New ballgame

The first thing the A’s needed to do today — in this day of survival — was take a lead. They did that, by three runs no less.

Ordonez
But the Tigers have just put together their inevitable counterpunch, coming back with two runs in the fifth and a game-tying homer by Magglio Ordonez in the sixth. The crowd here is going crazy. It’s electric.

Can Oakland regain the momentum?

Oakland badly needs Frank Thomas or Nick Swisher to put one out of the yard. They’ve combined for one hit in the series.

Haren was impressive over the first four innings but looked fatigued by the fifth. The third time around the order can haunt a lot of pitchers and it did this time for Haren.

Now it’s up to the Oakland bullpen to stave off the Tigers. This city of Detroit wants to have a party, I can tell you that.

Down to their last out

Casey_rogersCan the Tigers be stopped? Not the way they are pitching now. From their starters to the bullpen, these guys have some serious swagger going.

We all remember the 2004 Red Sox coming back from 0-3, but I’m just not seeing it this time. The Red Sox honestly thought they were a better team than the Yankees that year and didn’t think they should have ever been down in the first place.

The Red Sox had Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling lined up for Games 4-5-6. Dan Haren, Barry Zito and Esteban Loaiza isn’t quite the same thing.

More troublesome to me than the mathematical improbability is some of the things I heard from the A’s clubhouse today.

"We’re running into a better team. They’re
knocking down everyone in their path." — Eric Chavez.

I like Chavez. He’s an honest guy. But that might have been a little too honest.

Swisher and Thomas are a combined 0-fer in the series. That’s not what the A’s need from their two sluggers.

Can this be a competitive series still? I don’t know. I’d be surprised. But then again, it’s baseball.

Dugout

Did the A’s forget their bats?

Chavez_1I know the A’s probably packed quite a bit into their suitcases for this lovely weekend in Detroit, but did they forget their bats?

Over the first seven innings of today’s game, the A’s went 2-for-22, getting an infield hit from Jason Kendall and a single to right by Marco Scutaro.

Sure, Kenny Rogers is on a roll, but the A’s just didn’t seem to be taking good at-bats and they are on the verge of going down 0-3 in this best-of-seven series.

I did get to cover Boston’s epic comeback from 0-3 against the Yankees in 2004, but that seemed different. In that case, the Red Sox were mystified as to why they were in that position in the first place. They felt they were a better team and ultimately they proved it.

The A’s don’t seem to share that sense of disbelief. The Tigers are doing all the things you need to do to win this time of year. Solid starting pitching, timely hitting, execution, strong defense. Jim Leyland‘s crew has it all covered.

Maybe the A’s will ultimately show some life in this series, but I’m not seeing it.

later.

Ian.

Back from the outfield

I spent the first two innings out in the right field auxilary box, just so I could give all of you a first-hand account of the weather.

It’s not as bad as I thought it was, but, hey, I’m a skiier from Boston. The worst was when you’d get bursts of wind, then you could feel the cold freeze go through your head.

If the crowd doesn’t sound loud on TV, it’s because clapping gloves don’t make a lot of noise.

As for the game itself, Macha’s decision to start Harden over Haren obviously isn’t looking good. But you can’t blame the guy for taking the gamble. Harden obviously has more electric stuff, but he started just nine games all year and hans’t looked ready for postseason baseball in the early innings.

The Tigers? They still look invincible. It’s amazing what one narrow victory over the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS did for their confidence. It’s going to take something significant to stop their momentum.

More later,

Ian.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

ScutaroWe’re not in Oakland anymore; I’ll tell you that. That beautiful Northern California sun and mild air is gone, replaced by the gloomy skies and cold temperatures of the Motor City.

My weather spies tell me we could get some flurries during today’s game. That would make a nice post-card.

A’s manager Ken Macha says that the adrenaline will be flowing, so the boys on both sides should be able to get through the frigid weather. At least Macha doesn’t have to have that shooting pain go through his entire body after he hits a ball off the end of the bat! But he’s been there before, back when he played with the Blue Jays at old Exhibition Stadium, not to mention some of his minor league experiences.

