Before we begin talking about tonight's game, I want everyone to take a deep breath. Go ahead, do it. Everything is going to be alright. The A's put up a disappointing performance in Game 1 of their American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, but it's just one game. Not only that, but this was easily the most favorable match-up for the Tigers: at home, with their ace pitcher on the mound. Oakland could afford to lose one on the road, and you had to figure that it might be this one.
In the end, it was defense which really did the A's in tonight. Defense, strikeouts, and BABIP. If a couple of hops had gone the other way, then Oakland could have come out on top. Instead, they found themselves on the losing end of a 3-1 contest.
Tonight's game featured the reigning Cy Young winner, Justin Verlander, against one of Oakland's heralded rookies, Jarrod Parker. Things started off quite well for the A's in the 1st inning. On the 4th pitch of the game, Coco Crisp homered to right field, giving the A's an early 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, they would give the run right back in the bottom of the 1st, thanks to BABIP.
Detroit's Austin Jackson led off by grounding Parker's 0-1 offering to the right of Stephen Drew. He made a diving effort, but the ball ricocheted off of his glove into shallow left field, allowing Jackson to reach second base with a "double." A couple of feet over, and Drew makes a routine play to 1st. Curse you, BABIP.
The next batter, Quintin Berry, pulled third baseman Josh Donaldson into the grass with a couple of bunt attempts before slapping a grounder down the line. Again, Donaldson' diving effort resulted in the ball knocking off of his glove and into no-man's land down the left field line for a hit. C'mon, BABIP. Can't we just be friends?
It was the bottom of the 1st, and Parker was already finding himself in the worst possible situation: two on and no outs for possible AL MVP, Miguel Cabrera. In case you hadn't heard, Cabrera won the Triple Crown this year. You may not have heard. If you haven't heard about it, you should ask broadcasters Don Orsillo and Buck Martinez. They love to talk about it. Is that Miguel Cabrera on the screen? Hey, did you know that he won the Triple Crown? I'm just making sure you know that he won the Triple Crown. It's been 45 years, for crying out loud! Average, homers, and ribbies! Can you believe that? All in one year. Triple Crown.
Cabrera may have led the league in RBI, but he failed to get one here. Wow, what a misleading topic sentence. Cabrera did in fact successfully drive Jackson home from 3rd, but Parker got him to bounce into a 6-4-3 double play. No RBI for Cabrera, because baseball says so. Numbers never lie!
In the 3rd inning, a defensive lapse led to another run for Detroit. Omar Infante hit a one-out double to the corner in left, but Parker was able to retire Jackson to bring up Berry with 2 outs. Berry worked a full count, and then bounced a ball slowly toward first base. Parker ran to field the ball, and had he fielded it cleanly, his momentum took him through the base well ahead of Berry's arrival. However, the ball clanked off of his glove, whether because he just missed it or because he was trying to flip it to first baseman Brandon Moss. Berry BABIP'd his way into another hit, and Infante scored from second when the ball rolled into foul territory behind 1st base. 2-1 Tigers.
In the 5th inning, catcher Alex Avila homered to left to increase the lead to 3-1. That would prove to be the end of the scoring for the evening.
Justin Verlander thoroughly dominated Oakland's lineup, but for some reason it didn't feel like that at the time. It seemed like the A's always had a runner on base. After Coco's leadoff homer, Yoenis Cespedes drew a 1-out walk. He was stranded. In the 2nd, Seth Smith drew a 1-out walk and was stranded. The team also failed to capitalize on Stephen Drew's 1-out double in the 3rd, Josh Reddick's leadoff walk in the 4th, or Cliff Pennington's leadoff single in the 5th. Verlander didn't have a 1-2-3 inning through the first five, but Oakland just couldn't string together a rally. One reason that they couldn't buy a hit was that they struggled to make contact: Through those first 5 innings, they struck out 6 times. After that, they just stopped making contact at all: Verlander struck out 5 straight in the 6th and 7th, finishing with 11 on the night.
Joaquin Benoit came in for the 8th inning, and the A's came heart-breakingly close to a comeback. Cespedes singled, and Brandon Moss followed with a sharp drive to right field. It honestly looked like a home run off the bat, but it died about one foot short of wall by the 365 foot mark in right-center field, landing harmlessly in Andy Dirks' glove. Oakland had come within a couple of feet of tying the game, but it was just not meant to be tonight. Benoit finished the inning, and Jose Valverde closed the door in the 9th. Oakland ended up striking out 14 times in total.
There was a pretty awesome moment in this game, though. When Parker got into a 2-on, 1-out jam in the 7th inning, BoMel called on reliever Pat Neshek to put out the flames. With the entire team wearing a patch on their sleeve bearing the initials (GJN) of Neshek's newborn son, who passed away suddenly on Wednesday, the sidewinder retired Infante on a fielder's choice before striking out Jackson to end the rally. It was nice to get out of the inning, but it was absolutely beautiful to see Neshek get right back on the horse and come through in the wake of his personal tragedy.
Obviously, you don't want to lose the first game in a short series. However, these LDS's are set up a bit differently than normal, with home-field advantage not kicking in until Game 3. As long as the A's can come back tomorrow and even the series, they can reduce it to a best-of-3 in Oakland. Furthermore, Justin Verlander masks Detroit's two biggest weaknesses: Defense, and the bullpen. His strikeouts remove the defense from the equation, and his endurance allows him work deep into pretty much every game he pitches. Tomorrow's starter, Doug Fister, tends to pitch to more contact; perhaps the A's can BABIP their way into some cheap runs tomorrow, like the Tigers did today.
Tighter defense and fewer strikeouts. That's my diagnosis. If the A's can do those two things tomorrow, they can neutralize the sting of dropping the opener tonight. So take a deep breath, A's fans. There is still a long way to go in this series.
Game 2 is tomorrow morning at 9:07am because f@&% you, West Coast. Oh yeah, it's also only being televised on MLB Network, because f#$* you, baseball fans. Sure hope that you or your local bar (which opens by 9am and doesn't show football on Sundays) get that station, so that you can see Tommy Milone face off against Doug Fister. Sure would be a bummer if you couldn't watch a playoff game in 2012.