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Saturday, October 6, 2012
Morning glory: Early wakeup for fans in Oakland

Associated Press

Game 2 of the division series between the Tigers and Athletics is Sunday at 12:07 p.m. Detroit time -- or 9:07 a.m. back in Oakland.

With a night game Saturday, it will be a quick turnaround for everyone.

"I think the postseason -- doesn't really matter -- you're going to be fired up for any game whatever time it's at," said left-hander Tommy Milone, the Game 2 starter for the A's. "Just go out there and pitch your game and take it from there."

Milone will try to reverse a trend from the regular season in which he pitched much better at home. Milone's ERA was 2.74 at Oakland and 4.83 on the road.

"We feel comfortable wherever he pitches," manager Bob Melvin said. "I think this ballpark is a lot like ours and it's fairly big -- use a big part of the ballpark and pretty deep to center field and the gaps here."

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FIRST PITCH: Alex Smith proved he's much better at throwing a football under pressure for the San Francisco 49ers than a baseball off a mound.

Smith got rewarded with the ceremonial first-pitch honor for his loyalty to the Giants and responded with a one-hop pitch in the dirt.

"I'm disgusted with myself," he said after the pitch. "Stick to throwing a football. It's so great to be out here. A huge honor, definitely. I'm humbled by it."

Smith was decked out in a Matt Cain Giants jersey and hat to throw out the first pitch before Game 1 of San Francisco's division series against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday night.

Smith said he hadn't thrown off a mound since he was about 10 years old and practiced a little bit this week but was saving his arm for his day job of quarterback of the 49ers. He got some tips from Hall of Famer Willie Mays, who visited Niners practice earlier this week, but his pitch from just in front of the rubber to Sergio Romo still didn't make it there on the fly.

"He was trying to give me help with my grip, how I should hold the ball," Smith said. "He's definitely not to blame. I should have listened."

The honor comes a few weeks after Smith revealed that the NFL had fined him $15,000 last season for wearing a Giants hat to a postgame news conference -- a penalty that was later revoked.

Shortly after that news came out, Giants manager Bruce Bochy wore a 49ers hat for his pregame media briefing and Giants infielder Ryan Theriot bought 49ers hats for all of his teammates.

"We certainly appreciate his support wearing a Giants hat," Bochy said. "That's why we wanted to reciprocate and wear a 49ers had and have some fun with it, and have him throw out the first pitch. This club has a lot of 49ers fans, especially when they're playing that day and it's going to be good to have him out there. We may take a look at him, too. He has a good arm."

Coach Jim Harbaugh gave Smith permission to leave the team hotel the night before a home game against the Buffalo Bills for the honor. He got a police escort to the stadium and went right back after the pregame ceremony.

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REDS SOLO CUP: Sitting on a table near the back of the visitor's clubhouse at AT&T Park is a 2-foot high gold and silver trophy cup -- a mini Stanley Cup of sorts that Cincinnati has used for motivation this season.

To capture the cup, the Reds have to win each individual series they play.

So far the idea has worked pretty well. Cincinnati won nine of its final 15 series to pull away and win the NL Central for the second time in three years.

"It's kind of a symbol of winning each series," Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "We carry it around with us, we drink out of it. It's just something to keep us loose. We haven't lost too many so it's been working for us and we're going to keep riding it."

The cup began showing up around midseason, though no one is quite certain who originally came up with the idea. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick gets the most credit, but all of Cincinnati's players take part in naming the trophy for every series. They called it the Cheddar Cup in Milwaukee and the Friar Cup in San Diego.

"It could be the Windy City Cup if you're in Chicago, it could be the Golden Gate Cup if you're out here (in San Francisco)," said pitcher Bronson Arroyo, the Reds' Game 2 starter. "We toss some ideas around and somebody sticks with one."

Cincinnati rode the cup to 29 series victories during the regular season. If the Reds can have similar success in the playoffs, they could end up with two more trophies.

For now, they're content sticking with the one they have.

"Baseball is such a long game, it's much easier to focus on the task at hand if you can take it in small snapshots of three games," Arroyo said. "We hope it doesn't die a first-rounder."

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MOTOWN MEMORIES: Melvin began his career with the Tigers, playing 41 games for them in 1985. That was his only season with Detroit, but the former catcher still has vivid memories of his first home game.

"There was a buzz at Tiger Stadium that was unlike no other and putting on the white uniform with the English D and walking into Tiger Stadium with the people right on top of you," Melvin said. "I remember Kirk Gibson got hit in the mouth by a pitch ... was bleeding all over the place. Stitched him up right there."

Melvin would end up playing with seven major league teams, including San Francisco, Baltimore, Kansas City, Boston, the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox.

This is his second postseason trip as a manager. He took Arizona to the NL championship series in 2007.

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DID IT RATE?: Major League Baseball's first wild-card, winner-take-all playoff games averaged a 3.7 overnight rating on TBS.

The St. Louis Cardinals' 6-3 win at Atlanta on Friday averaged a 3.3 overnight rating from the 56 metered markets and the Baltimore Orioles' 5-1 victory at Texas in the late game averaged a 4.1 overnight.

Last year, TBS and TNT averaged a 3.3 overnight rating and a 2.7 national rating for 19 division series games.

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PUMA CAGED: Lance Berkman looked out of place, wearing street clothes in the Cardinals clubhouse while uniformed teammates milled about on the eve of the NL division series opener.

It's something the player known as Big Puma has had to get used to this season after playing a key role on the World Series title team last year. The 36-year-old Berkman has been slowed by knee problems and is unlikely to see action no matter how far this year's team goes -- partly because of rust and partly because of Allen Craig's play at first base.

Berkman isn't ready to retire. The six-time All-Star hit .301 with 32 homers and 94 RBIs in 2011 but just .259 with two homers and seven RBIs in 81 at-bats this year.

"We'll see," Berkman said. "The knee will get back to 100 percent, it's just a matter of whether I want to keep going or not. That's a decision that's still in the future."

Factoring into the decision will be Berkman's desire to spend more time with his four daughters, the oldest of which is 11.

He's a career .296 hitter with six 100-RBI seasons and 360 home runs in 14 seasons, three of the last four shortened by injuries. He won't play just to improve his stats for Hall of Fame voters.

"If they want to see longevity, then no," Berkman said. "If they want to see a guy hang around till he's 40 just to pile up 400-some homers, then no. I project with anybody that's in our building, and in my mind I feel good about that. As far as what other people think, that's up to them."