By Matthew Harrington
The Detroit Tigers may not always beat the Oakland Athletics, but the motor city kitties tend to find the most excruciating ways to do it. After bouncing Swingin’ A’s from the postseason in the last two campaigns, the American League Central leaders added another chapter of success against their West Coast foes Monday night at Comerica Park, converting a 4-1 deficit in the ninth inning into a walk-off grand slam for Rajai Davis and the Tigers (45-34).
With a decent lead in the ninth, Oakland A’s Manager Bob Melvin tabbed bullpen backend stalwart Sean Doolittle (1-3, 2.97) to sit the Tigers down for three final outs. Instead the A’s bench boss saw a surefire victory turned into a stunning defeat. Detroit came to the plate in attack mode against Doolittle, with Nick Castellanos and Alex Avila reaching base with no outs three pitches in to the left-hander’s night.
Doolittle found his footing, striking out Eugenio Suarez but failed to put Austin Jackson away on a full-count pitch. Instead Doolittle nibbled outside the strike zone to bring former Athletic Rajai Davis to the plate representing the winning run. Davis patiently took the first-pitch delivery from Doolittle for a ball, then crushed a belt-high breaking ball deep to left field about ten feet from foul pole for his sixth home run of the season. Davis made reliever Blaine Hardy (101, 2.89 ERA) the winner, handing the 27-year-old his first Major League win
Doolittle saw his scoreless inning streak snapped at 26 1/3 innings Saturday in Miami, blowing his second save of the season after allowing a Casey McGehee single to tie the game at 6-6. With a second blown save Monday night, he now has failed to shut the door in two-straight games after going the first 38 games of the season with only one missed opportunity. Since taking over the closer’s role for a struggling Jim Johnson, the first baseman-turned-reliever has collected 11 saves in 2014.
The A’s (51-31) looked securely en route to their fifth-straight win after taking a commanding 4-1 lead in the eighth inning. Oakland and Detroit entered the inning tied 1-1 after strong performances from A’s starter Scott Kazmir and his counterpart Anibal Sanchez. Sanchez opened the frame getting Yoenis Cespedes to bounce a grounder to short, but Suarez threw the ball away on the play. Brandon Moss made Detroit pay for the mistake by lacing an RBI double to left, chasing Sanchez from the game with no outs in the seventh. The 2013 ERA leader allowed the two earned runs on eight hits with only a pair of strikeouts (including the 1,000th of his career) but exited in line for the loss.
Joba Chamberlain fared far worse in relief of Sanchez, allowing the first two batters he faced to reach base, walking Josh Donaldson before yielding a single to Stephen Vogt to load the bases. A visit to the mound by Tigers Pitching coach Jeff Jones proved only a brief respite for Chamberlain, as Lowrie took the fifth pitch of the next at-bat to left for a two-run single to stake the A’s to a commanding 4-1 lead.
Lowrie knocked in the A’s first run of the game on an RBI single of Sanchez in the top of the sixth, but 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera responded in the home half of the inning by ripping a solo home run off Kazmir to left field, the 14th long ball of the season for the back-to-back American League Most Valuable Player.
Kazmir would then walk J.D. Martinez before exiting the game two pitches in to the next batter. Kazmir appeared to suffer tightness in his lead leg after bouncing the first pitch to Nick Castellanos well in front of the plate. After a brief visit from Melvin and trainer, the southpaw stayed in the game for one last pitch. After seeing his pitcher grimace on the pitch, Melvin instantly jumped up to pull his ace from the game.
After the game, Melvin stated that Kazmir was fine and the quick trigger was precautionary. Kazmir also departed his last start against the New York Mets on Tuesday earlier than expected, surrendering seven earned runs over three innings of a 10-1 shelling in Flushing Meadows. Aside from the one blip, Kazmir has been rock solid as the anchor of the A’s rotation, potentially in line to make this season’s All-Star team after going 9-3 with a 2.66 ERA in his first 16 starts for the green and gold.
The A’s won’t have an easy road bouncing back, as they’ll face the Tigers’ surpise of 2014 Rick Porcello (10-4, 3.41) in the second game of the three-game series. Oakland sends lefty Brad Mills to the mound in his first start since getting his first win since 2012, outdueling Zack Wheeler and the Mets last Wednesday.