ALDS Recap: Tigers def. Athletics, 3-2

The Detroit Tigers defeated the Oakland Athletics in 5 games in the American League Division Series, a repeat of last year’s series between these same two teams.  This year’s series was similar, but all 5 games took a life of their own, and some players who didn’t play in last year’s series made a difference for both sides.  Let’s look at a game-by-game recap of the series:

Game 1:  Tigers 3, Athletics 2.  The pitching matchup for Game 1 saw two AL Cy Young candidates, as Max Scherzer pitched for Detroit and Bartolo Colon pitched for Oakland.  Colon, however, wasn’t as sharp as expected, and had a very rough start.  Austin Jackson led off with a double, and Torii Hunter was hit by a pitch, before Miguel Cabrera singled to score Jackson, and a Prince Fielder double play groundout scored Hunter, making the score 2-0 Tigers.  After Victor Martinez doubled, he scored when Alex Avila singled, and the Tigers had a 3-0 lead before Scherzer had thrown a single pitch.  Scherzer only gave up 1 hit in the first 6 innings, and Colon settled down after the rough first, and gave up 6 hits in the next 5 innings before being relieved.  In the bottom of the 7th, Brandon Moss reached for the A’s on an infield hit, followed by a 2-run homer by Yoenis Cespedes, which made the score 3-2, Detroit.  Scherzer responded by retiring the next 3 batters to end his night.  In the 8th, the tying run for the Athletics reached on a Coco Crisp walk by Drew Smyly, but he did not score.  In the bottom of the 9th, Joaquin Benoit struck out the side, and the Tigers had won Game 1 to take the early series lead.

Game 2:  Athletics 1, Tigers 0.  As good as the pitching matchup for Game 1 had been, Game 2 had the series best pitcher’s duel, in a game that turned into an all-time playoff classic.  Detroit went with Justin Verlander to pitch, while the Athletics sent rookie Sonny Gray to the mound.  The Tigers Miguel Cabrera had a single in the first, but nothing else happened in that inning, and the Tigers got two men on in both the 2nd and the 5th, but couldn’t score, as Gray got out of the jams.  Verlander didn’t allow a hit until the 4th, when Josh Donaldson got the A’s first hit, before Verlander gave up 2 hits in the 5th but didn’t allow Oakland to score.  In the 7th, the Athletics got men to 2nd and 3rd, but Stephen Vogt struck out to end the threat.  In the bottom of the 8th, Drew Smyly relieved Verlander, and after a leadoff double and a 1-out walk, Smyly was replaced by Al Alburquerque, who struck out the next two batters to end the threat.  After the Tigers failed to get a hit in the 9th off Athletics closer Grant Balfour, the A’s came up in the bottom of the 9th to face Alburquerque.  Yoenis Cespedes and Seth Smith started with singles, and Josh Reddick was intentionally walked to load the bases.  The Tigers went to the bullpen and Rick Porcello, who had been a starter most of the year.  Stephen Vogt hit for Oakland, and on the third pitch, he hit a liner into left-center field for a single to win the game, 1-0.  The Athletics had won a classic and evened the series at 1-1.

Game 3:  Athletics 6, Tigers 3.  Game 3 saw two underrated starters throw for their respective teams, with Anibal Sanchez of the Tigers facing Jarrod Parker of the Athletics, as the series now moved to Detroit.  Both pitchers allowed a hit in the 1st, before settling in in the 2nd.  In the top of the 3rd, a 2-out error by Miguel Cabrera allowed Yoenis Cespedes to reach and Coco Crisp to score, and the A’s had a 1-0 lead.  An inning later, Josh Reddick hit a leadoff homer to right, making the score 2-0, and a Coco Crisp sacrifice fly scored Stephen Vogt, giving Oakland a 3-0 lead.  The Tigers wouldn’t just roll over, however, and tied the game in the top of the 4th when a run scored on a Victor Martinez double and two more scored on a Jhonny Peralta single, making the score 3-3.  In the top of the 5th, Brandon Moss homered to make the score 4-3 Oakland, then Yoenis Cespedes singled and Seth Smith homered, making the score 6-3.  There were only three hits between the teams throughout the rest of the game.  The drama, however, occurred in an at-bat in the bottom of the 9th between A’s pitcher Grant Balfour and Tigers DH Victor Martinez, as a war of words resulted in Martinez charging the mound and the two being separated by multiple players, coaches, and umpires.  This was an odd situation as Balfour never pitched inside the entire at-bat, and the two had no history.  Balfour got Martinez and two other Tigers out to end the game, and the Athletics had a 2-1 series lead.

