It's not how you start, it's how you finish. The A's nearly came back last year after being down 2-0 in the ALDS, and lord knows that they've seen their own 2-0 leads disappear as well. Losing the first game against the probable Cy Young is not the end of the world.
With that being said, though, this game was equal parts disappointing and heartbreaking. In the end, Oakland came just a bit short and the Tigers walked away with a 3-2 victory. The A's struck out 16 times against Max Scherzer & Company, and Bartolo Colon's rocky 1st inning turned out to be enough to seal the deal.
Colon spent the entire 1st inning leaving the ball up and letting the Tigers have their way with him. Austin Jackson led off with a double down the right field line, and Colon hit Torii Hunter with a pitch to bring up Miguel Cabrera with two runners on. The slugger was kind enough to keep the ball in the park, but he did send it back up the middle for an RBI single. Prince Fielder was then kind enough to ground into a double play, but Hunter came home on the play for Detroit's second run.
With the bases empty and two out, Victor Martinez started a fresh rally by lining the ball into the gap in left-center for a double. That was followed by what proved to be the decisive play of the game. Alex Avila hit a sharp ground ball to the right side, and it squirted under Daric Barton's glove for a base hit while Martinez raced all the way home. It's a play that Barton could have made, and it's a play which he should have made. I'm actually surprised that it wasn't ruled an error. What's worse is that after it got by Barton, it squeaked just past a diving Eric Sogard as well. If either one of them knocks it down, then Martinez has to hold at third. As it was, that play ultimately allowed the winning run to score. Colon got out of the inning three pitches later, but the damage was done -- it was 3-0 Tigers. (Note: Check the comments for a GIF of Barton's miscue.)
Fortunately, Colon settled down for the rest of the game. He retired nine of the next 11 batters he faced, allowing just a single to Fielder and an infield hit to Omar Infante. Torii Hunter reached on an absolutely perfect bunt single in the 5th, but was caught stealing in a very peculiar way to end the inning. He broke for second before Colon was even on the rubber, and Bart turned around and threw to Lowrie for the out. The replay showed that Hunter was clearly safe, since Colon's throw was a bit rushed and went to the third-base side of the bag, but the umpire gave Oakland the call on Hunter's mental mistake.
Detroit threatened again in the 6th. Martinez and Avila hit back-to-back singles, and Omar Infante lined a single to right. However, for reasons which I simply can't fathom, Detroit sent Martinez home on the hit. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Josh Reddick made a perfect throw home, hitting catcher Stephen Vogt right on the money, on the fly, to nail Martinez by a couple of steps. I honestly cannot figure out why the Tigers thought it was a good idea to challenge Reddick's arm with a former catcher whose knees are made of gummy bears, but Reddick showed why he's still in the lineup every day by saving that run.
Meanwhile, Scherzer was simply on his game tonight. The A's managed one hit in the first six innings against him, although Coco Crisp also reached base twice thanks to a pair of walks. That one hit came in the 2nd inning, when Cespedes tripled to left field with one out. Unfortunately, Reddick and Vogt were unable to bring him home and he was eventually stranded on third. Other than that triple, Oakland managed to hit only two balls out of the infield in those first six innings.
The A's finally got to Scherzer in the 7th. Brandon Moss beat out an infield single to lead off the frame, and Cespedes hit an absolute bomb into the left field bleachers for a two-run homer. The lead was cut to 3-2, and it became clear that Oakland would get to see two innings of Detroit's bullpen.
Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle teamed up to shut the Tigers down in the 7th and 8th innings, and the A's came to bat against Drew Smyly in the bottom of the 8th. After pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo struck out looking on a questionable pitch, Coco drew his third walk of the game. Smyly struck out Jed Lowrie for the second out, and then closer Joaquin Benoit came in to induce a pop-out from Josh Donaldson. Doolittle pitched a perfect 9th inning, and the A's came up with one more chance against Benoit.
Oakland had three outs to work with, and you couldn't ask for a better part of the lineup to have up: Moss, Cespedes, and Reddick. (Say what you will about Reddick, but he's always a home run threat and the A's only needed a solo homer to tie it.) Unfortunately, all three batters struck out on only 14 pitches combined, and that was all she wrote. Tigers win, 3-2.
Disappointing? Yes. Heartbreaking? For sure. End of the world? Not by a long shot. The Pirates and Braves both got smoked in their first games yesterday, and each team came back to win today. This series is still very much up for grabs.
Of course, if the A's want to grab it, they're going to have to improve in a few areas. They need to cut down the strikeouts -- 16 is just way too many, even against a power-pitching team like Detroit. Moss, Reddick, and Barton each fanned three times. Donaldson and Cespedes K'd twice each. With the Tigers' poor defense, Oakland needs to put the ball in play more.
Another area for improvement is defense. Barton had his miscue at first base, Donaldson took too long on Infante's grounder in the 4th, and Cespedes lost a line drive in the lights in the 8th. Only one of those plays led to a run, but it turned out to be the deciding run. They need to tighten up the glovework, even if the infield is playing extra-fast due to football season.
Finally, it would be nice to see them score the first run. This isn't a requirement, since we've seen this team come back from plenty of early deficits this year, but constantly playing catch-up in playoff games is not something you want to have to do.
So, we go right back to it tomorrow. Sonny Gray takes the mound for his postseason debut against Justin Verlander. I'll be sitting in Section 226. Let's do this. In closing, I will leave you with the Post of the Day, courtesy of "cerpy":
We're gonna see Boston in the ALCS
I've seen the future.
If that's not re-assuring, I don't know what is.
Game time tomorrow is 6:07pm. Lev will have your thread. Also, Joaquin Benoit can shut right the hell up.