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Gomez HR, four RBI spark Tigers to 2-0 ALCS lead

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Alexis Gomez impressed his teammates time
and again by routinely hitting long home runs. In batting practice,
that is.

Still, Jim Leyland trusted his gut and went with the little-used
Gomez as Detroit's designated hitter for Game 2 of the American
League Championship Series -- yet another spot-on call by the Tigers
manager this postseason.

The result: a 2-0 advantage heading home to Motown.

Gomez hit a go-ahead, two-run single and later added a two-run
homer to lead the Tigers to an 8-5 victory over the Oakland
Athletics on Wednesday, a somber night following the death of
former A's pitcher Cory Lidle in a plane crash earlier in the day.

A career minor leaguer, Gomez had just one home run in the
majors and contributed only six RBI in 103 at-bats this season.

"He does have big-time power," Leyland said. "Unfortunately,
he showed most of it in batting practice."

Milton Bradley homered twice for the A's, and beat out an
infield hit with two outs in the ninth inning that loaded the
bases. But closer Todd Jones retired Frank Thomas on a harmless fly
for his second save in these playoffs.

"What a challenge," Jones said. "It was a lot of fun. We're
up 2-0 and we're going back to Detroit."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Friday at Detroit's
Comerica Park, featuring Rich Harden for Oakland against former A's
pitcher Kenny Rogers.

Harden, who returned to make three late-season starts after
missing more than three months with an elbow injury, did not pitch
during the division series sweep of the Minnesota Twins. Rogers
pitched shutout ball against the New York Yankees in Game 3.

Leyland, who turned around the Tigers in his first season as
their manager, benched righty Marcus Thames and his 26
regular-season home runs in favor of Gomez, who hadn't been on the
field in nearly two weeks and spent much of the year at Triple-A
Toledo.

"We just took a shot that maybe, by chance, a lefty may have a
shot," Leyland said beforehand.

Leyland already had to reshuffle his lineup to replace Sean
Casey after the first baseman injured his calf in Tuesday's opener.
The moves paid off and the Tigers won their fifth straight
postseason game.

Leyland gave Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski a courtesy
heads-up about the switch at DH.

"I won't question who he plays," Dombrowski said. "I never
have. That's his responsibility. He does it well."

Jones echoed that.

"When Jim puts out the lineup it's the right nine. He's the
only one who has to know the decision," the reliever said. "If I
walk in there on Friday and see my name as the cleanup hitter, I'd
expect to get a hit."

A moment of silence was held before the national anthem for
Lidle, who most recently pitched for the Yankees on Saturday in
Detroit and spent the 2001 and '02 seasons in Oakland. His picture
was shown on the main scoreboard.

Both teams did their best to focus on baseball and put their
grief aside for a few hours.

The switch-hitting Bradley homered from both sides of the plate,
drove in four runs and managed not to spill coffee on starter
Esteban Loaiza this time.

Eric Chavez also homered for the A's, who didn't know until
arriving at the ballpark that Lidle had been in the small plane.
Lidle's old Oakland jersey hung near the dugout.

Hard-throwing Tigers rookie Justin Verlander struck out six. He
got plenty of support from the bats, and Jones.

"He made it a little bit exciting, but he got it done,"
Verlander said.

Perhaps more fun for Verlander was watching Gomez's offensive
show. Gomez was designated for assignment by Detroit twice this
season.

"There's no surprise in me," said Gomez, who initially thought
his name in the lineup was a joke. "I know why I came to the big
leagues. When I went to Toledo this year, I didn't put my head
down. I worked hard every day."

This was the biggest performance yet for the 28-year-old
Dominican, who did hit four home runs on Aug. 7 against the
Columbus Clippers to tie an International League record and had a
12-game hitting streak in Triple-A.

"Everyone had seen him in BP hit balls 500 feet," Verlander
said. "He can crush the ball. We were sitting there hoping for one
of those BP swings, and he got one."

Curtis Granderson hit a solo home run off Huston Street leading
off the ninth, Craig Monroe had two RBI and Brandon Inge had a
sacrifice fly for the wild-card Tigers.

Detroit left the Bay Area with the comfort of knowing that all
eight road teams to take a 2-0 lead in LCS history have gone on to
reach the World Series.

The A's took an early lead by getting a hit in their first
opportunity with a runner in scoring position -- in Game 1, they
tied a postseason record by going hitless in 13 at-bats in those
situations.

"Yesterday was more frustrating," Chavez said. "They flat out
beat us today. They looked like the better team. It's tough. They
just keep coming at you."

Both teams brought their infields in with a runner on third and
one out in the first two innings, apparently anticipating a
low-scoring pitcher's duel.

Instead, the Tigers' bats came up big in the fourth.

Back-to-back singles by Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez
started the rally.

Carlos Guillen struck out and Loaiza walked Ivan Rodriguez
before Monroe's RBI single brought a mound visit from A's pitching
coach Curt Young. Gomez followed with a two-run single off Chavez's
glove at third base, and Inge added a sacrifice fly a night after
his three-hit, two-RBI performance.

The Tigers quieted the sellout crowd of 36,168 for a second
straight night. Detroit has won five straight since dropping Game 1
of the division series to the Yankees -- the club's first time with
five straight victories since a seven-game winning streak from June
23-30.

Gomez followed Monroe's two-out single in the sixth with a home
run over the right-field wall.

Casey, whose No. 21 jersey hung in the dugout, could be
sidelined the entire series with a partially torn muscle in his
left calf and underwent an MRI exam earlier Wednesday. Guillen
shifted from shortstop to first to fill in, while Neifi Perez got
the nod at shortstop despite his .200 batting average in 21 games
with Detroit this season.

Verlander, a 17-game winner in his first major league season,
reached 100 mph in the first inning but threw a wild pitch on his
10th offering of the game -- which allowed Mark Kotsay to reach
third after a one-out double. Bradley followed with a broken-bat
single to left for a 1-0 lead.

Verlander allowed seven hits and four runs in 5 1/3 innings and
four relievers finished it.

"I think you've got to give our hitters some credit. We wound
up putting some runs on the board," A's manager Ken Macha said.

Loaiza, who pitched Game 2 against the Twins in the Metrodome
but got a no-decision, looked little like the guy who earned AL
pitcher of the month after an unbeaten August. He was tagged for
nine hits and seven runs, struck out five and walked one in six
innings.

Game notes
Thomas had five hits in the first round -- including two
homers in Game 1 of the ALDS -- but went 0-for-5 with three
strikeouts and is hitless so far in the ALCS. ... Guillen had been
12-for-17 lifetime against Loaiza before striking out in the
fourth. ... Oakland's Jay Payton singled in the fourth for an
11-game postseason hitting streak. ... The A's set an ALCS record
with six straight strikeouts late, topping the five straight Ks by
Boston hitters against the Yankees on Oct. 12, 2004. ... A's RHP
reliever Justin Duchscherer had a neck spasm and was unavailable.