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Result aside, Game 2 big on respect

Result aside, Game 2 big on respect

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NEW YORK -- The Division Series Without Villains will continue on Thursday afternoon, weather permitting, at Yankee Stadium, with Game 2 between the New York Yankees and the Detroit Tigers.

Despite a lack of severe rain early in the evening, the forecast called for heavier rain in two bands of storms later in the evening, forcing Wednesday's game to be postponed. The postponement didn't sit well with those of us too impatient to watch this series unfold, but the professionals involved took this development in stride.

"It was Major League Baseball's decision, but if it was my decision, I would have made the same decision," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said of the postponement. "I think it was the right decision, without question."

Yankees starter Mike Mussina had his Game 2 start pushed back by the postponement, but he did not seem particularly put off by this development. "It rains all the time when I pitch," Mussina said. "This is not that big of a deal."

The notion that the Yankees' momentum after a Game 1 victory would be -- you'll pardon the expression -- dampened by the postponement also had very little traction. "Momentum is a good as your next day's pitcher," Derek Jeter said. "So it doesn't make a difference.

With any luck, less moist conditions will prevail on Thursday, and those watching the game will be able to see a wonderful contrast in pitching styles between the veteran master of guile and craft, Mussina, and a talented young flamethrower, Justin Verlander, for the Tigers.

This is a series in which the Yankees were heavily favored at the outset and became even more heavily favored with an 8-4 victory in Game 1. But more than that, this is a series in which the bad guys have not been identified, because there aren't any bad guys to identify. It is refreshing.

In the first place, the Tigers are not chumps, and they are not lambs being led to the slaughter. OK, they lost the last five games of the regular season and the American League Central title in the process. But they staged a 24-game improvement over the previous season, winning 95 games in the process, and they aren't playing baseball in October on some kind of pass.

"That team over there can hit," Jeter said of the Tigers. "Don't be surprised, because they have had a tremendous year. I think everybody has been talking about them struggling at the end of the season, but they know how to win."

Tigers manager Jim Leyland felt compelled to defend his club's presence in this series, and he did so with his typical wit and candor.

"I think a lot of people, for whatever reason, they have this as the Yankee varsity in a scrimmage vs. the freshman team," Leyland said. "I don't feel that way. One thing, I always let my feelings be known, so I'm going to tell all of you. Those that said we lucked out and snuck in, I totally disagree with that. We won more games than only three other teams in baseball -- that's pretty good. I don't think we have to apologize for being here. Like I said, we won more games than any team in baseball and two less games than the New York Yankees. That's not bad."

No, that is not bad. For the Tigers to win to get back into this series, they're going to need some truly superior pitching performances. That would be the only way to contain the imposing Yankees lineup. But it's not as though they haven't had plenty of those. They led the AL in team ERA. Young Mr. Verlander, for instance, was 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA. The Yankees might beat him. The Yankees might sweep. But that still wouldn't prove that the Tigers were unworthy of the postseason.

On the other side of the no-villains issue, nobody in this series is calling the Yankees "the Evil Empire." And that is really refreshing. In fact, when it comes to the Yankees, the Tigers pitchers all speak of how difficult the New York lineup is. And Leyland goes well beyond that in his assessment of his Division Series opposition. Asked if there was any extra motivation in playing the Yankees, Leyland responded:

"I'm a Yankee fan, and that sounds corny and I want to explain that real quick. You almost wish going into a playoff game that you had something against the team, that you didn't like their players, that you had some extra motivation, but you don't.

"How can you not like Derek Jeter? They never show anybody up, they play the game right -- I respect what they have done. You almost wish that you had an axe to grind with them, but you don't.

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"I almost wish they would have thrown at somebody during the season or hot-dogged, but they don't do that. Their manager is a close friend of mine, he's a gentleman, an outstanding manager and there's no motivation there. I wish I could dig something up, but I can't. And that is something that worries me a bit, and I talk to the team about that.

"I wish we had some extra motivation to hate the Yankees, but we don't. We respect them and we like them."

So what you have here is postseason baseball without the undercurrent of anger, real or imagined, that sometimes confronts the Yankees in games against certain other opponents. This is postseason baseball stripped of hype and hostility. It is simply the Tigers and the Yankees, mutual respect fully on display. May the best team win.

Thus, the keys for Game 2 will not be who is more motivated by loathing or revenge or years of pent-up frustration. The keys will initially be whether Verlander can stop the Yankees and whether Mussina can stop the Tigers. And after that, if the game remains close, the keys will probably be which of the bullpens can shut the door on the other guys.

This may not be the greatest Division Series in the history of postseason play, although it might be something closer to that if the Tigers can get back to their pre-August level in a hurry. But at least there won't be anybody trying to turn it into a morality play.

In Game 2, see if somebody can turn this series around for keeps with a dominant pitching performance. But don't look for the bad guys, because they're not here.

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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