A's try to focus despite Lidle tragedy
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Baseball is your job, so like everyone else in this world, you have to put your emotions in storage and go about your business. The last thing you need on your mind when trying to hit a 100-mile fastball is the death of a former teammate and friend. So you walk past the clubhouse notice board that reads, "4 PM today -- Prayer for Lidle family in weight room," walk down the ramp to the field and get ready to play.
But how do you set up a mental firewall so effective it can stop every reminder from crashing through? Your concentration may be completely on the ballgame and how you need to win and beat this Justin Verlander kid with the fastball of Nolan Ryan, but then you'll look up for just a second and notice a four-seater airplane flying over the stadium. And suddenly, the baseball game disappears and all you can think is: "That's probably the type of plane Cory was flying."
Chavez is one of the three Athletics who were Lidle's teammates when the pitcher was with Oakland in 2002. But unlike Barry Zito, who pitched Game 1, and Mark Ellis, who is out with a broken finger, Chavez had to play Wednesday. Then again, maybe that was a good thing. It allowed him to focus on something else.
"After 9/11, we went into New York for the Division Series, and I just couldn't get that out of my mind and I had a bad series against the Yankees," Chavez said. "For some reason, I don't know what it is, maybe maturity, but I'm able to block that stuff out now and know that I still have a job to do."
Chavez struck out twice and didn't come up with a possible double-play grounder -- the type of ball Oakland fans have grown accustomed to seeing the Gold Glover scoop up -- that contributed to a four-run fourth inning for Detroit. But he also hit a massive home run to center in the seventh inning that closed the gap to two runs.
Unfortunately for Oakland, that fifth run was the last the Athletics could manage. The next six batters struck out and then Oakland left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth when MVP candidate Frank Thomas (0-for-5, three strikeouts) hit a lazy flyout to center field.
In their 5-1 Game 1 loss, Oakland grounded into four double plays and went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position. In Game 2, Milton Bradley (4-for-5, two home runs, four RBI) gave them the lead twice only to see starter Esteban Loaiza give it up within two outs each time. In addition to poor starting pitching, they also have fielded poorly.
"If we've got to score eight to 10 runs, we're not going to fare too well," Chavez said. "The team you are in the regular season is what you take into the postseason. We didn't score 10 runs during the year, and there's no reason to think we're going to do it against these pitchers."
So now the Athletics go to Detroit. No team trailing 2-0 has ever gone on the road for the middle three games of the ALCS and been able to win. After facing steady smoke from Verlander, Joel Zumaya and the rest of Detroit's hard throwers, they will face 41-year-old Kenny Rogers. He's a relatively soft thrower, but he's also 21-7 against Oakland in his career.
"I don't know if you look at it like that. Kenny has good numbers against us in the past. I know this is a new team and I don't know if this team now is a victim of those numbers," Chavez said, "but I know myself, I have a tough time with him. It's going to be a tough matchup for us. I don't know about Milton and Jason Kendall and Frank, but hopefully, they'll fare better against him than some of us have in the past."
Fans and the media focus on numbers like ''21-7'' and ''0-for-13'' and "down 0-2 in a best of seven,'' but when you're a major leaguer, you learn to compartmentalize that stuff, too. It's the only way you can go on and succeed.
"We've been chasing uphill all season," Bradley said. "We've just got to continue to do it."
Life is strange. Had New York defeated the Tigers as almost everyone outside of Detroit expected last week, the Athletics would have been playing against Lidle and the Yankees on Wednesday. Instead, they are playing the Tigers, and Lidle is dead.
"That's what you call fate," third-base coach Ron Washington said. "These games here are already decided. We're just waiting to find out who wins."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can reach Jim at jimcaple.com
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