Monday, October 8, 2012
DETROIT — Don Kelly is on Detroit’s postseason roster because he can play any position in the field, so it was with some irony that he stood at the plate — as the designated hitter — with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Kelly hit .186 during the regular season, but all the Tigers needed was a flyball.
“We need everybody here, all 25,” Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera said. “It’s not only about one guy. I think when everybody’s got a job, they have to try to do it.”
Kelly’s sacrifice fly lifted the Tigers over the Oakland Athletics 5-4 Sunday for a 2-0 lead in their AL playoff series. Kelly entered the game as a pinch runner an inning earlier and scored the tying run on wild pitch. He stayed in the game in the DH slot, and with Detroit almost out of position players, Kelly delivered to put the Tigers one win closer to a second straight trip to the AL championship series.
“Was looking for a fastball and I got it,” Kelly said. “It’s a great feeling, to be able to go out there in that situation and do that.”
Detroit overcame three A’s leads and seesawed to victory. It was 1-all before a wild final three innings that included a key error by Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp, two game-tying wild pitches and several momentum changes.
Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque kept it tied in the ninth when he got Yoenis Cespedes to hit a comebacker with men on first and third and two outs. He gave the ball a little kiss before throwing underhand to first.
Omar Infante and Cabrera hit back-to-back singles off Grant Balfour with one out in the bottom half. With runners on first and third, Prince Fielder was intentionally walked, bringing up Kelly, who was designated for assignment in early August but returned to the Tigers less than a month later.
“He’s one of the best guys in the clubhouse. We all love him,” Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer said. “For him, a utility guy, to get a hit like that, it’s great.”
Kelly’s fly to right was plenty deep enough to score Infante without a play at the plate. It was Kelly’s first RBI since June and another big playoff moment for him — his home run last year helped the Tigers beat the New York Yankees in the decisive fifth game of the division series.
On Sunday, Kelly became the first player to score a run and have an RBI in a postseason game with no official at-bats since Baltimore’s Gary Roenicke in Game 3 of the 1983 ALCS, according to STATS, LLC.
Detroit will go for a sweep of the division series matchup in Game 3 on Tuesday at Oakland. The Tigers lost to Texas in the ALCS last year.
The A’s were left to lament a poor performance by their bullpen and some crucial mistakes in the late innings that allowed this game to slip away.
Cliff Pennington gave the A’s the lead with an RBI single in the seventh, but Crisp dropped Cabrera’s two-out flyball in the bottom half, allowing two runs to score.
Oakland tied it in the eighth on a wild pitch by Joaquin Benoit, and Josh Reddick followed with a solo homer to give the A’s a 4-3 lead. Then it was Ryan Cook’s turn to throw a tying wild pitch, allowing Kelly to score.
Pennington nearly came through again for Oakland in the ninth, but his deep drive down the left-field line was just foul.
“It was certainly a good game for the fans,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Both teams played hard. Both teams got big hits and did good things at the right moments, and both teams did some — made some mistakes that got the other team in the game.”
Alburquerque missed most of the season after offseason surgery on his throwing elbow. He came on to face Cespedes with the Tigers in a jam, and that one out was enough to earn him the win.
The right-hander said he wasn’t trying to show up the A’s when he gave the ball a smooch.
“I just did it,” he said. “It was the emotion of the game. I wasn’t trying to be a hot dog.”
Reddick wasn’t amused.
“We didn’t appreciate that. I thought it was immature and not very professional,” Reddick said. “You don’t do that on the field. Save it for the dugout. That’s all I’m going to say.”
The A’s have taken the lead four times in this series, but on each occasion they failed to hold it through the bottom half of the inning.
Doug Fister allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings for Detroit, striking out eight. Rookie Tommy Milone was impressive for the A’s, allowing a run and five hits in six innings. He struck out six.
Fister gave the A’s trouble early with his slow, sweeping breaking ball, but Oakland hit four singles in the third. Crisp’s slow roller to third turned into an infield hit when Cabrera threw wide to first. Stephen Drew struck out looking — and had words for plate umpire Mark Wegner — but Cespedes followed with a run-scoring single.
Oakland nearly scored again on a single to right by Brandon Moss, but rookie Avisail Garcia threw Crisp out at home.
Cabrera hit a one-out double in the bottom of the third. He went to third on a single by Fielder and scored on a dribbler by Delmon Young that was too slow to be a double play.