Sexy matchup on the mound for Yankees, Tigers


Sexy matchup on the mound for Yankees, Tigers

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- The New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers are set to open the playoffs the same way they began the regular season: Justin Verlander vs. CC Sabathia. Game 1 of the AL division series offers about as good a postseason pitching matchup as you can get. "It's funny. The season has kind of gone full circle," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We started in March with Verlander and CC opening day and now the playoffs. It should be fun." Verlander, who went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, looms as one of the biggest first-round obstacles for the Yankees. Of course, the Yankees have an ace of their own in Sabathia, who goes against a Tigers lineup that carried Detroit to a 30-9 finish. The Yankees have been coasting since wrapping up the AL East. The last time these teams met in the playoffs -- the 2006 division series, which Detroit won 3-1 on its way to an AL pennant -- it was the Tigers who came in cold after losing their last five. This year, The Yankees finished by being swept in Tampa Bay and losing their last four. "A whole new season starts tomorrow for everybody," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. No more setting up rotations, no more bench players starting and no more protecting key relievers -- as Yankees manager Joe Girardi did by not using Mariano Rivera, David Robertson or Rafael Soriano against the Rays. Everything counts now. But first, maybe a little sleep would be good. The Yankees flew back from Tampa Bay after playing 12 innings in the regular season finale, a game the Rays won on Evan Longoria's homer that put them in the playoffs as the AL wild card. The Yankees watched the drama unfold and flew home for an all-too-early workout. "Man, I got home at 4:30. I don't even know what I'm saying right now," a bleary-eyed Derek Jeter said. "It's not fun yet." It should be soon enough with Sabathia and Verlander going up against two loaded lineups. "Hopefully, it's a good one," Sabathia said. "We've faced off a lot, me playing in that division for a long time. He's had one of the best seasons for a pitcher ever, I think." In Game 2, it's New York's Ivan Nova vs. Doug Fister, with Detroit's Max Scherzer and Freddy Garcia slated for Game 3. If there's a fourth game, Girardi plans to bring back Sabathia on short rest. Leyland has said he won't pitch Verlander on short rest in the first round, even if Detroit is facing elimination in Game 4. While most of the attention has been on Verlander, a near lock for the AL Cy Young and a strong candidate to be the first starting pitcher to win the AL MVP since Roger Clemens in 1986, Fister has been even better since the Tigers traded for him in July. Fister is 7-0 with a 0.65 ERA in his last eight outings. Fister, picked up in a six-player deal with Seattle on July 30, has gone 20 innings without walking a batter. He and Verlander are a combined 14-0 with a 1.61 ERA in 16 appearances since Aug. 16. Of course, Verlander has been doing it all year -- he's 22-2 since throwing a no-hitter against Toronto on May 7. "There's not really a chance to sit back and kind of let it soak in," Verlander said. "Once the last pitch is thrown -- hopefully, after we have won a World Series -- I can sit down and look back and enjoy it. For right now, I'm focused on Game 1." The Tigers also have some pop in their lineup. While not as daunting top to bottom in the order as New York, Detroit features AL batting champion Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta. And catcher Alex Avila has been a revelation, with 19 homers and a .295 average. The Yankees, of course, have Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Teixeira slugging away at the heart of their order. A-Rod will hit behind Cano in the postseason, swapping their usual order from the regular season. And then there's former Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson, who had a career year with 41 homers. "I've seen his numbers, and they're amazing," Verlander said. Not that it will matter Friday night, when everyone's stats are reset to zero and what happens from then on is all that counts. It's almost here. "I'm not excited yet," Jeter said. "The excitement starts tomorrow."

Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?


Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?

BRIGHTON, MASS -- It didn’t take last season’s embarrassing Winter Classic result to figure out something has been missing from the storied, legendary Bruins-Canadiens rivalry over the last few years.

