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October 11, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Four Recap: Athletics 4, Tigers 3

by Derek Carty

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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.

  • How awesome is it that Coco Crisp not only comes out to “Move It Like Bernie” but that the Oakland fans actually get into it, too?
     
  • In his Game Four preview, Jason Wojciechowski’s Matchup of the Game was A.J. Griffin versus Prince Fielder. He noted how the righty-handed Griffin likes to work up in the zone but how Fielder eats righties for dinner when they leave their pitches up. In the first at-bat, Griffin worked low. In the second at-bat, Fielder fouled off a ball in the upper half of the zone. On the next pitch, Griffin again elevated his pitch (perhaps unintentionally, based on where Norris set up), and Fielder took him way deep.
     
  • I stood up in the bar tonight and Bernied, too.
     
  • I questioned why Melvin would leave Griffin in to face the middle of the order for a third time, but after giving up a single to Miggy, Melvin pulled him. Seems he kept him in to face the righty Cabrera but then pulled the plug with the lefty Fielder up. Good call to pull him.
     
  • I got lots of weird looks.
     
  • Oakland came dangerously close to losing this game once again because their strengths let them down. Sean Doolittle struggled in the eighth inning, there were a few defensive misplays, and of course, there was that infamous Stephen Drew play.
     
  • I didn’t care.
     
  • Holy moly, did you see Josh Donaldson’s throw from his knees after diving to stop the ball and winding up in foul territory? Oakland may have misplayed a couple balls this game, but that certainly wasn’t one of them.
     
  • During the commercial between the third and fourth innings, I stepped out for a minute and told my brother to take notes if I wasn’t back in time. Word for word: “The Prince of fields made a super sweet running home hit. He was the 28th member of the team.” He’s 22 years old.
     
  • One has to wonder, if Detroit loses tomorrow night, will Valverde be welcomed back next season?

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