It's a total team effort for Tigers
Getting production from several different spots in the lineup, the Tigers cruised past the A's in their Game 2 victory.
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Detroit Tigers might be golden, but they also have a bit of a Blue Cross, Blue Shield feel as the middle of October approaches.
Here's Sean Casey, just back from an appointment with an MRI tube, unable to play because of a calf injury. There's Craig Monroe, being tended to by the trainer after suffering a cramp in his hamstring. And don't forget Carlos Guillen, rubbing his noggin after taking an inadvertent forearm in the head in his role as accidental first baseman.
So why are the Oakland A's the ones in a world of hurt?
In hindsight, maybe the Yankees' first-round exit wasn't all Joe Torre's or Alex Rodriguez's fault. Maybe it was a tribute to the resurgent Tigers, looking more like the 76-36 juggernaut that began the season than the bedraggled 19-31 group that ended it. Five days after polishing off New York in the Division Series, the Tigers are finding that the momentum they lost during a sorry September has suddenly reappeared.
A night after Brandon Inge provided the big hits out of the No. 9 spot in the order, Detroit trotted out the old "different hero every night'' theme in an 8-5 victory at McAfee Coliseum.
Outfielder Alexis Gomez, who has been in pro ball a decade and has one homer in 158 big-league at-bats to show for it, hit a two-run shot off Esteban Loaiza and drove in four runs. Placido Polanco, shifted to the No. 3 hole due to Casey's injury, contributed three singles and a walk. And Monroe singled, doubled and added a sacrifice fly in the No. 8 spot.
Finally, on a night when Zumaya got a precautionary rest because of tightness in his forearm, four Detroit relievers combined for 3 2/3 innings of one-run, nail-down ball.
That's not liniment you smell. It's destiny.
"We've got something pretty special going on right now,'' said Tigers reliever Jason Grilli. "It seems like everybody wants to be on the mound or standing in the batter's box to do something to help us win. Everybody wants to participate.''
While all teams love to trumpet the "we're all in this together'' theme, it really rings true in Detroit. Justin Verlander is a strong candidate for the Rookie of the Year Award, and Guillen has a fair chance to crack the top 10 in the American League MVP voting. But the Tigers generally win with, well, a new hero every night.
They derive inspiration from manager Jim Leyland, who seems to be making all the right calls these days. He was on his game Wednesday night, even though Cubs fans and sabermetricians might quibble with his decision to bat Neifi Perez (and his .298 career on-base percentage) in the No. 2 hole. Leyland always had a knack for using his entire 25-man roster, and it's coming in handy right now.
"He just talks about being prepared,'' Monroe said. "That's been the whole thing all year -- 'guys, we've got to be focused.' He told us today that he's very proud of us for the way we forgot about the end of the season and started refocusing on what we have to do in the playoffs to be a good team.''
With Casey's bat missing in Game 2, Leyland needed some balance in the order, so he replaced the right-handed hitting Marcus Thames at DH with the left-handed Gomez. That turned out to be his most inspired move.
Gomez, a native Dominican who signed with Kansas City at age 17, runs well enough, throws well enough and possesses what Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila calls "monster power,'' but he's never quite harnessed his tools into a consistent package. As a result, he's taken his sweet time to make an impression.
Detroit claimed Gomez on waivers from Kansas City in 2004, and designated him for assignment twice this year. The Tigers managed to retain him because he was out of options and no team wanted to claim him and be forced to place him on the big-league roster.
Gomez enjoyed a career game in August when he hit four homers for Triple-A Toledo in a 15-8 win over Columbus. But he has a reputation as a guy who does his best work at 5 p.m., during batting practice.
"I've played with Wily Mo Pena, Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. -- all those boppers -- and Gomey hits some of the best BP shots I've ever seen,'' Casey said. "To see him run into one on this big a stage is pretty awesome.''
Once the Tigers grabbed the lead, Leyland made liberal use of his bullpen. He's only used Zumaya, 21, on back-to-back days seven times this year, and he chose to rest the rookie in Game 2. In Zumaya's stead, Wil Ledezma, Grilli, Fernando Rodney and Todd Jones combined for seven whiffs while recording 11 outs.
Rodney struck out Eric Chavez, Jay Payton and Nick Swisher on fastballs clocked at 96, 98 and 98 miles an hour, and Jones worked out of a bases-loaded jam by retiring Frank Thomas on a flyout to end the game.
At this stage, it appears that Detroit's hard-throwing pen might be getting in the heads of the Oakland hitters, whose bat speed isn't quite what it was in June or July.
"It's an advantage to us when hitters have to cheat to catch up,'' said Grilli. "We have guys who throw 95, and Joel makes it seem as if we're throwing BP fastballs. That's not fair.''
To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in "Unforgiven,'' fair's got nothing to do with it. The Tigers are a good, well-rounded team, and they have their swagger back just when it matters most.
As for the Athletics, they better pack their turtlenecks and hope for some luck as the series shifts to Detroit. They're going to need it.
MORE MLB HEADLINES
- A-Rod met Bosch at ALCS, clinic crony says
- Lee wants to win with Phils, not elsewhere
- Mets rookie P Wheeler wins 1st career start
- Red Sox put P Buchholz (neck strain) on DL