden will need to be outstanding to keep the A's from falling into an even deeper hole in this series.

Some of Leyland's moves helped dig that hole, including starting Alexis Gomez at designated hitter instead of Marcus Thames in Game 2. The youngster with one career home run drove in four runs with two hits, including a home run, in Detroit's 8-5 victory on Wednesday.

Leyland has been quicker on the trigger than Macha thus far, and that has worked decidedly in Detroit's favor.

The Tigers skipper didn't hesitate to get his bullpen up when Robertson ran into potential trouble early in Game 1. Macha has been slower to pull his starters as both Barry Zito (Game 1) and Esteban Loaiza (Game 2) both allowed at least five runs before the fourth inning was over. Zito went 3 2/3 innings and Loaiza lasted six.

The pitching moves by the managers in the first two games haven't depleted either bullpen, although Detroit's Joel Zumaya and Oakland's Justin Duchscherer have had nagging injuries and may have limited availability for Game 3.

"If we can get five innings out of Rich, we've got some coverage out there ... and as I say, [Joe] Kennedy has done very well, as has [Chad] Gaudin and [Joe] Blanton," Macha said.

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Leyland has been making all the right moves and now his team has a chance to go up 3-0 in the series, if he can continue to make the right choices and the Tigers can get to Harden as they have against the other A's starters.

Or maybe more of Macha's moves will begin to pan out.

As Leyland explains, there's a lot of baseball left.

"I don't think anybody is smelling anything," Leyland said. "I think that's one reason we're doing OK. We've been able to keep everything in perspective, and we know that it's a long series, obviously, because of the seven games instead of the five [in the ALDS]. We've put ourselves in a decent position, but that's all we've done."

Jim Molony 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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