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10/02/06 7:00 PM ET

Tigers allow loss to run its course

Inge accepts underdog role before set with favored Yankees

NEW YORK -- One can't forget the past when it's still the present.

So although Brandon Inge would have liked to shrug off Sunday's heart-wrenching, division-lead-squandering loss to the Royals in the immediate aftermath of the game, he simply couldn't.

"I don't care what people say, if they say I can't shrug things off or whatever," Inge said on Monday. "I need to feel that for a little bit. I want to take it home with me and think about it, so we don't make the same mistakes we made before."

Inge and the Tigers didn't take it home, in this particular case; they took it on the road to New York. It was a long, quiet bus ride from Comerica Park to the airport.

But now that they're here, it's time to, as some New Yorkers might say, "fugghettaboutit."

There is, after all, a postseason series to be played. And although it might begin on the road against the Yankees, as opposed to at home against the A's, the Tigers still considered themselves to be in a better position than the 22 teams who didn't reach this stage.

"Everybody thinks that we blew the division," manager Jim Leyland said. "I guess if you want to look at it that way, you can. I look at it like we're a team that won 71 games a year ago and won 95 this year, and we're in the playoffs. We're going forward, and we are here to play."

So they'll play on the road, where they've had, believe it or not, more success (49-32) than they have at home (46-35) this year.

And they'll be billed as Wild Card winners, not division champs.

Rookie right-hander Justin Verlander took note of this as he looked down at the words "Wild Card" plastered across his workout shirt on Monday.

"I'd much rather it be a shirt that says 'Champions,'" Verlander admitted. "But we're in the playoffs. It's all about getting here."

The question now, however, is whether the gut-punch of the past weekend will linger like a bad hangover for this club.

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"Those games took 15 years off my life," first baseman Sean Casey said. "There was so much drama. You couldn't script that."

Few prognosticators appear to be scripting a Tigers victory in the Division Series. They point to the Tigers' 36-38 second-half record, the five-game losing streak to finish the regular season and the sheer disappointment of what transpired on Sunday as reasons the Yankees will roll all over the boys from Motown.

Bring on the negativity, Inge said. He eats up every bit of it.

"I like this situation better," Inge said. "I really, honestly, prefer being the underdog. That's the way it's been my entire life."

The Tigers had been ahead in the AL Central so long that they forgot what it's like to be the pursuer, rather than the pursued.

And when the season came down to one last weekend and an even tie with the Twins, the Tigers tightened up. With one eye on the game and another on the out-of-town scoreboard, Detroit was blindsided by a Kansas City team playing free of pressure.

Now, there are no scenarios to ponder, no other games to watch. The Tigers have a best-of-five series ahead, and that's all that matters.

"Everything's cut-and-dried right now," Inge said. "All we need to do now is focus on what we do on the field."

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