October 11, 2012
ALDS Game Four Recap: Athletics 4, Tigers 3
The Oakland A’s certainly have a flair for the dramatic. Beginning the ninth inning three outs away from elimination, they ended the frame with their 15th walk-off win of the 2012 season, scoring three runs off Tigers closer Jose Valverde. And while you’re bound to hear plenty of narratives involving Max Scherzer’s pitching a dominant game to no avail and Oakland’s timely situational hitting, this game was, in many ways, a war of mistakes and missed opportunities.
Before capitalizing off Papa Grande in the ninth, Oakland blew several chances to tack more runs on the board, notably in the fifth inning with runners at the corners, and again in the eighth, with runners at first and second. The most egregious calamity, however, came in the sixth inning, when the team trailed 2-0. Stephen Drew doubled home Coco Crisp but proceeded to get thrown out by a mile at third base… with no outs. Instead of a runner at second, no outs, down by one, Oakland found themselves with bases empty, down by one.
On the other side of coin, Tigers manager Jim Leyland made a pair of very shaky calls in this game, one tactical and one to do with his pitching staff (which he’d managed relatively well to this point in the series). The former was his call for a sacrifice in the third inning with no outs and a runner on second. Playing for a single run that early in the game, especially with a quality hitter in Infante at bat and the top of the order due up afterward, seemed ill-advised. Detroit indeed only scored one run, and the score remained tight throughout. (Leyland called for another sacrifice in the eighth inning, which was slightly more defensible that late.) Following the third-inning bunt, Jason Wojciechowski quipped during the BP Roundtable: “Jim Leyland just bunted after a leadoff double. Justin Verlander was the first to give a high five. ‘Thanks for increasing the odds that I pitch tomorrow.’”
Leyland’s quick hook on Scherzer also raised some eyebrows. In fact, that hook may have been two mistakes wrapped into one: 1) Pulling Scherzer too soon, and 2) Wasting one of the team’s better relievers, Octavio Dotel. Yes, it was a close game and the heart of the order was coming up for the third time, but Scherzer had been pitching very well (though his velocity had begun to fall off a bit). Even that inning, he only let Crisp aboard because Fielder couldn’t handle a ground ball. Then he gave up a well-hit ball to Stephen Drew and was done.
Compounding the (potential) mistake was bringing on Dotel to face Yoenis Cespedes knowing that he needed two outs to get out of the inning and had two lefties due up after Cespedes. After Dotel walked Moss, Leyland brought Coke on to retire Reddick. It seemed, at the very least, Scherzer could have faced Cespedes and Coke the two lefties: a waste of Dotel. This is, of course, backseat quarterbacking; Leyland may well have seen additional signs that Scherzer was toast, and even if this was a mistake, it really didn’t cost Detroit very much. Still, this game could well have been won or lost in a number of different places, not just Coco Crisp’s ninth-inning walk-off.