Big Inning Paces Tigers to Sweep of A’s

By Matthew Harrington

For the second time in the three-game series at Detroit, a big inning doomed the Oakland Athletics hopes of exacting revenge on the team that bounced them from both the 2012 and 2013 playoffs. Wednesday afternoon, the Detroit Tigers pounced on A’s pitching for a six-run sixth inning to seal up a 9-3 win and a series sweep in a matinee game at Comerica Park. Detroit (47-34)used a four-run bottom of the ninth Monday to walk off winners then shut the A’s out 3-0 Tuesday night.

A’s starter Jesse Chavez (6-5, 3.23 ERA) turned in his second-consecutive forgettable performance, taking the loss after surrendering four runs to the potent Detroit offense. In his last start on Friday against the Marlins, Chavez went only five innings in a six-hit, four-run no decision. His opponent Justin Verlander (7-7, 4.71), entrenched in a forgettable season, pitched well enough to be tabbed the winning pitcher after striking out four in his six inning, two-run performance to nail down the three-game sweep.

The A’s (51-33) did take some positives from Wednesday’s loss. Derek went 2-for-4 in his return from back stiffness that saw him sidelined since June 27. Yoenis Cespedes found himself penciled in as designated hitter after missing Tuesday’s game with tightness in his hamstring.

Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss accounted for the trio of A’s runs. Both hit solo home runs to right field off 2011 AL Cy Young winner Verlander in the first inning. Later, with the game well out of Oakland’s reach, Crisp scored on Moss’s seventh inning single off reliever Al Alburquerque. The Oakland first baseman’s performance Wednesday pushed him past an inactive Josh Donaldson (recipient of an off day from A’s Manager Bob Melvin) for the team lead in homers (19) and runs batted in (62).

Though the A’s struck early to stake Jesse Chavez to a 2-0 lead before he even took the mound, the Tigers struck often against the right-hander. Torii Hunter hit an RBI single off Chavez in the bottom of the first, then tied the game up on his run scoring base hit in the bottom of the third. Austin Jackson put Detroit ahead 3-2 in the home half of the fourth, plating Andrew Romine on a two-out single

The real damage came in six-run, three-pitcher sixth inning that saw the Motor City kitties score six runs. Chavez was lifted by Melvin in favor of Jim Johnson after walking the first two batters he faced. After retiring the first batter, Romine, on a sacrifice bunt, Johnson failed to record another out. Monday night’s hero Rajai Davis knocked a two-run single, Ian Kinsler singled in a run then 2013 American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera doubled in a pair to knock the 2012 All-Star from the game for Ryan Cook. In total, the beleaguered Johnson was responsible for four runs on four hits in his 1/3 of an inning.

Cook got the first batter he faced, J.D. Martinez, to ground out for the second out, but yielded a single to Torii Hunter that scored the inherited runner Cabrera. He then finished Nick Castellanos off with a pop-out, but by then the damage was done with Detroit sitting out front 9-2.

After facing the AL Central leaders Monday to Wednesday, the A’s head home to welcome the AL East’s top dogs. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and the Toronto Blue Jays flutter into town Thursday to open a four-game weekend series at O.Co Coliseum. Melvin has tabbed Sonny Gray to open the series in hopes of snapping the current three-game losing skid.

Tigers Stun Athletics in Grand Fashion

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.

“Rally Killers” Lift A’s to 10-0 Rout of Tigers

By Matthew Harrington

OAKLAND, Calif. — A note inscribed next to the Oakland Athletics line-up card posted this afternoon stated “Home runs can be rally killers”. After a 10-0 routing of the Detroit Tigers the A’s may have reason to rethink that mantra.

“Homers can be rally killers,” said A’s catcher Derek Norris. “But when you’re hitting four or five of them a game they can probably make a different statement. That’s more for the solo home runs. Anytime you can scratch off two, three grand slam home runs, those are hardly rally killers. That’s how you bury a team.”

The A’s (31-20) did just that, outmuscling the visiting Tigers (28-19) in a Memorial Day matinee at the O.Co coliseum capped by Derek Norris’ first career grand slam. Five different Athletics homered, including four solo shots off Tigers starter Drew Smyly (2-3, 3.86 ERA) to snap a four-game losing skid. A’s starter Tommy Milone (3-3, 3.50) turned in a brilliant performance, going 6 2/3 innings without surrendering a run against a potent Tiger offense that tops the junior circuit with a .278 team batting average.

“Zero runs, that’s always a good day,” said Milone. “I’ve got to give it to my defense and obviously the offense. They backed me up today.”

Milone threw an economical 105 pitches, needing more than 20 pitches in an inning only once to retire the side, yielding a scant four hits to the visitors. The lefty collected six K’s, one shy of a season-high, while only issuing two walks. Andrew Romine and reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera represented the lone Tigers hitters to reach second base Monday afternoon, each doubling off Milone. The A’s starter now has three wins in four starts after dropping three-straight decisions over his first five appearances.

“I think he was just trying to do too much,” said battery mate Norris. “He was trying to create stuff that wasn’t there. Finally I said to just sit back and throw the baseball just like you know how. His focus has been higher, his determination has been higher. He’s been attacking hitters and not shying away from contact.”

