- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 22, 2006

DETROIT — There was a time, not long ago really, when the Detroit Tigers fully expected Jeff Weaver to be their Game 1 starter if they ever made it to the World Series.

And sure enough, with the Tigers at long last returning to the Fall Classic last night after a 22-year layoff, Weaver was in the building … in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.

“It’s kind of surreal,” said Weaver, who will face his old team tonight in Game 2. “But at the same time, [it’s] very exciting and [I’m] looking forward to it.”

It has been four years since the Tigers (at the time floundering at the bottom of the American League Central division) dealt the promising Weaver to the Yankees. Overwhelmed by his experience in New York, he wound up in Los Angeles and now finds himself a key cog in the Cardinals’ playoff rotation.

He has been instrumental in helping St. Louis win the National League pennant, going 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA in three starts this month, and he has earned the respect of his new teammates.

His old teammates? That’s apparently another story. Tigers closer Todd Jones, who spent the 1999-2001 seasons in Detroit with Weaver, didn’t exactly speak highly of him Friday.

“I am the wrong guy to ask about Jeff Weaver,” the well-liked Jones told the Detroit News. “I am not a big advocate of his, and I wasn’t a big advocate of his when he was here. … He was a good pitcher who never really panned out here. Maybe he found a home in St. Louis, but there’s no love lost here that he’s gone.”

Informed of Jones’ comments yesterday, Weaver took the high road.

“Todd Jones is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever run across,” Weaver said. “If he’s got unkind words for me, I don’t know what they’re stemming from. … I’ve got nothing but good things to say about him.”

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was less forgiving.

“I respect what [Jones] has done for the Tigers,” La Russa said. “But I was disappointed, because to me, comments like those should be addressed privately among teammates or ex-teammates. To air them publicly, I thought, was a disappointment.”

Rogers redeems self

There’s no questioning how the Tigers feel about Weaver’s opponent tonight. Kenny Rogers has been a godsend to Detroit — the most dominant pitcher this postseason.

Rogers, who turns 42 next month, hasn’t given up a run in two playoff starts totaling 15 innings. And he has shown a world of emotion along the way, feeding off the rabid fans at Comerica Park.

“The adrenaline level was there,” said Rogers, who hasn’t usually been known as an animated pitcher on the mound. “For whatever reasons, I used it instead of trying to suppress it and control. I just used it to help me. And I think I benefit from it, without a doubt.”

Tigers manager Jim Leyland noticed how Rogers reacted to the home crowd, so he set up his rotation to have the left-hander pitch Games 2 and 6, both at Comerica.

Tonight’s game does present a new challenge for Rogers, though. In his 18-year career, he has made only one previous World Series start. And that’s one he would like to forget.

Pitching for the Yankees in the 1996 series against the Atlanta Braves, Rogers was tagged for five runs in only two innings. The failed outing has haunted him in the decade since, but Rogers said he’s a stronger man now for having gone through his struggles both on and off the field.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “Failure is part of this game. You can’t escape it. If you try, it’s going to find you, more than your share sometimes. And I’ve had mine. Going through all that, without a doubt, makes all of this more rewarding in a lot of ways.”

Extra bases

Sean Casey returned to the Tigers’ starting lineup last night after missing the final three games of the ALCS with a strained left calf. Casey served as Leyland’s designated hitter, but the manager said he’ll likely play first base once the series shifts to St. Louis on Tuesday. Carlos Guillen, regularly a shortstop, again started at first base in place of Casey last night. …

So Taguchi, who had been 4-for-4 with two homers and a double in the postseason, finally cracked the Cardinals’ lineup last night. La Russa started him in left field and had him batting ninth, with rookie Chris Duncan serving as DH.

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