Tigers ride to 2-0 lead in Alexis

October 12th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Tigers ride to 2-0 lead in Alexis


OAKLAND - Jim Leyland isn't a magician. He can't pull a silver dollar out of Bud Selig's ear or turn a rabbit into a flower.
But the Tigers' manager just might be able to make the Oakland Athletics disappear from the postseason.
Last night he decided to start Alexis Gomez at designated hitter instead of Marcus Thames. It was part hunch and part a move he was forced to make because first baseman Sean Casey is sidelined by a calf injury and Leyland wanted another lefthanded bat in the lineup.
It was also a move that didn't figure to be terribly significant, considering that Gomez opened the season at Triple A Toledo, was twice designated for assignment and cleared waivers before being returned to the Mud Hens, and had only 103 big-league at-bats all year.
Except that, in the fourth inning, he singled with the bases loaded to drive in two runs.
In the sixth, he hit a two-run homer.
And that turned out to be the margin of victory as the Tigers won, 8-5, at McAfee Coliseum and a series that was expected to be coin-flip close is threatening to turn into a runaway. Detroit has a commanding lead of two games to none.
It's the ninth time since the introduction of the best-of-seven LCS format in 1985 that a team has won the first two on the road. All eight previous teams to do that have gone on to win the series.
"You make out the lineup that you think gives you the best chance to win," Leyland said with a shrug. "He's got big-time power. Unfortunately, he's showed most of it in batting practice.
"I guess I can joke about it now, but it was a 5 o'clock [PDT] game and that's when he hits most of his home runs, in batting practice. So I told him, 'I'm starting you tonight.' "
Gomez laughed along with the joke. "But I try my best to help the team," he added. "I was in a situation this year where I was up and down, but I never put my head down. I said I would always be ready when I got my chance."
In the opener, Leyland sent No. 4 starter Nate Robertson to the mound against A's ace Barry Zito. Robertson pitched five shutout innings. Zito was knocked out in the fourth inning.
Skeptics questioned both moves, but they worked out.
"I think it's healthy for people to be talking about baseball and questioning the manager," Leyland said. "When fans call into the radio shows, even though they usually don't know what they're talking about, at least they're talking about baseball.
"So I don't mind being second-guessed. The way I look at it, if a guy sitting in Section 207 knows more about my team than I do, he should be managing and I should be sitting in Section 207."
After winning the first two games on the road, the homefield advantage now shifts to Detroit. Game 3 is scheduled for tomorrow night at Comerica Park.
Both managers were working with a short bullpen. For Detroit, Joel Zumaya had a tight forearm. For Oakland, Justin Duchscherer had a spasm in his neck. Neither was available.
Tigers starter Justin Verlander, a strong AL Rookie of the Year candidate, wasn't at his sharpest. He allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings. But he was better than Oakland's Esteban Loaiza, who was tagged for seven runs in his six innings.
Milton Bradley hit a pair of home runs for Oakland, one from each side of the plate. After each he displayed his signature celebration: sauntering from the plate to third base and then sprinting the final 90 feet home.
His first homer, a two-run shot in the bottom of the third, gave Oakland a 3-1 lead.
"That gave us a two-run lead and then they went out and had a four-run inning," Athletics manager Ken Macha noted.
In that top of the fourth, Detroit had the bases loaded with one out when Craig Monroe delivered an RBI single to center. Gomez chopped a slow grounder toward third that should have been at least one out and potentially could have gotten Loaiza out of the inning with just one run allowed.
Except that, at the last moment, the ball skipped slightly and ticked off the end of Eric Chavez' glove. As it rolled into shallow leftfield, two runs scored to put Detroit ahead for the first time in the game.
It also allowed Monroe to move up to third. And when Brandon Inge followed by lining out to center, he tagged up and sprinted for the plate. Mark Kotsay's throw was strong but slightly to the first-base side, allowing Monroe to slide in just ahead of the tag.
"It's a game of inches and the inches were on their side in that particular situation," Macha said.
Oakland had a chance to make a comeback in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, consecutive singles by Jason Kendall, Kotsay and Bradley loaded the bases against Tigers closer Todd Jones and brought cleanup hitter Frank Thomas to the plate.
Jones, however, got Thomas to pop up to center to end the game, neatly underlining one of the Athletics' bigger failings in the first two games: Thomas, first baseman Nick Swisher and division series hero Marco Scutaro are a combined 0-for-22.
The Tigers, of course, are well aware of how quickly that can turn around.
"It definitely feels good to be in this situation," Monroe said. "We're excited about it, but we don't lose focus. That's the big thing. It's exciting for us to come here and get a couple of wins, but the work is not done.
"We've got to go home and stay hungry, stay aggressive and really finish our goal. We've set some high goals this year and if we can stay focused and be prepared, we'll be fine."

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