Brandon Moss opened the long ball barrage, leading off the second inning with a deep blast to right center that Austin Jackson nearly scaled the wall to steal. Moss’ extra-base hit marks his 18th of the month, tying an A’s record with Jason Giambi (2001) for most in May. Two batters later, designated hitter Blanks took Smyly yard on a 2-1 offering to make it 2-0 Oakland.

“There are very few guys on this ball club that are trying to hit home runs,” said Norris. “You look at some of the guys like Moss and (Josh) Donaldson, they’ve literally shaped their swings to try to become fly ball hitters and have home run swings. It’s definitely an art that not everyone can grasp.”

For Blanks, it was the first home run hit as a member of the Athletics after coming over in a May 15th trade with the San Diego Padres. Blanks’ last Major League round-tripper came 49 games ago on June 16, 2013. He also spent some time in the minors with the Padres since then.

“It makes him feel like a part of the team that much quicker when you get into a game like that,” said manager Bob Melvin. “You’re scoring runs with homers. It really gets you feeling like ‘Hey, I’m a part of this team’.”

Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes added back-to-back solo blasts off Smyly in the bottom of the third for a 4-0 edge. The twin displays of power marked the second time this season consecutive batters have homered, with Cespedes and Moss achieving the feat May 9th. The A’s made it a six-pack in the fourth after Coco Crisp hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Josh Donaldson hit a run-scoring two-out single off Smyly. In total, the Tigers starter went five innings while allowing six runs, all earned, to accompany two walks and a trio of strikeouts.

Norris brought the scoring into double digits, launching his first career grand slam to deep center field off reliever Phil Coke in the Oakland half of the 8th. Blanks opened the inning by drawing a walk, moved to second when Craig Gentry was awarded first base on catcher’s interference. Crisp reached base on an error to load the bases for the Oakland backstop.

“I hit the ball hard a couple times earlier and came away with nothing,” said the A’s catcher after going 0-4 heading into his 8th inning at-bat. “I was just trying to get the RBI. I was trying to get something out over the plate. Fortunately it just came back over the middle and I put a good swing on it.”

Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle pitched 2 and 1/3 innings of perfect relief to finish off the drubbing of Detroit, the team that bounced Oakland from the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. The reeling Tigers now have lost seven of their last eight, but send 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to the mound to play stopper Tuesday night. The A’s will counter with ace Sonny Gray.

“Sonny’s always pumped,” said Norris when asked if there was any extra motivation for the young A’s starter facing a familiar playoff foe. “He’s 100 percent determined every fifth day. He’s on it, he’s focused. He’s ready.”

A’s, Tigers down to the wire in Oakland

By George Devine, Sr.

The A’s and Tigers have both undertaken the return trip to Oakland for the final and decisive game of the ALDS, after the series was tied by Detroit’s 8-6 win over the Athletics at Comerica Field on Tuesday. The fifth game will begin at 5:07 p.m. PDT, simultaneous with an event at neighboring Oracle Arena and a few hours before a BART strike deadline, as rush-hour traffic clogs the Nimitz Freeway alongside the venue. In other words, for A’s personnel and fans, it will be home, sweet home, and that may be just what Oakland needs to win.

Due to Thursday night’s concert at Oracle Arena, A’s fans who purchased tickets to Game 5 of the American League Division Series at O.co Coliseum are strongly encouraged to arrive early or take public transportation to the ballpark.
All lots are expected to fill very early as various parking spaces will be reserved for the concert at Oracle Arena. Parking will be $25 for cars until lots are full or 6 p.m., space permitting, when it will change to the concert price of $35. Direct parking will be in effect to maximize the use of available parking spaces.

Parking will open Thursday at noon. Stadium gates will be open at 3 p.m.

1989 World Series Most Valuable Player Dave Stewart will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on Thursday before the deciding game. Stewart was 21-9 with a 3.32 ERA in 36 starts with the A’s during their championship season in 1989 and was named an AL All-Star. It was the third of four consecutive seasons in which he won 20 games or more. He was 2-0 with a shutout and 1.69 ERA in two starts against the Giants in the 1989 World Series. In his career, Stewart was 168-129 with a 3.95 ERA in 16 Major League seasons with the Dodgers, Rangers, Phillies, A’s and Blue Jays. A native of Oakland, Calif., he finished in the top five in the AL Cy Young voting four times (1987-90), led the league in complete games and innings pitched twice (1988, 1990) and wins once (1987).

But the larger question is: who will be the starting pitchers for the Tigers and Athletics? In the visitors’ case, the decision was made early on: Justin Verlander, who pitched seven scoreless innings in Game 2, and won last year’s Game 5. His being chosen seemed a foregone conclusion once fellow starter Max Scherzer appeared in relief for two innings, earning the win in Tuesday’s Game 4. For the Athletics, two choices were considered: Bartolo Colon and Sonny Gray, until it was announced late Wednesday that Gray would be the starter.

Gray, who has come upon the Tigers as an unknown quantity, posted a 5-3 record and 2.67 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) during the regular season, pitched eight shutout innings in Game 2 last Saturday. He received a no-decision in Oakland’s 1-0 win over the Tigers, striking out nine batters, walking two and allowing only four hits.
The 24-year-old Nashville, Tenn. native was selected by the Athletics in the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Vanderbilt University.