Mets, Tigers Advance in Playoffs; Padres Avoid Elimination

Mets 9, Dodgers 5

Shawn Green and the hitters started fast, Billy Wagner closed it out quickly, and now the New York Mets are headed to the NL championship series.

A dominant offense and reliable bullpen led the way as the Mets completed their first postseason sweep since 1969, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-5 in Game 3 Saturday night.

After rolling in the first round, the Mets will open the NLCS at Shea Stadium on Wednesday against the San Diego-St. Louis winner. The Cardinals lead 2-1 in that best-of-five series.

Green had three hits and two RBIs against his former team in a game decided by the bullpens after starters Steve Trachsel and Greg Maddux made early exits.

"The irony of this is crazy, to be celebrating in the visiting clubhouse," said Green, who played for the Dodgers from 2000-04 and was acquired by the Mets from Arizona on Aug. 22.

"It's a little weird, after doing this in '04 on the other side of the field. I was actually out there hoping that the last ball came to me, and it did. It feels incredible," he said.

For the Dodgers, it was a familiar ending. They are 1-12 in postseason games since 1988, when they beat the Mets in the NLCS and the Oakland Athletics in the World Series.

Jeff Kent had four hits, including a two-run homer, for Los Angeles.

"We just got outplayed — pitching, hitting, defense — but there's no sense in being specific," Kent said. "It doesn't really matter. We got beat by a team that was playing better baseball than us.

"We got, what, 16 hits and scored five runs? That's one you shake your head at and wonder why. They got two less hits than we did and scored almost twice as many runs."

The Mets, with manager Willie Randolph guided a roster assembled by general manager Omar Minaya, had the NL East championship virtually wrapped up by the All-Star break, and went on to win a league-high 97 games. But having to go without the injured Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez against the Dodgers seemed to make for a dicey proposition.

That turned out not to be the case because the Mets scored 19 runs in the three games, and their bullpen did its job. The relievers needed to come through — Mets starters pitched only 13 2-3 innings in the series.

Hardly a repeat from 1969, when the Tom Seaver-led Mets swept the best-of-five NLCS from Atlanta.

"When El Duque and Pedro went down, we bounced back," Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "I didn't get to pop the champagne here in 2004. I did in 2006. It's a happy day."

Lo Duca began his career with the Dodgers, but was traded to Florida midway through the 2004 season — two months before they won the NL West title. He joined the Mets this season.

While the Mets were breezing into this postseason, the streaky Dodgers won their last seven games of the regular season to earn the wild-card berth.

Perhaps they ran out of energy against New York. The Dodgers certainly ran themselves out of a chance in Game 1 when they had two runners tagged out at the plate on the same play.

Pedro Feliciano, the fourth of seven New York pitchers, earned the victory. He got just one out, but it was a big one, as he retired pinch-hitter Nomar Garciaparra on a grounder to the box with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth and the Mets trailing 5-4.

The Mets took a 7-5 lead in the sixth by scoring three runs off losing pitcher Jonathan Broxton on consecutive one-out RBI singles by Jose Reyes, Lo Duca and Carlos Beltran — all softly-hit balls that fell in front of charging outfielders.

Lo Duca blooped another run-scoring single off Brett Tomko in the eighth, and the Mets got their final run on third baseman Wilson Betemit's throwing error.

The Mets scored three times off Maddux in the first on consecutive two-out singles by Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Cliff Floyd and Green.

It could have been worse for the Dodgers, but Lo Duca, who drew a one-out walk, was thrown out trying to take third on Beltran's hit, and first baseman James Loney made a leaping catch of Jose Valentin's liner to end the inning.

The Mets got another run in the third on a two-out single by Floyd and an RBI double by Green — a ball that hit the top of the left-field fence over the leaping Marlon Anderson.

Loney, a rookie replacing the injured Garciaparra at first base, hit a two-run single in the fourth to chase Trachsel.

Darren Oliver, who relieved with one out and the tying runs in scoring position, speared pinch-hitter Andre Ethier's liner and threw to third to complete an inning-ending double play.

The Dodgers took a 5-4 lead by scoring three runs in the fifth after Oliver retired the first two batters. Anderson singled and Kent followed with a two-run homer.

J.D. Drew singled to chase Oliver, Russell Martin singled off Chad Bradford, and Betemit walked to load the bases. Feliciano relieved and walked Loney to force home the tiebreaking run before retiring Garciaparra, who was limited to pinch-hitting duties after tearing his left quadriceps in Game 2.

"We've been doing that all year," Wright said of the Mets' success in rallying. "We're a resilient team. It seems when we get down, it pushes us, motivates us more to take the lead."

