Greg Eno

Posts Tagged ‘Oakland A’s’

Tigers-A’s Playoff Rivalry Began With a Bat Toss

In Baseball on October 5, 2013 at 10:08 pm

The eyes are wild, the face tight and taut. He is caught in pre-fling, rage washed over his mug. He is prepared to throw the bat, and it looks as if in that moment, he wants the lumber to behead its intended target.

Bert Campaneris is shown in the photograph, snapped from the first base side of the diamond, standing in the batter’s box, a baseball bat in his right hand, grasping the handle, barrel down. The photo shows him in the split second before he whipped the bat toward Tigers pitcher Lerrin LaGrow.

With that moment of indiscretion by Campaneris, the first salvo in the playoff wars between the Oakland A’s and the Detroit Tigers was fired.

It came in Game 2 of the 1972 American League Championship Series, in Oakland. The A’s had won Game 1 and were ahead, 5-0, in the seventh inning when Campaneris took leave of his senses.

Some bean ball shenanigans were being played in Game 2. In the A’s fifth inning, Tigers reliever Fred Scherman knocked A’s slugger Reggie Jackson down twice in the same at-bat.

Campaneris was fleet of foot, and there are stories that say Tigers manager Billy Martin ordered the rookie LaGrow—who had just 39 big league innings on his resume—to throw at Campaneris’ legs. Knowing Billy, the speculation is probably true.

LaGrow’s pitch did indeed nail Campaneris in the ankle area. Without hesitation, as if acting reflexively, Campaneris planted his feet and flung his bat toward LaGrow, who ducked to avoid being decapitated.

A donnybrook ensued, and Campaneris was suspended for the remainder of the series.

The series went the maximum (at the time) five games, the A’s prevailing with a nail-biting 2-1 win in Game 5 at Tiger Stadium—aided by a highly questionable call at first base that went against Detroit.

Thirty-four years later, Magglio Ordonez stood in the batter’s box at Comerica Park, a bat in his hand, but he chose to use it in the conventional manner.

It was Game 4 of the ALCS in 2006, the Tigers leading the A’s, 3-0. The game was tied, 3-3, in the bottom of the ninth inning, with two outs. Two runners were on base, and Ordonez stepped in against Oakland’s usually reliable closer, Huston Street.

With one swing, Ordonez evoked memories of Kirk Gibson against Goose Gossage in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series, sending a Street fastball deep into the night, far over the left field wall, sending the Tigers to the Fall Classic.

No Tigers fan worth his or her salt will ever forget the sight of Placido Polanco jumping up and down like a little boy as he rounded third base, once Magglio’s home run cleared the fence.

The second salvo in the A’s-Tigers playoff wars was fired, more than three decades after the first.

It’s another raucous night at the Oakland Coliseum. Game 5—the deciding game—of the 2012 American League Divisional Series is being played, Tigers vs. A’s yet again.

Oakland and its scrappy bunch, which made the walk-off win part of its strategy in 2012, had roared back on its home field and erased a 2-0 Tigers series lead, forcing the Game 5. Game 4 was won in typical A’s fashion—in the last at-bat, with the crowd beside itself. The A’s scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth off wobbly closer Jose Valverde to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Slugged but not out, the Tigers turned to Justin Verlander, whose charge was simple in definition but difficult in its execution: to shut the A’s down and quiet the feverish Oakland crazies.

Verlander, pitching as if possessed, mowed the A’s down. He pitched all nine innings, allowing just four hits. He walked one and struck out 11. The Tigers won the game, 6-0, and the series, 3-2.

The third salvo was fired.

The Tiger and A’s are separated by thousands of miles, geographically, but historically, the two teams are almost joined at the hip.

It began with the irascible Ty Cobb.

Cobb, after 22 years as a Tigers player and manager, took his services to Philadelphia, to play for the A’s, in 1927. Cobb in an A’s uniform was like Bobby Orr wearing Blackhawk colors.

Mickey Cochrane, old Black Mike himself, was traded by the A’s to the Tigers after the 1933 season. Cochrane managed the Tigers for parts of five seasons.

The Tigers traded for Hall of Fame third baseman George Kell, getting him from the A’s in 1946 for Barney McCosky.

In less than 20 years—from the Cobb defection to the Kell trade—the Tigers and A’s had swapped baseball legends and moved mountains three times, each a stunning move that, had they occurred today, would have sent Twitter and the Internet in general, aflutter.

All was quiet on the A’s-Tigers front for some 26 years, after the Kell trade, until Bert Campaneris treated a baseball bat like a hand grenade.

They’re going at it again, the A’s and the Tigers. They are duking it out in the ALDS. The Tigers, behind new ace Max Scherzer, are up 1-0, thanks to Scherzer’s domination.

Verlander, the old ace, is pitching Game 2. It reminds one of the Dodgers’ 1-2 punch of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale in the mid-1960s.