I’m interested to see how Oakland responds today. This is obviously the most pressure-packed game they’ve played in all year. Will Macha’s decision to pitch Harden — who has been on the shelf for most of the year — over Haren backfire? They are looking for five shutout innings from hard-throwing Rich, and some shutdown work from the bullpen after that.

Speaking of hard throwers, the Zumaya injury — he’ll at least be shut down for today’s game — could loom large in the context of this series. In my mind, Zumaya is as valuable as anyone on the entire Detroit team. At least the radar gun will get a nice respite today.

More later, keep the comments flowing.

Ian.

What you get for second guessing

GomezJust got another lesson in why Jim Leyland is managing the Tigers and not yours truly.

I second guessed his decision to DH the anonymous Alexis Gomez instead of Marcus Thames and guess what happened? Gomez slapped a two-run single off the glove of Eric Chavez in the fourth. Then he obliterated a two-run homer in the sixth to stretch the Detroit lead to 7-3.

The Tigers just seem like the team that is on that proverbial roll where they feel invincible.

We saw it with the Marlins in ’03; We saw it with the Red Sox in ’04; We saw it with the White Sox last year.

And now, we’re seeing it with these Tigers.

See you in snowy Detroit.

Ian.

Game 2

LidlejerseySorry about the lateness of my first blog entry today. Obviously with the tragic Cory Lidle news, it’s been a busy day for everyone wearing a media credential. It’s just a brutal story.

The A’s and Tigers come to the park today ready to play ball, thinking about how big the game is, and then everyone gets hit with this. A wife lost her husband today. Just like that. A young boy lost his father. Awful, awful news.

But I guess the beauty of sports is that it can be a diversion. Maybe the game can take everyone’s mind off a tragic story, even if it’s just for a few hours.

My first game-related thought of the day is this: Who the heck is Alexis Gomez? He is the Tigers DH tonight. I honestly had never heard of him until about 20 minutes ago, when I checked out the lineup. Does this make me a less informed baseball person than i try to think of myself as? Leyland’s reason that he wanted to get another lefty bat in there against Loaiza, who was hit at a .319 clip by lefties this year. It’s an anonymous left-handed bat at that.  And Marcus Thames will watch the game on the bench.

Milton just belted one. I enjoy Milton Bradley. He’s an exciting player and a great quote. While the rest of the A’s were tipping their caps to Nate Robertson, Bradley said that "smoke and mirrors" were the lefty’s best weapon in Game 1. Love the honesty. Keep it coming Milton.

3-1 A’s in the fourth. More later.

No A’s for this performance

Execution, you hear about it all 162 games from all 30 Major League teams. But it truly comes into play in October, when everything is so magnified.

Dp
When you don’t execute, you don’t win. It’s so true. And after this loss, the A’s — who blew one golden opportunity after another offensively — know it. 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. Four double play balls. That’s just unacceptable and record-tying. Only the 2000 Cardinals know what it’s like to have such futility in the RISP department in a postseason game.

Now, the story was just as much about ace Barry Zito turning in an un-ace-like performance. But still, the A’s weren’t facing Sandy Koufax. They were facing Nate Robertson, the weak link in Detroit’s rotation.

One double play ball after another sank the A’s, and so did a tremendous diving catch by Craig Monroe that robbed Milton Bradley of a hit with two on and two outs in the fifth.

The Tigers are riding a wave that teams sometimes catch this time of year. After what they did against the Yankees, they have to feel somewhat invincible.

Casey
Not that this night was all roses for Detroit. They lost Sean Casey, their gritty first baseman, who hobbled off the field after a groundout to end the sixth. The loss of Casey is indeed mighty for the Tigers, who were forced to play light-hitting Ramon Santiago at short while moving Carlos Guillen to first in Casey’s absence.

The one thing about a seven-game series — and this helps the A’s — is that it is far longer than a best-of-five. One loss in this round isn’t nearly as detrimental as it would have been last round, as both the Twins and Yankees can attest to from the golf courses around the world.

