With the series tied 1-1 after a couple quiet games at the plate, the Oakland Athletics hit up Anibal Sanchez for six runs on eight hits – three of them home runs – and the A’s took a 2-1 series lead with a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Jarrod Parker got his first win of his playoff career after losing twice to the Tigers in the Division Series last year, and the A’s are now one win away from reaching the American League Championship for the first time since 2006. Parker threw five innings and allowed three runs on five hits, with one strikeout and one walk.
On paper, pitching figured to be the focus of Game 3, just like it was in the first two games of the series. But the story Monday wasn’t how dominant each starter was, but rather which one could persevere through their respective struggles.
The A’s came out swinging and had some early success making contact against Sanchez, with Coco Crisp getting on base with a lead off double to start the game and Seth Smith reaching on a line drive single in the second. They wouldn’t bring home a run, however, until the third.
Crisp led off the inning with a single for his second hit of the game, and with Josh Donaldson at the plate he stole second, his first steal of the postseason. Donaldson drew a walk to put two men on with no outs, but Sanchez recovered to strike out Brandon Moss and Jed Lowrie to face Yoenis Cespedes, and although he got the slugger to hit a grounder, Miguel Cabrera couldn’t handle the bounce at third, and Crisp scored from second on what was officially ruled an error to give Oakland a 1-0 lead.
Smith struck out in the next at-bat to end the rally, but it was clear the A’s were having no trouble figuring out Sanchez at that point, and it wouldn’t get any better for the right-hander as the game went on.
Meanwhile, Parker was getting the Tigers to hit into outs with ease. Through the first three inning, he allowed only one hit – a two-out single by Cabrera in the first – with one strikeout and no walks.
Josh Reddick started off the fourth inning by sending a slider low and inside over the left field wall to make it 2-0, snapping an 0-for-10 lifetime stretch against Sanchez. Stephen Vogt tripled in the next at-bat to put another Oakland runner in scoring position and Crisp brought him home on a sacrifice fly to Jhonny Peralta in left field; third base coach Mike Gallego did not hesitate to send Vogt home and test the arm of the shortstop-turned-outfielder, a smart move that resulted in a 3-0 advantage for the A’s.
Detroit answered back in bottom of the fourth, with Torii Hunter hitting a single to lead off the inning and moving to third on a one-out line drive single by Prince Fielder. It was the first real rough patch of the game for Parker, and he couldn’t get out of it unscathed as designated hitter Victor Martinez grounded a ball into right for a double, scoring Hunter and moving Fielder to third to make it 3-1.
Next, Peralta drove an inside fastball down the line in left field, and both runners would score to tie the game on his one-out double, and Parker had some work to do to limit the damage.
The right-hander responded by getting Alex Avila and Omar Infante to ground out to end the inning, and his teammates made sure the tie didn’t last long by doing more damage against Sanchez in the fifth.
With one out, Moss blasted the second Oakland homer of the day over the right field wall to make it 4-3. After a single to left by Cespedes in the next at-bat that extended his career-opening postseason hitting streak to eight games – the longest such streak in franchis history – Smith became the third A’s hitter to take Sanchez deep when he connected on a fastball drifting outside and drove it to left-center field to make it 6-3. It was a finishing blow against Sanchez, who had only allowed nine homers all year.
Jose Alvarez came in out of the bullpen for the Tigers and retired the next three Oakland hitters, but the three runs would prove to be the difference in an incredibly important game in deciding the advantage in the series.
Parker worked through the fifth, and he walked Austin Jackson before getting out of the inning with a nice 5-4-3 double play off a grounder to third by Hunter.
It was a battle of bullpens the rest of the way, which figures to favor the A’s any way you look at it. Dan Otero was brought in for the sixth to face Detroit’s dangerous 3-4-5 hitters, and he kept up his fantastic run out of the bullpen, getting Cabrera to ground out for the first out, then getting out of the inning on a double play after a single by Fielder.
The A’s were quiet at the plate against Alvarez in the seventh, but Otero was solid again in the bottom half of the inning, giving up a harmless two-out single to Infante before retiring Jose Iglesias on a groundout to put Oakland in the driver’s seat with 12 outs to go in the game.
Sean Doolittle came in for the eighth, and after walking Hunter with one-out the left-hander had to face the always-dangerous Cabrera and Fielder. Cabrera popped out to first, and Fielder lined out to Jed Lowrie at short to send it into the ninth.
The A’s came very close to adding some insurance in their last string of at-bats, as Crisp got his third hit of the day with a double off of Jose Veras to start off the inning. Donaldson hit an infield single next, and Oakland was poised to add to their three-run lead with two men on and no outs. Lowrie then struck out to extend his hitless streak in the playoffs to 18 at-bats, and Moss followed with a strikeout of his own, followed by Cespedes grounding out to third to end the threat for Detroit.
The ball was handed off to Grant Balfour to close it out in the ninth, and the colorful closer put his mark on the game by getting into a spat with Victor Martinez in the first matchup, resulting in the benches clearing after the two exchanged obscenities. It’s possible that Martinez took Balfour’s regular cursing in an effort to hype himself up as a slight, and it was a tense scene as they continued to beef even after Martinez lined out to right for the first out.
Balfour struck out Peralta in the next at-bat, and after walking Avila, he got Infante to line out to right to secure the victory and put the A’s one win away from the next round.
Dan Straily will take the mound tomorrow in the potential clinch-game, and if Jim Leyland sticks to his rotation it will be Doug Fister for the Tigers. Game time is 2:00 PST.