Did Scherzer fire the fourth playoff salvo, A’s-Tigers style, with his brilliance in Game 1? Or is there something else coming that will define the fourth post-season series between these two old AL rivals?

I wonder if Bert Campaneris had any idea what his bat toss would spawn.

Burning Questions: ALDS Game 5

In Baseball on October 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM’s answers to the questions that many of you have about the previous night’s game. Today’s BQ addresses Game 5 of the ALDS.

In retrospect, did the A’s have a chance last night?
Probably not. Yes, there were times this season when Justin Verlander got knocked around a little bit, but he won his last four starts of the regular season and is now locked in for the playoffs. We probably didn’t need to be nervous at all yesterday, waiting for 9:37 p.m. to come. This was, in MMM’s eyes, the best game Verlander has ever pitched. Yes, that’s saying something about a guy who has tossed two no-hitters and has come close to a few others, but given the circumstances, the venue and the stakes, last night was the best.

As Dennis Eckersley said on MLB Network after the game, once the Tigers got ahead 2-0, you could sense that Oakland’s magical season was beginning to crumble because Verlander was dealing as only Verlander can.

Silly question, but what made Verlander so good?
A seemingly endless supply of pitches, thrown at the right times, and in the right locations. It was as if a pitching god was upstairs ordering pitches, like we would order weather for a family picnic—you know, “I’d like a hard curve ball, 12 to 6, to freeze this hitter, please.” And so on.

The A’s are a strikeout-prone lineup to begin with, but JV would have racked up Ks against any team last night.

So what about that strategy you mentioned yesterday—the one about trying to drive Verlander’s pitch count up?
MMM also said easier said than done. But the A’s didn’t really try that strategy, or at least it didn’t appear that they did. In their defense, Verlander didn’t fall behind too many hitters, so the A’s were often down in the count, which makes it difficult to drive a pitch count up. JV threw a complete game and tossed just 116 pitches, which is 13 per inning, a delightful number that any pitching coach or manager would kill for from his starter.

What would have happened to Jim Leyland if he yanked Verlander after eight innings?
Not sure about Leyland, but MMM is quite sure that Twitter might have seen its Apocalypse.

How important was it for the Tigers to bust the game open in the seventh inning?
Of the utmost. As good as Verlander was, 2-0 made MMM uneasy, as it probably did hundreds of thousands of Tigers fans. You just didn’t want the A’s to feel like they were still in the game in the late innings, because they tend to do that thing where they win in the bottom of the ninth or beyond. And, if you recall, MMM said the Tigers needed to win the game 6-1 instead of in a squeaker.

Patting yourself on the back?
Who else is going to do it?

OK, getting back to the series as a whole: the Tigers won it without a monster performance from Miguel Cabrera. Good or bad?
How can it be bad? If you’re implying that we should somehow be worried about Miggy in the post-season in general, fret not. He’s a superstar. Remember Nelson Cruz? He had a God awful ALDS against Tampa Bay last year and torched the Tigers in the ALCS. And in case you hadn’t noticed, Cabrera is better than Cruz. Post-season baseball is compartmentalized. Placido Polanco was the MVP of the 2006 ALCS and couldn’t buy a hit in the World Series. Cabrera will be fine. He also didn’t have too many at-bats with ducks on the pond in this series.

So yeah, it’s good to win without your star slugger having gaudy numbers. Means other people are getting it done.

Now that the A’s are done, any post-mortem you’d like to give on their season?
MMM thinks you should check Bob Melvin’s office for mirrors and a smoke machine. How he got 94 wins with that team will go down as one of baseball’s great mysteries. Yes, they have some nice young arms, but this is 2012—teams just don’t win without being able to hit for a BA higher than .238. Yet the A’s did. But don’t get too excited; 2013 won’t be filled with walk-off wins and some of those kid pitchers may experience a sophomore jinx or two. Still, they had a nice year. Can’t take it away from them.

Any final thoughts about the series, from a Tigers perspective?
They did just enough, obviously, to win it, and they had Justin Verlander and the other team didn’t. The good news is that the Tigers will always have Verlander and the other team won’t. But MMM still has some concerns about the “now you see it, now you don’t” offense. It goes into hibernation too often. You can overcome that in a five-game series in which your ace pitches twice, but maybe not in a seven-game series. Although, if the schedule holds, Verlander is set to pitch Game 3 and…Game 7 (if there is one) of the ALCS.

MMM did like how some of the supporting players chipped in. Again, the analogy is getting scoring from your third or fourth lines in playoff hockey. So important. And the starting pitching was outstanding. In all five games, Tigers starters gave their team a legitimate chance to win.