P.S. — How about a shout-out to Rickey Henderson. The all-time stolen base king was in the house! He was truly one of the great characters I’ve ever encountered. My favorite Rickey story is when he called Padres general manager Kevin Towers and left the following message: "This is Rickey calling on behalf of Rickey."

I’m counting down the days until his 2009 Hall of Fame induction speech. He’s the man.

More later,

Ian.

Tigers draw first blood

Ah, the playoffs. It’s all about momentum. In this ALCS, the Tigers grabbed the first dose of it. Third inning, two outs, Barry Zito is cruising. And then he served up a home run to No. 9 hitter Brandon Inge just inside the fair pole. 1-0 Tigers.

Robertson
Zito doesn’t stop the bleeding. Instead, he goes on to a 38-pitch inning. Curtis Granderson kept the pressure on with a double and Zito seemed a tad unnerved in walking Placido Polanco and Sean Casey. Mags (that’s street lingo for Magglio) reaches on an infield hit, a diving stop by Chavez — a play the Gold Glover usually makes.

The A’s tried to counter with a run of their own, string together a walk and a hit with one out in the bottom of the inning. But Guillen started a beautiful 6-4-3 double play. A pumped up Robertson pumps his first and stomps off the mound.

The first third of the game has gone to the Tigers. And then Pudge announces his return to LCS play by drilling a solo shot to right-center in the fourth. Let’s see what the A’s can do here. Zito is gone by the end of the fourth inning, down 5-nill. This is clearly not good for the home team.

Ready for Game 1

PudgeI’m out here in the beautiful Oakland sun, in the auxilary press box, just waiting for the first pitch. This should be a great day. The weather could not be better — easy for me to say; I don’t have to hit against Barry Zito in the shadows of the late afternoon.

Not a ton of news to come out of the pre-game. The big thing is that the A’s are pitching Harden in Game 3 and pushing Haren back to Game 4. I love that move. If the series goes to Game 7, the A’s will have Harden and his nasty stuff on the mound.

I’m a little surprised that Jim Leyland didn’t take a similar approach and start Verlander in Game 1; followed by Rogers in Game 2 (with that glittering record lieftime at Oakland) and Bonderman in Game 3. The way it stands now, Bonderman will only pitch once in the series and Robertson — today’s starter — will go twice. But Leyland knows his staff best, and probably thinks they need the rest.

Looking for a player to watch in this series? How about A’s second baseman D’Angello Jimenez. The guy barely played for the A’s — just eight games during the regular season and one in the Division Series.

A’s manager Ken Macha put it best before the game — "i really haven’t seen D’Angelo play that much, so it would be unfair for me to judge one way or the other to know what we’re going to get out of him."

Of course, Macha also adds that infield coach Ron Washington is a master of grooming his guys and gives them "the full monty". Got to love it.

Looking for one of the smartest and most underrated players in this series? Check out Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen. Leyland says the guy has a managing future if he wants one, and Leyland would know.

Everyone ready? Leyland called it a couple of "Meat and Potatoes" teams. Love that. Speaking of that, i’m hungry. So far i’ve just had a six-inch sub from Subway today.

Without further ado, here are your Game 1 lineups.

Tigers

Granderson — CF (He’s better than you think)
Polanco — 2B (So is he)
Casey — 1B
Ordonez — RF
Guillen — SS
Rodriguez — C (not the same hitter he once was, but still good and a cannon arm)
Monroe — LF
Thames — DH
Inge — 3B

Robertson — P

Oakland

Kendall – C (love it when a catcher leads off)
Kotsay — CF
Bradley — RF
Thomas (DH and resident Big Hurt)
Payton — LF
Chavez — 3B (finally gets to see what life is like out of the Division Series)
Swisher — 1B (He’ll make a few quoteboards before the end of this series)
Scutaro — SS
Jimenez — 2B

Zito — P (check out that curve as it gets lost in the shadows)

PLAY BALL!!!

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