Notes: Red-hot Tigers ready for cold
Leyland again shuffles lineup; Zumaya, Casey progressing
DETROIT -- Curtis Granderson looked at the temperature reading in his car Thursday night on his way back from a food run and had to do a double-take. It read 32 degrees.
Friday's game conditions at Comerica Park were better, but not by much. The reading was 42 degrees on his way to the park in the morning, but it didn't warm up any more by game time. As such, it was the lowest temperature for the start of a playoff game since Game 4 of the 1997 World Series in Cleveland, where Jim Leyland's Marlins and the Indians took the field to a first-pitch temperature of 38 degrees.
"I heard we might have snow flurries," Granderson said as he walked onto the field and looked around Friday afternoon. "I haven't seen that yet. I heard it's still to come. When the sun comes out, that could definitely help, but when the sun comes back and the wind comes out, it'll probably be where everyone's talking about."
In retrospect, the evening wasn't nearly as bad as expected. The temperature actually rose into the mid-40s as the game wore on.
The fact that the Tigers had a couple of days to prepare for Detroit's rare deep freeze reduced most of the shock value when they took the field for batting practice. Nearly all the players had knit caps on before the game instead of their usual BP caps, along with fleece instead of their regular tops. But they weren't complaining.
"It's mind over matter today," Monroe said. "It'll be a little cold, but we've got to play in it, they've got to play in it, and the fans have to sit and watch it. It'll be a fun time."
The big factor for which the teams had to prepare wasn't the cold, but the gusty winds blowing from right field towards left. Tigers outfielders have long since learned how to judge the breezes by reading certain flags rather than others. As Game 3 approached Friday, at least one was flapping straight out. Monroe said he might play deeper than normal for the first few innings until he could get a better read while hoping Kenny Rogers can produce a good share of ground balls.
Beyond that, the weather had an effect on pregame preparation. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said he wanted players to do some extra running and stretching to lessen the risk of pulling a muscle, especially for those dealing with minor aches and pains.
"The biggest thing is to make sure you take the extra time to warm up and stretch out," Rand said. "But one of the things I learned a long time ago is that in April and May, the cold affects you more than it does at this time. The games are so big here, that from a mental perspective, it's much easier for guys. Guys are so locked into playing."
The cold, as well as the risk of precipitation Granderson mentioned, was among the reasons the Tigers went along with Major League Baseball's decision to shift the start time from evening to late afternoon.
"You try to make the best of the situation," Commissioner Bud Selig said before the game. "You know it's going to be cold here, but would you rather start at 4:30 in the afternoon and go to 8:15, or start at 8:30 or go to midnight? The answer is obvious. And we had a situation in New York where it would rain during the day but get better as the day went on there.
"So what I did yesterday morning after a sleepless night worrying about how to do it was I called everybody and said, 'Let's do what makes the most common sense.'"
Lineup matters: Alexis Gomez went from one game's hero back to the bench the next.
Part of Jim Leyland's strategy in the regular season was to try to make every player on the roster feel involved in the team's success. He'd give starts to role players in big situations and bat them in prime spots in the lineup on rare occasions. That wasn't his intention in the playoffs, but it's working nonetheless.
One game after Gomez had a home run and four RBIs, he was back in his usual spot on the Tigers bench. Yet the Tigers lineup still had a twist. Instead of returning Marcus Thames to designated hitter, Leyland took a chance on Omar Infante -- not at shortstop, but at DH. Ramon Santiago started at short over Neifi Perez.
After using just two lineups over four games in the Division Series, Leyland has used a different lineup each game in the ALCS, thanks in part to losing Sean Casey. The only position player who hasn't yet seen action this series is backup catcher Vance Wilson.
"It's good," Infante said before the game. "The manager's always looking for something different. One game I'm at DH, one day Gomez DH's. Today, Ramon plays short. So it keeps everybody in the game."
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Leyland admitted he had the bench in mind in his decision to sit Gomez. By not starting him, Gomez was available in the eighth inning to single as a pinch-hitter for Santiago against Kiko Calero, one of the many right-handers in Oakland's bullpen. The only lefty reliever for the A's, Joe Kennedy, was already out of the game.
Injury updates: As expected, Leyland said he was going to avoid using Joel Zumaya on Friday. However, he was progressed significantly from a day earlier, and the inflammation in his right wrist was subsiding.
"It was a lot better than yesterday," Zumaya said after the game. "Yesterday it was by far the same as it was in Detroit [when he had the same injury last month]. I had no strength in my wrist and no strength running through my fingers. When you have that, it's not a good sign. But I came in today, I'm on some medication, and I felt about 50 times better."
The hope for now is that Zumaya will be available for Game 4 on Saturday. The greater hope for the Tigers, of course, would be to win comfortably without him and let him rest for another week.
Meanwhile, Casey began doing weight-bearing exercises Friday for the first time since tearing tissue around his left calf on Tuesday in Oakland. He began moving around in a pool and doing some exercise-bike work. That keeps him on schedule after two days of treatment, though the Tigers have no firm timetable on his return.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.