Tigers take 2-0 lead; series heads to Detroit

Tigers take 2-0 lead; series heads to Detroit

By Janie McCauley

OAKLAND, Calif. – Jim Leyland trusted his gut and changed designated hitters, going with little-used Alexis Gomez for Game 2 of the American League championship series.

The result: a 2-0 advantage heading home to Motown.

Gomez hit a go-ahead, two-run single and later added a two-run homer to lead the Detroit Tigers to an 8-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Wednesday, a somber night following the death of former A’s pitcher Cory Lidle in a plane crash earlier.

Milton Bradley homered twice for the A’s, and beat out an infield hit with two outs in the ninth inning that loaded the bases. But closer Todd Jones retired Frank Thomas on a harmless fly for his second save of this postseason.

Leyland, who turned around the Tigers in his first season as their manager, benched righty Marcus Thames and his 26 regular-season home runs in favor of a player who hadn’t been on the field in nearly two weeks and spent much of the year at Triple-A Toledo. A career minor leaguer, Gomez had just one home run in the majors only six RBIs in 103 at-bats this season.

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“We just took a shot that maybe, by chance, a lefty may have a shot,” Leyland said beforehand.

Leyland already had to reshuffle his lineup to replace Sean Casey after the first baseman injured his calf in Tuesday’s opener. The moves paid off and the Tigers won their fifth straight postseason game.

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Friday at Detroit’s Comerica Park, featuring Rich Harden for Oakland against former A’s pitcher Kenny Rogers.

Harden, who returned to make three late-season starts after missing more than three months with an elbow injury, did not pitch during the division series sweep of the Minnesota Twins. Rogers pitched shutout ball against the New York Yankees in Game 3.

A moment of silence was held before the national anthem for Lidle, who recently pitched for the Yankees on Saturday in Detroit, He spent the 2001 and ’02 seasons in Oakland. His picture was shown on the scoreboard.

Both teams did their best to focus on baseball and put their grief aside for a few hours.

The switch-hitting Bradley homered from both sides of the plate, drove in four runs and managed not to spill coffee on starter Esteban Loaiza this time.

Eric Chavez also homered for the A’s, who didn’t know until arriving at the ballpark that Lidle had been in the small plane that crashed. His old Oakland jersey hung near the dugout.

Hard-throwing Tigers rookie Justin Verlander struck out six and wasn’t shaken by an early deficit-he got plenty of support.

Curtis Granderson hit a solo home run off Huston Street leading off the ninth, Craig Monroe had two RBIs and Brandon Inge drove in another run at the bottom of the order with a sacrifice fly for the wild-card Tigers.

Detroit left the Bay Area with the comfort of knowing that all eight road teams to take a 2-0 lead in LCS history have gone on to reach the World Series.

The A’s took an early lead by getting a hit in their first opportunity with a runner in scoring position-in Game 1, they tied a postseason record by going hitless in 13 at-bats in those situations.

But Oakland could not hold this edge.

Both teams brought their infields in with a runner on third and one out in the first two innings, apparently anticipating a low-scoring pitcher’s duel.

Instead, the Tigers’ bats came up big in the fourth.

Patient as Detroit has been in the playoffs, Loaiza threw more strikes early and retired six straight batters after Carlos Guillen’s leadoff double in the second.

Then, back-to-back singles by Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez started the rally.

Guillen struck out and Loaiza walked Ivan Rodriguez before Monroe’s RBI single brought a mound visit from A’s pitching coach Curt Young. Gomez followed with a two-run single off of Chavez’s glove at third , and Inge added a sacrifice fly a day after his three-hits and two RBI’s.

The Tigers quieted the sellout crowd of 36,168 for a second straight night. Detroit has won five straight since dropping Game 1 of the division series to the Yankees- the club’s first time with five straight victories since a seven-game winning streak from June 23-30.

Gomez followed Monroe’s two-out single in the sixth with a home run over the right-field wall.

This was Gomez’s biggest performance yet, though the 28-year-old Dominican did hit four home runs on Aug. 7 against the Columbus Clippers to tie an International League record and had a 12-game hitting streak in Triple-A.

Casey, whose No. 21 jersey hung in the dugout, could be sidelined the entire series with a partially torn muscle in his left calf and underwent an MRI exam earlier Wednesday. Guillen shifted from shortstop to first to fill in, while Neifi Perez got the nod at shortstop despite his .200 batting average in 21 games with Detroit this season.

Guillen gave the Tigers a scare when he landed awkwardly on the bag on Jason Kendall’s groundout in the fifth. But Guillen was fine and went to the mound to encourage Verlander a few minutes later.

Verlander, a 17-game winner in his first major league season, reached 100 mph in the first inning but threw a wild pitch on his 10th offering of the game – which allowed Mark Kotsay to reach third after a one-out double. Bradley followed with a broken-bat single to left for a 1-0 lead. Bradley went to second on a balk, and Leyland began to come out to argue before being sent back to the dugout by plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt.

Verlander allowed seven hits and four runs in 5 1-3 innings and four relievers finished it.

Loaiza, who pitched Game 2 against the Twins in the Metrodome but got a no-decision, looked little like the guy who earned AL pitcher of the month after an unbeaten August. He was tagged for nine hits and seven runs, struck out five and walked one in six innings.