Check out the controversy in the Tigers-A's series

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Check out the controversy in the Tigers-A's series

From Comcast SportsNetOAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Ideally, Jim Leyland would have everybody hug it out and play ball.Just as Detroit's Justin Verlander and Coco Crisp of Oakland did on the field for Monday's workout day ahead of their teams' Game 3 in the AL division series Tuesday. The Tigers lead 2-0 and are one win from advancing to a second straight AL championship series.Leyland insists reliever Al Alburquerque meant no ill will toward the Athletics when he fielded Yoenis Cespedes' ninth-inning comebacker and quickly kissed the ball before throwing to first. Yet the manager disagreed with the display."Everybody always says I'm from the old school, so I'd have probably hugged it first," Leyland joked. "I don't think it was the right thing to do. I will sit here today and I will not try to defend it. I will say that I can assure everybody, including the Oakland A's, Al Alburquerque did nothing intentionally to offend the Oakland A's. A lot of emotion is shown in different ways in the game anymore. You see a lot of different variations of personal celebrations as well as team celebrations."It wasn't a smart thing to do, but I can honestly tell you that there is no way that Al Alburquerque or any members of the Detroit Tigers would ever do anything intentionally to offend another team. It just would not happen," Leyland said.As upstart Oakland returned home hoping to pull off another improbable sweep like the one against Texas last week to capture the AL West crown, that controversial smooch was still plenty talked about in both clubhouses.Alburquerque said he did speak to his teammates, and that they knew his gesture was "within the emotion of the game.""I respect Cespedes and I didn't do it out of disrespect," the pitcher said. "I was just excited to get the out."Still, that didn't mean the Tigers weren't surprised by it."I said, Did I see what I just saw?'" catcher Gerald Laird said.Cespedes was eager to get to his baseball work Monday, saying: "That's his problem. It doesn't bother me. It was his turn to win. Someday it will be my turn."Even though everybody realized full well they should be focused on the game itself."I know him, so I know he didn't mean much by it," injured A's third baseman and former Tiger Brandon Inge said. "But I'm sure he's going to regret it. Honestly, this is something that's going to be blown out of proportion because it's a unique story and it's something that doesn't happen much. For us, our ultimate retaliation or comeback would be to win three. We're not concerned with the actions of one person. On their side, I'm sure he didn't really want to stir up a hornet's nest over here either."Right-hander Anibal Sanchez (4-6), a midseason acquisition from Miami who was steady down the stretch, will try to pitch the Tigers to another postseason sweep of Oakland.Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera is still looking for his first RBI of the series, but is hitting .375 (3 for 8) with two doubles, no strikeouts and a walk.Lefty Brett Anderson (4-2) gets the ball in his postseason debut as the A's try to prolong their season for one more day. Anderson, who looked strong in six starts after a 14-month absence recovering from elbow ligament-replacement surgery, is coming back from a right oblique injury he sustained falling awkwardly off the mound in a start at Detroit on Sept. 19. He hopes to work deep without a pitch count, though pitching coach Curt Young said he'd likely be around 80."It's going to be fun," he said. "I don't think I'll have to dial it down. ... A postseason game in Oakland, there hasn't been one for a while."The Tigers swept Oakland out of its last playoff series -- in four games of the 2006 AL championship series. None of the current A's were on the team then, and only two were even in the organization.The task is daunting: win three straight at home. Yet this A's team has accomplished unheard of feats in a season full of walkoffs and victories celebrated with whipped-cream pies.And, just last week they took three in a row from the two-time reigning AL champion Rangers to stun Texas for the AL West crown in Game No. 162 last Wednesday.That late-season surge erased a five-game deficit, and the A's became the first time in major league history to do so over the final 10 games to win a division or pennant. They trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30."Nobody knew we were good until the end," Oakland's Jonny Gomes said. "We had Major League Baseball right where we wanted them: We tricked them into playing 162 games."Now, Oakland will attempt to become the first playoff team in franchise history to come back from down 2-0. In six of the previous seven series when the A's lost the first two games, the wound up getting swept.Oakland will try to get its offense going after striking out 23 times in the first two games, including 14 in Saturday's 3-1 loss in Game 1. The A's hit a majors-leading 112 home runs after the All-Star break.A's manager Bob Melvin isn't worried about the K-fest, and neither are his players. Josh Reddick has six of the strikeouts after hitting a team-best 32 home runs during the regular season."If you're going to be aggressive, you're going to swing hard," Gomes said. "If you're going to hit home runs, you're going to swing hard."Yet Melvin knows firsthand how good Sanchez can be. The 28-year-old Venezuelan pitched a no-hitter for Florida during his rookie season of 2006 against Melvin's Arizona Diamondbacks. Oakland shortstop Stephen Drew also was on that Arizona team, while Cabrera played for the Marlins.Leyland has experience with this year's playoff format, featuring the higher seed opening on the road for the first two games.Facing the favored San Francisco Giants, Florida won the first two games at home, then completed a three-game sweep of the NL division series at Candlestick Park on the way to the title -- Leyland's lone championship in 21 years as a manager.These Tigers sure seem primed for another special October run.First, they'll have to deal with a loud Coliseum crowd that has come alive over the past month as the A's emerged as a surprise contender, then clinched the club's first playoff berth in six years.For Melvin, whatever happened Sunday is now in the past. He has bigger concerns at the moment."I respect Jim Leyland about as much as I respect anyone," Melvin said. "I think there are varying degrees of all that stuff, showmanship. ... I don't think there's one right or wrong way. Emotionally after a game when something like that happens you're always going to hear something from somebody. But you move on. It's not a big deal for me."