Kent's ground-rule double in the sixth put runners at second and third with two outs, but Guillermo Mota retired Drew on a fly to center. Mota, another former Dodger, worked two scoreless innings before Aaron Heilman and Wagner finished with one inning each.

Neither starter lasted long. Trachsel, making his postseason debut at age 35, allowed six hits and two runs in 3 1-3 innings.

The 40-year-old Maddux, a winner of 333 career games and making his 30th postseason start, gave up seven hits and four runs in four innings.

Tigers 8, Yankees 3

Three years ago, they lost 119 games and were a punchline. You know, the Detroit Tigers ... ha, ha, ha. Funny game, baseball.

The Tigers are the ones laughing loudest now — and dancing their way to the AL championship series.

And the New York Yankees? Well, they're the joke.

Jeremy Bonderman was perfect for five innings and sublime for 8 1-3 in leading Detroit to an 8-3 victory in Game 4 on Saturday to win the AL playoff series and eliminate A-Rod, Jeter and the other high-priced, high-profile Yankees.

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Days removed from being swept by Kansas City on the final weekend of the regular season, manager Jim Leyland and his band of wild-card Tigers clawed their way back from an 0-1 deficit to win a series many thought would be severely lopsided.

Those predictions were correct: The Yankees didn't have a chance.

These man-eating Tigers simply devoured the AL East champions, outplaying New York in every phase to advance to their first ALCS since 1987. On Tuesday, they'll play at Oakland in Game 1, the first postseason meeting between the clubs since 1972.

Bonderman allowed just five singles, walking off to a thunderous ovation with an 8-1. Reliever Jamie Walker gave up Jorge Posada's two-run homer.

Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe each homered off Jaret Wright as the Tigers built an 8-0 after six innings and coasted through the final three.

The Yankees are heading home — eliminated in the opening round for the second straight year — to face owner George Steinbrenner's wrath and what could be the coldest New York baseball winter in years. Steinbrenner may have big changes in store for his $200 million ballclub and galaxy of All-Stars, who haven't won a World Series since 2000.

One of his moves could be trading third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who capped another forgettable October by going 1-for-14 (.071) and failing to drive in a run for the second straight postseason.

Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield and Mike Mussina may also bolt the Bronx.

And, New York manager Joe Torre is sure to feel some extra heat from the demanding Boss. After all, the Yankees are just 3-10 in the postseason since 2004.

Blanked in Game 3 by Kenny Rogers, the Yankees and their reputed Murderer's Row didn't score off Bonderman until the seventh, snapping a scoreless streak of a season-high 20 2-3 innings. This from a team which scored 930 runs during the regular season but managed just 14 in the series, getting drubbed 14-3 in the final two games.

Feeding off a frenzied crowd, Bonderman retired the first 15 Yankees in order before Robinson Cano dribbled a single through the middle for New York's first hit. Bonderman, though, wasn't about to let a big lead slip away like he did last Sunday when the Royals overcame a 6-0 deficit to beat the Tigers, a loss that cost Detroit an AL Central title and home-field advantage in Round 1.

As it turns out, the Tigers didn't need any such luxuries.

Bonderman pitched in shadows for the first three innings as the October sun helped hide his fastball, and the approaching darkness only seemed to make the Yankees more impatient. The right-hander needed just 31 pitches to get through the first four innings.

In the fifth, Sheffield pulled an 0-1 pitch deep to left field that missed being a home run by a couple feet. Bonderman wasn't rattled and struck out New York's hardest swinger on the next pitch. After fanning Posada for the third out, Bonderman spun around and pumped his fist.

Desperate for a win, Torre dropped Rodriguez to eighth in the batting order. It was the first time he hit that low since May 7, 1996, when he was a 20-year-old shortstop for the Seattle Mariners.

Rodriguez may wish he was back in Washington state.

His demotion dominated the pregame buzz around the batting cage and it surprised Sheffield, who after learning he was back in the order and at first, didn't bother looking at the posted lineup in the clubhouse.

"Wow!" he said. "There's a first for everything."

And if things weren't bad enough for Rodriguez, the $25 million man's error in the third allowed the Tigers to open a 4-0 lead.

With two outs, Ordonez hit a routine grounder at Rodriguez, who didn't field it cleanly and then rushed his throw to first. Sheffield came off the bag but couldn't flag down Rodriguez's bullet.

Immediately, the "A-Rod" chants cascaded down on baseball's most critiqued player, who patted the infield dirt with his left cleat and twice removed his cap while waiting for the next pitch.

