ALCS: Tigers vs. A’s: Tigers Take Control

Rest in peace, Cory Lidle. I’ll never forget your amazing run in August 2002, helping the A’s win 20 consecutive games. I cheered when you outdueled Mark Buehrle and I’m cheering for you now.

Detroit: 8, Oakland 5? I was promised amazing pitching in this series. Despite the combined 13 runs and 22 hits, this game featured some pretty good pitching. Detroit brought their swinging sticks and used a big fourth inning to bury the A’s with a 2-0 series deficit.

Justin Verlander allowed two home runs, one to Milton Bradley (who also had an RBI single) and another to Eric Chavez, giving four runs in 5.1 inning but generally holding down the fort. His first inning strikeout of Frank Thomas was entertaining, as he threw four fastballs in five pitches and Thomas failed to make contact on the two where he bothered to swing. Verlander regularly touched 100 mph with his heater according to the FOX radar gun. Truly impressive, however, were his strikeouts of Nick Swisher and Marco Scutaro in the second inning and Chavez in the fourth. All three came on called third strikes when Verlander spotted his curveball beautifully. The ability to place that curveball is absolutely devastating when coupled with his blazing fastball.

After being patient with Barry Zito in Game 1, the Tigers didn’t waste any time in Game 2 getting to work against Esteban Loaiza. Although he was given leads of 1-0 and 3-1, he couldn’t make them stand as he gave up nine hits and seven runs in six innings. Loaiza threw only 84 pitches, averaging 3.11 pitches per batter faced. He didn’t pitch as poorly as his line indicates—unlike Zito in Game 1, he threw strikes (68% of pitches for strikes) and put batters away (five strikeouts).

Most of the damage off of Loaiza came in the fourth inning: Saints Placido and Magg reached on singles, but Loaiza recovered nicely when he struck out Detroit’s best hitter,Carlos Guillen. Things were looking up for Loaiza, but then he walked the unwalkable Pudge Rodriguez (22 unintentional walks in the regular season).

A line drive single scored Polanco, and two more came in when Chavez let an Alexis Gomez grounder bounce off of his glove. (Quick aside: Tigers manager Jim Leyland must have the magic touch: his designated hitter was Alexis Gomez, a guy with a career .272/.318/.388 line; Gomez went 2-4 with a home run and 4 RBIs). Chavez had the chance for an inning-ending double play, but he wasn’t able to range far enough to his left to put good leather on the ball. That proved even more costly when Brandon Inge hit a sacrifice fly to score another run. Mark Kotsay made a strong throw to home, but it was to the first base side of home plate, allowing Craig Monroe to slip his trailing foot onto home plate before Kendall could apply the tag. It was by rights a closer play than it ought to have been, but it gave the Tigers a 5-3 lead.

Kotsay (2-2, double, walk against Verlander) and Milton Bradley (2-3, home run) gave Verlander fits, but they were the only ones to get anything going against the young Tigers hurler. Leyland pulled Verlander after only 5.1 innings, but the starter had already thrown 106 pitches and Leyland entrusted the game to his bullpen. They didn’t disappoint, with Wil Ledezma, Jason Grilli, Fernando Rodney, and Todd Jones striking out seven Athletics over the final 3.2 innings.

Chavez’s home run was the lone Oakland run during the end game. Jones loaded the bases with two out in the ninth inning, setting up a fun (for the fans) confrontation against the Big Hurt. Thomas could have tied it with a well placed gapper or won it with a long ball, but he hit an outside fastball off the end of the bat and flew out to Curtis Granderson. The Big Hurt still has a Big Oh-fer in the series. He is a big part of Oakland’s offense, and Detroit’s ability to shut him down has been key.

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. My prediction of Oakland in six is looking stupid already.

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