Here is a link to my Thursday column about Game 4 between the A’s and Tigers. The full text appears below:
Of course, the A’s blew the golden opportunity.
Of course, they had Game 4 won, leading the Tigers 3-0 after 4 innings, starting pitcher Dan Straily throwing a no-hitter through four, cruising, gliding, styling. The game actually was boring, the A’s doing the same old thing, just dominating the helpless Tigers.
And then, well, you know what happened. The Tigers came to life — what did you expect? — and won 8-6, and this series moves back to Oakland for the fifth and final game. Win or lose. Move on or go home. Do or die.
There is something fitting, even appropriate, about how this is playing out. The A’s are in a great/awful position. They must prove they’re the better team. To do that, they need to get past Justin Verlander a second time. There is honor in getting past Verlander to win this series. And there is glory. Don’t forget that.
The dramatic moment in Game 4 was top of the seventh. Detroit manager Jim Leyland sent in pitcher Max Scherzer, the game tied 3-3. In his pregame media conference Leyland had said he might do this. Leyland never tries to deceive, always tells the truth. So many managers and coaches should emulate him.
As Scherzer warmed up on the mound at 7 p.m., the sky turned gray and the stadium lights got bright. Something special was happening.
Scherzer is the best pitcher in the American League. He’s the guy who won Game 1. His presence as a reliever, so unusual, meant Leyland was doing everything to win — actually, to stop losing. Leyland was yanking Scherzer from his Game 5 start because Game 5 didn’t matter, didn’t exist, might never exist. Leyland’s world, the Tigers’ world, Detroit’s world was this game right here right now.
And all those worlds needed Scherzer to lock down the A’s. Leyland could not trust this to his bullpen. Scherzer was a would-be savior.
Scherzer gave up a run in the seventh, putting the A’s up by one. That doesn’t concern us here. Scherzer came out again to pitch the eighth, Leyland sticking with him for dear life, the Tigers now up by a run. Scherzer loaded the bases with nobody out. This was the A’s chance, their glowing opportunity to bury Scherzer who had no business being there. Bury him. Bury the Tigers. Sit in a Detroit hotel and leisurely watch the Red Sox-Rays game before traveling home or to Boston. Everything was there for the taking.
Josh Reddick came up. Determined. Feisty. Dangerous. The count went full, Scherzer laboring, missing the plate. And then he threw a crummy pitch, pitiful, slow, in the dirt, a changeup. Reddick swung. Missed. See ya.
“I never want to get out of my situation of a 97 mile an hour fastball,” Reddick said later. “I’m not going to sit on an 83 mile an hour changeup — there’s no way I’m gonna catch up to a 97 mile an hour fastball. I was sitting fastball. Looking back, I wish I had taken it.”
He didn’t. One out.
Here is Scherzer on the strikeout pitch to Reddick: “I threw a fastball and he was able to foul it off. I just thought if I executed a changeup, there was a chance I could get a swing and miss. I bounced it on the wrong side of the plate. I pulled it. But it still had the effectiveness of looking like a fastball because it got a swing and a miss.”
Next up catcher Stephen Vogt. Scherzer K’d him, too.
“We had Max on the ropes,” Vogt said. “He clearly is tough. We had the bases loaded. We had him exactly where we wanted him. We just didn’t come through, myself included. He got tough and we didn’t match it.”
What pitch struck out Vogt?
“Fastball 98 right by me,” he said.
FYI, Alberto Callaspo flied out to center to end the inning. End of threat. This was playoff ball at its most intense. If you did not like this inning, you do not like ball.
You know the rest. How the Tigers’ bats came alive, surprisingly, unbelievably, the Tigers hitting two home runs, Victor Martinez’s homer leading off the seventh off Sean Doolittle the living end. Reddick ran back toward the wall and leaped and then all hell broke loose. A fan touched the ball, deflected it from Reddick and debate followed. Was it a legit homer?
Here’s Reddick: “One hundred percent I catch it. I had no doubt in my mind. I timed it well. I had it in my glove the whole way. The ruling I understand is once it goes over the yellow line it’s anybody’s ball. It clearly was over the fence. Once it’s out of the ballpark, anybody can touch it whether it’s me or Joe Shmoe out there in the stands. It’s the advantage of having home field.”
I have no idea if the fan’s name was Joe Shmoe. It’s like Fate put him there. Is Fate a shmoe?
Leyland said something interesting — prescient — before the game. Reporters were asking if he’d change his lineup, drop guys in the batting order, that kind of stuff. The Tigers had been just horrible.
“I’m not trying to act smart here,” Leyland said. “I don’t do that. But there are no tricks. We got (Austin) Jackson leading off, and (Torii) Hunter and (Miguel) Cabrera and (Prince) Fielder and (Victor) Martinez and (Jhonny) Peralta and (Alex) Avila and (Omar) Infante. That’s who our guys are. There are no tricks or nothing to try to pull something out of the hat at this time of year.
“I guess every once in a while that happens in baseball, but if we get Austin Jackson on base a couple of times and movin’ around, we’re pretty dangerous. If we don’t, we’re not a manufacture team, we’re a team that hits the balls in the gaps and over the fence, and we haven’t hit a home run in seven games. There is not a lot of secrets to this.”
Well, Leyland had to play his guys on Tuesday night because he had no other guys. And the Tigers players became themselves, big lumbering, base-to-base men who finally remembered the art of home-run hitting. The Tigers, give them credit, were poised on the precipice, one foot pointing down to the abyss.
The A’s could not push them over. The A’s get another chance. They need to push harder.
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