Who do you want in the ALCS: Baltimore or New York?
Oh, there’s a choice? Gee,  MMM would have to say Baltimore. The Yankees have been playing good ball for a while, and the Tigers have beaten them twice in the post-season (2006, 2011), though those were in the LDS. MMM doesn’t like trying to beat them again, especially two years in a row. The Orioles have had a great year, but MMM just likes the matchup better, and that bandbox ballpark in New York makes too many ordinary fly balls disappear into the seats.

Regardless, the next opponent will be in the Eastern time zone. MMM likes that. His old body has been racked from years of watching Red Wings playoff games being played in California that have ended at damn near two in the morning.

You’re old?
MMM prefers wise.
Come back here Friday for BQ after Game 5!!

Burning Questions: ALDS Game 4

In Baseball on October 11, 2012 at 2:00 pm

(note: During the playoffs, Monday Morning Manager will be answering Burning Questions. The morning after every Tigers playoff game, come back here for MMM’s answers to the questions that many  of you have about the previous night’s game. Today’s BQ addresses Game 4 of the ALDS)

Again I ask, where was the Tigers offense?
Sensing a trend, too? Well, no one is getting on base in front of Miguel Cabrera, which is why Miggy has zero, zilch, nada RBI after four games. Hits aren’t being strung together. The big inning has gone AWOL. These things happen, of course, but they’re happening at the worst time of the year.

So it’s the offense, not Jose Valverde’s ninth inning implosion, that’s to blame?
Clearly Papa Grande isn’t off the hook, but the Tigers have wasted two good starts in Oakland, both of which should have lifted the team into the ALCS. The Tigers went down too meekly for MMM’s liking in the later innings. They did tack on an additional run in the eighth inning, but it still didn’t feel like enough. Then Valverde entered the game and obviously three runs weren’t enough.

Speaking of Valverde, none of the four hits he gave up were cheapies. When a closer gets hit that hard, what’s up?
Closers are typically two-pitch guys. Sometimes they have a third, but for the most part they are fastball and pitch B guys. Valverde kept his pitches up. His split finger didn’t split. There was little to no movement on his fastball. The A’s teed off on them.

How did the A’s win 94 games with a team BA of .238, in this day and age?
So glad you asked that question. Game 4 was case in point. They hang around, cobble together five or six hits, but several of them will be for extra bases. Then they steal the game in the late innings. It’s a recipe that isn’t likely to carry over into next season, however. The A’s have walked off 15 times this season, which is crazy. You can’t do that two years in a row. Baseball is a great game, but it’s also humbling. In fact, and this may sound like sour grapes, but MMM doesn’t think Oakland will even be a .500 team next year.

Is the Oakland defense a factor?
Well, they ARE filled with athletic guys who can catch the ball, aren’t they? Coco Crisp’s blunder in Game 2 aside, the A’s have been going out and getting it. Stephen Drew has been annoying, gobbling up everything at shortstop, covering more of the infield than a tarp. They are crisp and together in the field. So yeah, it’s a factor, in the sense that they aren’t allowing runners on base who don’t belong there. The base hit by Josh Reddick that started the A’s rally was a ground ball that Omar Infante should have been able to get. MMM thinks Cliff Pennington would have made that play.

Should Jim Leyland have stuck with Al Alburquerque into the eighth inning after his quick disposal of the A’s in the seventh?
Tough call. Al-Al hasn’t really been a two-inning guy much this season, and Joaquin Benoit isn’t used to coming into games in the middle of an inning. Had Alburquerque scuffled in the eighth, what would Leyland have done? Brought in Benoit anyway? MMM would have done what Leyland did—and not just because it ended up working out, as Benoit slithered out of the eighth with no damage.

Does Leyland dare use Valverde in Game 5 if a save situation presents itself? 
You bet he will. It will blow Twitter up, but you can bet the farm that Valverde gets the call. MMM feels everyone’s pain, but you don’t switch closers for the first time all season in Game 5 of the ALDS. If Valverde doesn’t get it done two nights in a row, he’s toast in Detroit anyway. People won’t have to worry about him anymore.

Do the Tigers need Justin Verlander to pitch a complete game?
If the A’s are smart, they will try to drive JV’s pitch count up. Yes, easier said than done, but it is doable, if you have the patience. No way do the A’s want to see JV on the mound in the ninth inning. That is likely a bad sign for them. But if Verlander’s pitch count exceeds 130, you should get him out of there, unless the game is in the ninth inning. Then, you roll the dice with your horse.

So, feel good with JV on the hill?
Well, yeah, but it’s not like the Tigers had chopped liver on the mound in Games 3 and 4, either. Max Scherzer was terrific last night. The A’s had three hits after seven innings. But they won the game anyway. Verlander won’t matter if the Tigers bats don’t come alive. The Tigers need to win this Game 6-1, instead of trying to sneak out with a one or two-run victory. The A’s have magic pixie dust sprinkled on them this season.

Come back here Friday for BQ after Game 5!!