The Tigers just took the first 2 games on Oakland’s turf. In the first game they won despite a pitching match-up that didn’t appear to tilt their way. In the 2nd game they did it with an unconventional lineup on a night when their starting pitching was merely average. And yet I’m still nervous.
It was only 2 weeks ago that the Tigers played a home weekend series against the worst team in the league needing merely 1 win. They couldn’t do it. Now the Tigers need 2 wins against a team that has proved to be very good, even if they haven’t shown it yet this series. Some people are saying that the Tigers learned from that series, and that it made them a better team. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but as fans it would be silly to forget what went down.
There’s no denying the Tigers are in the best position possible. They’re coming home for 3 games and the A’s needing to win 4 of the last 5 games to knock off the Tigers. They’re hitting well, playing solid defense, doing enough on the mound, and they have momentum. But this series is far from over. We’ve seen how tenuous even a sizable lead can be and how easily things can change. Last night the Tigers had a 3 run lead with 2 outs in the 9th inning having struck out 6 consecutive A’s batters. Five minutes later Todd Jones was throwing a belt high fastball to Frank Thomas with the bases loaded. Be happy, but remember that the Tigers have 2 more wins to go and I’m pretty sure the A’s aren’t just going to lay down.
Joel Zumaya’s absence was definitely conspicuous last night. We saw Grilli, we saw Ledezma, we saw Rodney. All were very good, but where was #54? It turns out that the forearm stiffness he experienced late in the season has crept back. Extent and timelines aren’t available yet. When he does pitch again, I’d be surprised if Leyland went multiple innings with him.
One thing that was not conspicuously absent last night was Sean Casey’s jersey which Fox repeatedly showed hanging in the dugout. I thought was a nice gesture by the team to kind of keep Casey’s spirit around while he was back in Detroit getting treatment. Only he wasn’t in Detroit. He was in the Coliseum. Why they just didn’t show Casey I can’t figure out. In any case he appears to be done for the season with an outside shot at the World Series should the Tigers be participating.
As for Craig Monroe who received some treatment on the field for what appeared to be his calf (what is it with calves in this series), I didn’t see any news this morning. Seeing that he stayed in the game, I’m guessing he’s fine.
And so Detroit returns to the cold confines of Comerica Park with a 2-0 lead in the ALCS. That’s not insurmountable in its own right. But right about now, it looks like the Tigers are not going let this series even get back to the west coast. I’m starting to get that team-of-destiny feeling. I keep trying to push it away for fear of disappointment. But it’s there. This is getting pretty fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like going down 2-0 at home. The A’s are now officially the underdogs in the series no matter how you slice it, having simply been outpitched, outhit, and outfielded in two home games, off to face their nemesis, Kenny Rogers, in less friendly confines.
But tonight’s game was a microcosm of why there is hope for the series as a whole. Tonight, the A’s looked like they were cooked only to rise up and get Milton Bradley to the plate representing the tying run, only to go a step further and get Frank Thomas to the plate representing the winning run. Perhaps the series will follow the same script and the A’s have some rising yet to do.
Perhaps I felt a sense of redemption, that even though the A’s were losing, they were going down fighting. Things have not gone the A’s way so far this series; the hits aren’t quite timely enough, the defense always seems just half an inch from making a play, and the starting pitchers have let them down. The A’s could have easily rolled over and let the Tigers just walk away with this game, but they slogged their way back into the game, with the help of some home runs by Eric Chavez and Milton Bradley.
It’s all working now, all the magical stuff and all the practical stuff, and even the bizarre stuff. Seriously. When a seldom-used hitter bounces off the bench to become the star of the game, the Tigers are living right and playing right, and looking more unbeatable by the inning.
The Tigers are very good, but they also understand the importance sometimes of being charmed. They won’t fight it. They’re perfectly content riding this wave of momentum until it throws them.
So now the A’s go east to either cheat fate or meet it face first. Teams don’t spot the other team two at home and hit the road thinking that it’s clear sailing and free beers all around. It is not accurate to say that the A’s are finished (Chavez said, “All that stuff is numbers and percentages, but it doesn’t mean anything until we’re eliminated”), but it is fair to say they can see “finished” from here. They have reached this point by being a radically different team than the one that got them here — they are the A’s of April trying to make October last a little longer than two or three days in Greektown.
The teams that move on at this time of year are the ones that show themselves best. Oakland is completely out of mulligans. Now it’s time to get it in gear or call it a year.
Detroit is in very good position to take control of this series when Kenny Rogers takes on Rich Harden in Detroit on Friday. Harden has awesome stuff—maybe better than Verlander—but he last pitched on Oct. 1, when he overthrew his fastball and left it up in the zone while struggling with his command. It’s not over for Oakland yet, but Detroit has thus far pitched better, hit better, and fielded better in the series.
That’s a long-winded way of saying that you won’t find many easy outs in the Detroit lineup. That’s why the Tigers in the 2006 postseason are averaging almost six runs per game. The rotation and bullpen have been solid since the calendar flipped to October, but mostly it’s because of the offense that the Tigers are two wins from their first World Series since 1984.
I said before the game that the lineup construction was absolutely awful and I was, of course, referring to Neifi Perez’s presence not only in the lineup, but in the ever-crucial #2 slot! Despite that horrendous error in judgement, the lineup worked, to the tune of eight runs as the Tigers leave the Bay Area with a 2-0 lead in the League Championship Series! One lineup adjustment that did favor the team was the insertion of Alexis Gomez. Gomez took home player of the game honors with a 2-for-4, 4 RBI performance that included a home run. Placido Polanco remained white hot with another three hits driving his postseason average to .440 (11-for-25).