Thursday, October 12, 2006

I guess I will start today by mentioning that Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle died in a plane crash in New York City’s Upper East Side, according to the reports I heard. His instructor, who was in the plane (the plane was a small four-seater owned by Lidle) with him, died and the last report I read said two others who were in the apartment building they crashed into died as well. This is clearly a very sad thing, and I feel terrible for the people and the families involved, but I have to say I feel worse for the people who were in the building. Lidle and his instructor were in a plane, and therefore kind of assumed the risks that go with that. These people were sitting in their 20th story condo and a plane crashed into the building. It is almost as bizarre to think of as it is tragic. It’s also kind of weird to think that I saw Lidle’s last professional pitch when he threw a bit for the Yankees on Saturday. Update: Lidle and the instructor were the only ones who died in the crash. Others were only injured.

Moving on to the Tiger game, the Tigers didn’t look as sharp as they did when they were dismantling the Yankees, but they put together another win. This puts them ahead 2-0 in the series as they head back to Detroit for three games over the weekend, starting tomorrow. So essentially, they have to win a three game home series and they will be returning to the World Series for the first time since 1984.

As a fan of the team, this one didn’t start out well. It wasn't so much anything that happened in the game itself, but they showed the lineup and not only was Neifi Perez starting – I kind of expected that – but he was for some reason batting second. While I sat down and breathed into the paper bag, I happened to trail down the rest of the lineup and my eyes got very big when I saw that Alexis Gomez was batting eighth and he was the designated hitter. I promised my wife I wasn’t going to get angry, but boy this was pushing it. Here’s why. First, this meant Thames was sitting the bench again. You know I hate how little they value Thames. Second, Gomez is supposed to be their fourth outfielder. Should anything have happened to Maggs, you would have to slide Monroe over to right and put Thames in left. That is a pretty badly compromised outfield defense. If Gomez absolutely has to play, at least throw him in the outfield and let either Maggs or Monroe DH.

The results of this lunacy were kind of shocking, but it didn’t really surprise me. Neifi was his predictable self and was essentially an automatic out in the second spot in the order. Alexis Gomez was the one whose performance was shocking, but I mentioned earlier in the season that it seemed like whenever I complained about Leyland overvaluing Gomez, he came through and made me look stupid. That’s why I wasn’t surprised by what he did. Last night, I was even cheering for him by saying, “Come on, Alexis. Prove me wrong.” So how did he prove me wrong? Well, in the fourth, he came up with bases loaded and hit a grounder to Eric Chavez’s left. It looked like Chavez would eat it up and while a double play seemed unlikely, the second out of the inning didn’t. Well, the ball bounced off his glove and slowly rolled into shallow left allowing two runs to score. This gave the Tigers a 4-3 lead the inning after Milton Bradley had just given the A’s a 3-1 lead with a two run shot off Verlander. In the sixth, he hit a two run homer to put the Tigers up 7-3. What can I say? Leyland has the Midas touch right now. I will say that just because decisions work out well doesn’t mean they were the right decision, but at this point I’m not going to pick nits as long as the Tigers keep winning.

Gomez was the driving force of the offense, but the pitching was definitely more of a team effort. Verlander didn’t look bad despite giving up seven hits and four runs in just over five innings of work. He did strike out six batters, after all. It was just that when the bats found the ball, the A’s seemed to find the bases as a result. The first run he allowed was a bit of bad luck as Kotsay doubled, took third when Pudge didn’t make much of an effort to block a pitch in the dirt, and then scored on a broken bat single to right by Milton Bradley that would have been an easy out had the infield not been pulled in. The rest of his runs came from home runs by Bradley and Eric Chavez. Justin didn’t get into a lot of trouble other than those situations, but the A’s also made him work and he ended up throwing 106 pitches in a short night of work.

The bullpen did a great job of bailing him out, though. Ledezma finished the sixth for him and got two outs in the seventh before he succumbed to another no-doubter from Milton Bradley that pulled the game back to 7-5. He was relieved by Grilli, who faced only the Big Hurt and struck him out. Rodney was brought in for the eighth and he turned in what had to be one of his more impressive showings of the season. With a two run lead, and Chavez, Payton and Swisher coming up, Rodney struck out the side with none of those guys so much as fouling a ball off. That’s right. He threw thirteen pitches. Four were balls. Five were strikes looking. Four were strikes swinging, including each of the strike three pitches. Clearly, he’s another Tiger who has stepped up for the playoffs to this point.

Granderson provided a little breathing room in the ninth with a solo home run and heading into the bottom of the ninth with a three run lead, everybody knew that meant Johnny Cakes was coming in. I liked the Tigers’ odds because the three batters he had to face were the 8-9-1 batters, Scutaro, Jimenez and Kendall. He struck out Scutaro, and then Melhuse was brought in to pinch hit for Jimenez. He struck out on three pitches, but it wasn’t a bizarre decision only because he failed so miserably at this assignment. Melhuse is the backup catcher and Jimenez was only playing second because Mark Ellis went down with a broken finger in the Twins series. That meant even if the A’s tied this one up, they would now be without a backup catcher for extra innings and Mark Kiger – who has never played in the majors – would have to staff second base. Weird. Anyway, with two outs, Jason Kendall was coming up and he was so far 0 for 4 on the night. See how that works? Pitch to him and he gets himself out. I was pointing this out just about when he hit a single that Polanco just couldn’t quite turn into an out. Crap. Kotsay then singled and that brought up Milton Bradley as the tying run who had already hit two home runs. Double crap. I was almost relieved to see him get only an infield single that Neifi couldn’t field and throw quick enough to get the out. I’m not saying Neifi did anything wrong. I doubt anybody could have done any more.

The problem with Bradley getting the single was that it brought up Frank Thomas with bases loaded. A home run would mean an ultimate grand slam for Thomas. That’s a walk off grand slam that comes when your team had been down by three runs. Frank Thomas in this situation with Todd Jones on the mound is absolutely terrifying. First pitch: strike looking. Great, he’s sizing up Jones’ fastball. Next pitch: ball. Final pitch: fastball up in the zone. Thomas makes contact. I wet myself and sob openly at the same time. (Not really.) I compose myself to rejoice when I see Thomas grimace because he just missed Jones’ meatball and Jones point at the popup. Granderson calls everyone off and takes it for the final out. Woo! Like I said, it wasn’t pretty, but we’ll take it. I will definitely take the Tiger staff combining for thirteen strikeouts. If they want to do that every game, I’m fine with that.

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