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10/20/06 12:45 AM ET

Tigers, Cardinals to meet in Fall Classic

Teams to clash for third time in World Series history

DETROIT -- Call this the rubber match. Or the friendly competition.

For the third time in history, the Tigers and Cardinals will be matching up in the World Series. Both previous matchups went seven games, with the Tigers pulling out the upset in 1968. The Cards would love to return the favor this time around. As unlikely as a distance run seems this time around, the two sides are familiar enough with each other to know it could happen.

"Whoever comes here tomorrow is going to be pumped up because they're the National League champions," Detroit manager Jim Leyland predicted Thursday morning. "They're in the World Series. And at this time of year, all teams go on adrenaline."

The Cardinals punched their ticket to the World Series on Thursday night, when Yadier Molina's ninth-inning homer pulled St. Louis ahead for a 3-1 victory over the Mets at Shea Stadium.

At least Leyland and the Tigers won't have to do a lot of scouting. If Leyland's previous six years as a scout for the Cardinals didn't give him enough background on his World Series opponent, or his close friendship with Cards manager Tony La Russa doesn't give him an idea about strategy, the three-game series they played in June should help, too.

Detroit swept that three-game set, the highlight of its remarkable run through Interleague Play. The Tigers aren't expecting it to be that easy this time around.

Leyland warned this week that if his club were to face the Cardinals, he wouldn't discuss his friendship with La Russa, who gave him his first chance with a big-league club when he plucked him from the Tigers' farm system to become his third-base coach with the White Sox in the early '80s. Yet the storyline will be too big to contain.

They've talked over the phone on nearly a daily basis throughout the year since Leyland returned to managing. Now, one of them will join Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson as the only managers to win World Series titles in both leagues.

Even if the focus was solely on the players, the plot lines are plentiful. Former Cardinal Placido Polanco is a close friend of slugger Albert Pujols, the godfather of Polanco's child. Jeff Weaver will likely start for the Cardinals in one of the first two games at Comerica Park, giving the former Tigers ace a chance to return to Detroit on the game's greatest stage.

The Tigers, for their part, are just happy to know who they're facing, let alone be familiar with them. For the last five days, they have been going on blind anticipation -- not knowing who they would face in the World Series, but knowing the Fall Classic would open in Detroit. Now that the opponent is set, they can start settling their plans.

Though the Cardinals have struggled in the postseason against southpaws, they don't have the same season-long weakness against left-handed pitching that the Mets carried, and they'll likely face a lefty to start the series. Leyland said Thursday that his pitchers have been notified of when they'd be starting in either scenario.

That rotation hasn't been announced, but the most likely candidate to start Game 1 Saturday would appear to be Nate Robertson, one of the toughest pitchers in baseball against lefties this year but also one of the most aggressive pitchers on the staff. The difference between this and his previous openers would be that he would start at home, where he allowed a lower batting average but a higher ERA during the regular season.

Meanwhile, the postseason roster is expected to stay the same, including two left-handed relievers but with 21-year-old Andrew Miller left off the roster. With Sean Casey steadily working his way back to action and the possibility of playing at designated hitter for two games, it's unlikely Leyland would swap out Chris Shelton for Ramon Santiago on the bench.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.