Game 4:  Tigers 8, Athletics 6.  Oakland began Game 4 one win away from the ALCS, and got off to a quick start when a Jed Lowrie single scored Coco Crisp, giving the A’s a very early 1-0 lead.  Both pitchers, Doug Fister for Detroit and Dan Straily for Oakland, were sharp for the first 4 innings, but both struggled in the 5th.  In the top half, Jed Lowrie hit a 2-run homer to give the A’s a 3-0 lead (he had all 3 of these RBIs), and in the bottom half, Jhonny Peralta hit a 3-run homer to left field to tie the score at 3-3.  After both pitchers had easy innings in the 6th, they were both relieved in the 7th.  The Tigers, facing potential elimination, turned to 21-game winner Max Scherzer to make his 2nd career postseason relief appearance.  In the top of the 7th, however, Scherzer allowed a Coco Crisp RBI single that gave the Athletics back the lead, 4-3, just 9 outs away from advancing.  In the bottom of the 7th, against A’s reliever Sean Doolittle, Victor Martinez hit a leadoff homer to tie the game, and later in the inning Austin Jackson hit a go-ahead RBI single to give the Tigers a 5-4 advantage.  Scherzer returned to the mound to pitch the top of the 8th, now leading, but a walk Brandon Moss walk, a Yoenis Cespedes double, and an intentional walk of Seth Smith had the bases loaded with nobody out.  Scherzer proceeded to strike out Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt, and Alberto Callaspo lined out to center, and Scherzer pitched himself out of a huge jam.  In the bottom of the 8th, a wild pitch scored a run and an ensuing double by Omar Infante scored 2 more, making the score 8-4, Tigers.  Closer Joaquin Benoit came on to pitch the 9th, but struggled.  With 2 outs, Yoenis Cespedes singled to drive in 2, making it an 8-6 game, and the tying run came to the plate.  Seth Smith, however, struck out swinging and the Tigers had won Game 4 to tie the series and send it back to Oakland for Game 5.

Game 5:  Tigers 3, Athletics 0.  Game 5 was sure to be a pitcher’s duel like Game 2 had been, especially since Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray both returned to the mound to pitch the winner-take-all game at The Coliseum in Oakland.  Both pitchers were perfect through 3 innings, in what looked like a carbon copy of Game 2.  The game turned in favor of the Tigers in the top of the 4th.  After Torii Hunter broke up Gray’s perfect game with a single, Miguel Cabrera hit a 1-0 pitch into the left field seats for a 2-run homer, giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead.  After a Prince Fielder groundout, the next 3 batters reached to load the bases, giving the Tigers a chance to blow the game open, but Omar Infante grounded out and Gray had kept his team within just 2.  Verlander, however, kept mowing down the A’s hitters, and after a 3rd Tigers run scored on an Omar Infante fielder’s choice in the top of the 6th, the Tigers led 3-0 and Verlander still had not allowed a base runner.  The perfect game ended in the bottom of the 6th, when Josh Reddick walked after Verlander had been ahead 0-2 and threw 4 straight balls.  After he got out of the inning, he still was working a no-hitter, now through six innings.  While the no-no would end in the 7th when Yoenis Cespedes singled, it was clear that Verlander would not be touched on this night.  He only allowed one more hit, which came in the 8th on a Josh Reddick single.  Verlander threw 111 pitches in 8 innings and allowed just 2 hits in a game on the road with the ALCS on the line.  Closer Joaquin Benoit came in for the 9th, and he got two quick outs but then gave up a double to Jed Lowrie, and hit Yoenis Cespedes with a pitch, and suddenly the tying run was at the plate.  Seth Smith struck out, and the game and series was over, as the Tigers had shut out the Athletics to advance, winning the series, 3-2.

While the Tigers won the series, let’s first look at the Athletics.  Oakland is now 0-6 all-time in Game 5s of the ALDS.  Also, they are now 1-12 since 2000 in playoff games with a chance to advance, including 2 straight losses in such games in this series.  The A’s also lost in 5 games to the Tigers in the ALCS last year, also a series in which they had home-field advantage and were shutout at home in Game 5.

As for the Tigers, they match the feat of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL by advancing to their 3rd consecutive LCS.  The last AL team to do so was the Yankees, who made four consecutive appearances between 1998 and 2001 (by the way, those Yankee teams won all four).  Also like the Cardinals, they won one and lost one out of the first two of their three consecutive trips, although unlike the Cardinals, they will be trying to win the pennant in back-to-back years, after sweeping the Yankees last year, before eventually being swept in the World Series by the San Francisco Giants.  The 2013 edition of the Tigers will face the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, starting on Saturday in Boston.  The Tigers will host Games 3-5 of the series, on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  These two storied franchises have never met in the ALCS.

By the way, Justin Verlander has now completed 30 consecutive scoreless innings against Oakland in the postseason, dating back to the 2nd inning of Game 1 of last year’s ALDS (the A’s scored in the 1st of that game).  That is an all-time postseason record for consecutive scoreless innings against one team.

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