Carlos Guillen then dropped a single over Cano's head at second, sending Ordonez to third. And when Ivan Rodriguez followed with an RBI single to center, the Tigers were up by four and could start planning their trip to California.

Wright won three playoff games — two over the Yankees — as a 21-year-old rookie for Cleveland in 1997. But nearly a decade and a couple shoulder surgeries later, the right-hander couldn't get past the third.

He allowed three earned runs and five hits in 2 2-3 innings.

If the Yankees weren't already feeling the pressure, the Tigers tightened their noose around New York's necks by scoring three runs in their second at-bat.

Ordonez led off with a 422-foot shot to the deepest part of expansive Comerica Park, where doubles turn to triples and deep flys become easy outs. Ivan Rodriguez drew a one-out walk and Monroe, who hit two dramatic homers during the regular season, hit his second of these playoffs.

Waving orange towels that were handed out at the ballpark's gates, Tigers fans roared every chance they could. While Friday's crowd seemed skeptical about the home team's chances, this group came for a celebration.

They had wanted to party last Sunday, but Detroit's final-weekend flop against the Royals wrecked those plans. And when the Tigers lost Game 1 in New York, it seemed this feel-good ride through the summer of '06 was about over.

But the Tigers, who led the AL Central from May 15 until the final day of the regular season, got back into the series and eventually won it going away.

Notes: Rogers, as much as anyone can sympathize with Rodriguez's plight. "I've been there," said the left-hander, whose win in Game 3 was his first in 10 postseason outings. "I get criticized as much as anybody. ... If he's taking abuse for the whole team, I think that's unfair. But that's the way it is." ... Sheffield didn't sense the Yankees being tense. "I don't see it," he said. "We believe we can win." ... Former Tigers slugger Willie Horton threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Padres 3, Cardinals 1

Russell Branyan, Chris Young and Trevor Hoffman saved San Diego, stopping the St. Louis Cardinals from sweeping the Padres in the first round of the NL playoffs.

Branyan's two-run, fourth-inning double gave the NL West champions their first lead in three games, Young shut down the Cardinals' offense for 6 2-3 innings and Hoffman made it to the mound for the first time in the series, leading San Diego to a 3-1 victory Saturday that pulled the Padres to 2-1 in the best-of-five series.

St. Louis, which swept San Diego in the first round last season while never trailing, sends ace Chris Carpenter to the mound in Game 4 on Sunday, when the Padres will try to force the series back to San Diego for a fifth game Monday.

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San Diego was 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position in the series before Branyan's hit off loser Jeff Suppan put the Padres ahead 2-0. Geoff Blum followed with a sacrifice fly.

Young, a 6-foot-10 right-hander, was the NL's best road starter, going 6-0 with a 2.41 ERA. Making his first postseason appearance, the 27-year-old allowed four hits, walked two and struck out nine, fanning Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen twice each. He is 9-0 in 24 road outings dating to June 25, 2005.

Alan Embree finished the seventh, Scott Linebrink allowed an eighth-inning homer to pinch-hitter So Taguchi and Hoffman finished the five-hitter with a perfect ninth for his fourth postseason save.

Hoffman led the NL with 46 saves this season and set the career record with 482, passing Lee Smith. He pitched only one inning in last year's series against St. Louis.

San Diego won despite stranding 14 and going 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position, leaving the Padres at 1-for-25 in the series. San Diego scored one run in losing the first two games at home.

Pujols, who had five hits in the first two games, was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a double-play ball. The second strikeout came with runners on first and second for the second out in the sixth, and Jim Edmonds followed with a flyout to the wall in left.

Suppan escaped a second-and-third, no-outs jam in the first when Brian Giles hit a comebacker, Dave Roberts hit into a forceout at the plate and catcher Yadier Molina picked off Mike Piazza at first.

San Diego went ahead when Adrian Gonzalez singled with one out in the fifth, Mike Cameron walked and Branyan drove the ball into the right-field corner. Branyan took third on the throw, with second baseman Ronnie Belliard leaping and then stumbling to retrieve the off-line relay from right fielder Juan Encarnacion, and scored on Blum's fly.

Taguchi, who homered only twice in 316 at-bats during the regular season, homered leading off the eighth and Chris Duncan walked with one out. But with the crowd of 46,634 chanting "M-V-P!" Pujols grounded into a double play.

Notes: Dave Roberts, 7-for-11 against Suppan during the regular season in his career, singled in all three at-bats against him. ... Cardinals Hall of Fame SS Ozzie Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch. ... Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock, making his first appearance since a lower abdominal injury on Sept. 28, escaped a bases-loaded situation in the fifth to keep the deficit at 3-0.