You know that Tigers pitcher who always seems to come up big against the A's, the one who has been the bane of Oakland's existence throughout the American League Division Series in both 2012 and 2013? The one who has repeatedly dominated the Athletics on national television, reducing a typically savvy, smart-swinging offense to a group of nine feeble batters barely capable of getting the ball out of the infield?
Well, that's Justin Verlander. He's pitching tomorrow.
Today's dominant Detroit pitching performance came from Rick Porcello, who threw his second shutout in as many starts, making the A's look foolish in the process. Either that, or they had an early dinner reservation in Downtown Detroit.
Porcello allowed just four baserunners on the night, all on hits, three of which were singles and two of which came from the recently revived Jed Lowrie, who is showing major signs of breaking out of a monthlong slump. One was an infield hit on a ground ball up the middle by Craig Gentry, whose speed makes him an impossible out on slow-hit ground balls to the edge of the outfield grass. But all this is to say that the A's mustered just three real hits from Porcello, distributed between two players. He was untouchable, which is a big deal for the Tigers given the way the aforementioned Justin Verlander has struggled this season.
The strangest thing about Porcello's outing was that he completely and utterly dominated the Athletics without recording a single strikeout. He did get 17 ground-ball outs, though, most of which were rather weakly hit, and on pitches early in the count to boot. Porcello did a remarkably good job of throwing first-pitch strikes, too, and the lack of strikeouts ended up being a non-issue.
Brad Mills was given the unenviable task of trying to go toe to toe with Porcello today, and all things considered, he did a very good job, as good as could reasonably be expected of the man whose contract was purchased from the Milwaukee Brewers for less money than it costs to ride the bus. Mills went six innings, pitching into the 7th, and allowed three earned runs on six hits and three walks. The brunt of the damage came in the bottom of the 6th on a first-pitch change-up to JD Martinez, who clearly was expecting the pitch. He ripped it into left field, well over the bullpens and a few rows into the seats, to score Ian Kinsler and extend Detroit's lead to 3-0.
It's the end of a long, three-city road trip for the A's, and it wouldn't be unreasonable to speculate that two weeks removed from the All-Star Break and on the heels of flights to New York, then to Miami, and then to Detroit, this team is exhausted. If Jed Lowrie, showing signs of new life after a disappointing first half at the plate, could be one to carry Oakland to the break. So, strangely, could Brad Mills, a textbook example of a high-effectiveness, low-cost Billy Beane midseason acquisition. He's pitched very well in his past two starts, and though the A's might go in search of a starter in the next month, his performance has been fun to watch, especially given the expectations that a one-dollar cash exchange brings.
But for tonight, the A's have to tip their cap to a pitcher who had their number through and through, and in general, to a team that they'll likeky have to learn to win series against if a deep playoff run is in their future. When your record is better than any other team's, it's easy to dismiss a pair of losses against first-place competition as insignificant. They are insignificant, but what is important is the ability to beat the Tigers, and a split at the Oakland Coliseum and a loss at Comerica Park don't bode well for October. It'll be up to Jesse Chavez to stop the bleeding tomorrow at 10:08am, with Justin Verlander opposing him.