Neifi Perez is going to the World Series. Take back all the snarky things you ever said about him.
I predicted that the first four games of the ALCS would be split 2-2, so I batted .500 through first four games of the series. Do you know who else batted .500 in the ALCS? MVP Placido Polanco. Look at these numbers:
Placido Polanco AVG/OBP/SLG 2006 versus non-OAK 279/314/351 2006 versus OAK 516/545/548 2006 ALCS versus OAK 529/579/588
Every time the FOX camera showed Polanco, he was doing one of two things: gritting his teeth or hitting a single. He’s exactly the kind of unlikely hero made by short October series, but having watched a few Oakland-Detroit tilts in the last two years, I am not surprised that he had a 1.167 OPS in the ALCS against the A’s. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a 1.167 AVG against the A’s.
Polanco helped the Tigers finish off a four-game sweep of the Athletics, but the real hero of the night was Magglio Ordonez, whose walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth broke a 3-3 tie and sent Detroit to … well, Detroit, where they will open the World Series a week from today.
Oakland didn’t go down without a fight and for a few innings they looked like they might force a fifth game. Doubles by Milton Bradley and Eric Chavez plated two runs in the first, and Jay Payton pulled a pitch into left field seats in the fourth to give Dan Haren a 3-0 lead. Haren had his nasty splitter working, striking out seven Tigers in the first four innings, five swinging.
But in the fifth and six innings, Detroit scored three runs the same way Oakland did: doubles by Curtis Granderson and Craig Monroe plating two in the fifth and a game-tying solo shot by Ordonez. Meanwhile, Jeremy Bonderman was solid-if-not spectacular, holding the A’s down into the seventh inning. Both managers went to their bullpens to preserve the tie long enough for their team to push across a run or three, and both managers were short their bullpen ace—Justin Duchscherer’s back/neck ailment rendering him unavailable and Joel Zumaya’s wrist pain knocking him out of the picture.
The Oakland offense wasn’t able to muster any more run-scoring threats until the eighth inning, when twelve consecutive balls from Jason Grilli gave them a bases-loaded, two out chance. Marco Scutaro, the clutchiest hitter who ever did clutch, popped out to end the inning.
Oakland had another chance in the ninth inning. With lefty Wilfredo Ledezma pitching, Ken Macha inserted Secret Weapon Bobby Kielty ™. Kielty mashes lefties (.607 SLG against LHP in 2006), but Jim Leyland stuck with Ledezma. Everything Leyland touches has been turning to gold, and Ledezma got Kielty to pop out. Then, with a runner on first, Bradley narrowly missed a home run when it landed on the warning track and settled into Ordonez’s glove.
While Jim Leyland’s faith in his non-Zumaya relievers was well-rewarded, Ken Macha managed like his back was against the wall (to be fair, it was). In the seventh inning, Joe Kennedy gave up a single to Polanco, Macha summoned Kiko Calero with one out and runners on first and second and righty Ordonez due up. When Ordonez worked a walk to load the bases, Macha called on Street to preserve the tie. On one hand, I applaud the move as Macha used his best available bullpen arm during a game-critical situation.
But if Macha was not going to allow Calero, who has struggled against lefties, to face the switch-hitting Carlos Guillen, why not go straight to Street and save Calero? Street got seven big outs and nearly got the game to extra innings, but when he started to run out of gas in the ninth inning, Macha didn’t really have any reliable options in the bullpen. Hoping to squeeze one more inning out of Street, Monroe and Polanco singled with two out in the ninth, setting up Ordonez’s heroics.
During the four-game sweep, Oakland got as many quality starts as Frank Thomas got hits (zero), and that pretty much torpedoed any chance they had at reaching the World Series. The Tigers, meanwhile, got strong starting performances from everybody save Justin Verlander, very nice bullpen work, and a good approach at the plate that resulted in a good number of runs. The Tigers outpitched, outhit, and outfielded the A’s and now take well-deserved trip to the World Series.