The last traces of the latest, great incarnation of the B’s-Habs rivalry were clearly still there a couple of seasons ago when the two hockey clubs met in the second round of the playoffs. After falling short the last few times the teams met in the postseason, Boston was summarily dismissed by Montreal in Game 7 on their own home ice during that series. The following season the B’s simply had so many of their own players struggling to put out a consistent effort, so the games against the Habs didn’t really register highly on the importance scale, and last season both Boston and Montreal suffered through subpar seasons that saw them each fall short of the playoffs.

Since the second round loss to the Habs in the 2013-14 playoffs, the Bruins are 2-7 while being outscored by a 31-18 margin in nine regular season meetings over the last two seasons in an incredibly one-sided chapter in the two teams’ shared history. The real lack of competitiveness has been a noticeable lack of deep emotion or ill will on the ice between the two hockey clubs, and that is very different from the recent past when signature players like Milan Lucic, P.K. Subban and Shawn Thornton were card-carrying members of healthy hate that regularly spilled out on the ice between the two rival NHL organizations.

Instead it will probably be new blood that breathes glorious, hard-edged life into the history between the two Original Six teams, and new personalities like David Backes, Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw are likely to do just that. Certainly the Canadiens wanted to be much more difficult to play against in recruiting players like Shaw and Weber, and, their presence along with the offensively explosive Alex Radulov, could make it a tough matchup for the Black and Gold.

Either way, the Bruins are curious to see what the matchup looks like this season with the electric P.K. Subban removed from the mix as one of the classic Habs villain-type characters from a Boston perspective.

“It’s always fun to play Montreal at home, or in Montreal. This will be our second time counting the preseason, and our first time at the Garden. It’s going to be pretty cool,” said David Krejci. “When you say any NHL team there are a few names that pop out for that team, and [P.K. Subban] was definitely one of them [for Montreal]. But P.K. is gone, and now it’s Shea Weber. So it’s going to be a little different, but he’s a hell of a player as well so it isn’t going to be any easier.

“It’s a big game. It’s a division game. We don’t want to take any game lightly within the 82 games because you don’t know what can happen at the end. When those games against [Montreal] are done you always feel like you’ve played two games, and not just one. It’s high intensity, and it’s obviously a rivalry that you get up for.”

As Bruins head coach Claude Julien would say it, things are a bit too civilized between the two enemy teams when thinking back to the days of Georges Laraque chasing Milan Lucic around the ice challenging him a fight on the Bell Centre ice, or the awful epoch in B’s-Habs history when Zdeno Chara clobbered Max Pacioretty with a dangerous, injury-inducing hit into the stanchion area.

Nobody is looking for players to get hurt on borderline plays when the two teams suit up on Saturday night, but something to introduce a new chapter into the Boston-Montreal rivalry would be a good thing for both teams, a good thing for the fans and a potentially great thing for an NHL that prides itself on good, old-fashioned rivalries.

“We need to make sure that we’re ready to play [on Saturday]. I like the way that we’ve played so far, and except for Toronto we’ve managed to compete with all of the teams that we’ve played against,” said Julien. “I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way, but I’m going to use the word that [the rivalry] has been more civilized for the last few years. There hasn’t been as much of the sideshow as there has been [in the past].

“I think there’s still a lot of hatred between the two organizations when they meet, but I think the way the game is trending, and how costly that penalties can be in a game, both teams are a little cautious in that way. I still think there is great intensity and both teams get up for the games, so hopefully that happens tomorrow, and the fans get to see a good game.”

One thing that should ensure a good, familiar showdown with plenty of hard-hitting and honest-to-goodness rivalry-like behavior: both the Canadiens and Bruins are off to strong starts at the top of the Atlantic Division in the first couple of weeks this season, and there are some new faces that are undoubtedly going to want to announce their presence for these Bruins-Habs tilts with authority.

Let’s hope this happens because last season’s Bruins-Habs games needed a pair of jumper cables and 1.21 jigowatts of electricity to shock them back into their elevated level of intensity, and that’s when hockey is served best after all.