Tigers 5, Athletics 4 (box score)
For as much as Game 1 went according to script – Justin Verlander mowed down A’s hitters through seven strong innings – Game 2 was filled with the whacky oddities that make baseball so unpredictable.
Doug Fister did his part – he went seven innings with eight strikeouts and two runs allowed – but the bullpen didn’t help him out – Joaquin Benoit gave up a go-ahead two-run home run to Josh Reddick in the top of the eighth inning.
Jim Leyland has to be in a tough spot with respect to Benoit. He was probably the Tigers’ most reliable relief pitcher if you consider the season as a whole, but he’s been extremely homer prone lately – nearly giving up a game tying two-run home run in Saturdays game (Andy Dirks caught it with his back up against the fence) – and actually giving up a big home run Sunday. One would think that Leyland would think long and hard about using him in that spot the next time, but the alternatives are not altogether inspiring. Octavio Dotel has the late-inning pedigree, but his splits suggests he too much of a righty specialist to be a one-size fits all eighth inning man, Phil Coke is a pure LOOGY, and it doesn’t seem like either Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly would fit the mold either. Al Alburquerque may be the best alternative – he’s been generally effective versus righties and lefties – but his command has always been an issue (and free passes aren’t generally an effective late-inning strategy).
It’s easy to yell and scream at the manager via Twitter, but it’s not like he’s keeping Craig Kimbrel on the bench. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Leyland stick with Benoit in the eighth inning, and I couldn’t really blame him if he does. If the Tigers have sights on a World Series title, they’re going to need Joaquin to get them out of some tight spots along the way.
Detroit put up five runs of offense on Sunday, but it was quite possibly the oddest five runs you’ll see. Interesting fact: none of the runs were scored on a base hit (in fact, only one of Detroit’s eight runs this series have been scored on a hit: Alex Avila’s solo homer in game one). Here’s how they scored:
In the third inning, with Miguel Cabrera on third base and Prince Fielder on first, Delmon Young hit a weak grounder to first base that allowed Cabrera to come home. Think about that again: on a play that involved Cabrera, Fielder, and Young (note the lack of speed), a ground ball was only turned into one out, and the runner scored. Delmon got credit for an RBI for hitting the ball so poorly that the A’s were only able to make the play at first.
Miguel Cabrera stepped up to bat in the seventh inning with runners on first and second and two outs. He hit a shallow fly ball to center field that had Coco Crisp sprinting in to make a play on. Crisp made an attempt at a basket catch, but he bobbled the ball twice and was unable to hold on as he was going to the ground. Omar Infante and Austin Jackson came around to score on the error.
Detroit lead off the eighth inning with singles from Young and Jhonny Peralta (who were immediately lifted for pinch-runners Don Kelly and Danny Worth). Andy Dirks sacrificed them over to second and third and, after a Quintin Berry pinch-hit strikeout, Alex Avila stepped up to bat in the place of starter Gerald Laird. The Tigers were searching for a big two-out hit to tie the game (after Benoit allowed the homer in the top half of the innings), but they wouldn’t need it. Ryan Cook threw a wild pitch and Kelly was able to trot home to even the score.
The Tigers entered the bottom of the ninth with the score knotted at four. Austin Jackson lead off the inning with a strikeout, but Omar Infante and Miguel Cabrera singled (Infante moved to third on Cabrera’s hit) to put the pressure on Athletics closer Grant Balfour. The A’s elected to intentionally walk Prince Fielder to pitch to Kelly who had entered the game earlier as a pinch runner for Young. Kelly took an 0-1 pitch to medium-deep right field. Reddick was able to easily track the ball down, but had no play to catch Infante at home; Omar scored easily on the sacrifice fly. Don Kelly: playoff hero.
The Oakland Athletics have failed to execute a “shutdown inning” through the first two games. That is to say, they have been unable to keep the Tigers off of the scoreboard in the bottom half of an inning in which they had recorded runs. Some say that this kills momentum, but I think the killer aspect to that is allowing the other team (Detroit, in this case) to hang around in the game. The Tigers haven’t yet played pretty baseball, but Oakland has allowed them every opportunity to win the games. Give Detroit credit for seizing the opportunities.