With division rivals dominating rumor mill, how will A's respond?

With division rivals dominating rumor mill, how will A's respond?

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — As you ponder what moves the A’s might make in the near future, keep an eye on what’s taking place with the teams they’re trying to chase down in the American League West.

The Astros and Rangers, who look like the division’s top two teams on paper, are in the thick of some of the juiciest rumors circulating on the first day of baseball’s winter meetings.

Houston already has made several impact additions this offseason, including signing former Athletic Josh Reddick to a four-year $52 million contract. The Astros, coming off a disappointing third-place finish in 2016, have also traded for catcher Brian McCann and signed outfielders Carlos Beltran and Nori Aoki, plus right-hander Charlie Morton to fortify their rotation.

Now the Astros are on the hunt for a top-flight starter to complement 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. Reportedly they are a major player to land White Sox ace Chris Sale — destined to be the most talked-about name throughout these meetings — but it’s believed Houston doesn’t want to part with young infielder Alex Bregman, which might thwart a trade for the big lefty.

The Rangers, two-time defending AL West champs, also are looking for an ace-type addition to their starting staff with the possibility that Yu Darvish could leave as a free agent following this season. But Texas also has been linked to free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion, and gets mentioned in trade rumors involving outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Billy Hamilton.

It’s no wonder the Rangers are on the lookout for hitters — they’ve already lost Beltran to free agency and could watch fellow outfielders Ian Desmond and Carlos Gomez and first baseman Mitch Moreland walk as well. One way or another, expect Texas’ roster to look drastically different in 2017.

The Seattle Mariners, who made a 10-win improvement last season over 2015, are very much in the market for a rotation upgrade of their own, and they’ve been aggressive with offseason moves under general manager Jerry Dipoto.

Don’t forget about the Angels, who are searching far and wide for a second baseman. If Los Angeles gets better health from its starting rotation this season, that alone could make the Angels more of a division threat.

How does all of this pertain to the A’s?

It demonstrates that climbing the ladder in the AL West won’t be an easy task for a club coming off consecutive seasons in the cellar. The teams expected to fight atop the division are aggressively trying to get better. And surely A’s officials take notice as they weigh whether to make significant moves to improve for 2017 or take a step back, evaluate more of their young talent in the upcoming season and lay groundwork for the future.

To that end, right-hander Sonny Gray’s name figures to surface throughout the four-day winter meetings, taking place just outside the nation’s capital.

The Atlanta Braves, an up-and-coming team that’s been linked to Sale and other top pitchers, have interest in Gray. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that the Braves and A’s discussed Gray but that Atlanta found the A’s asking price too extravagant, even though it didn’t include stud shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson.

The Braves do have some talented young center fielders — Ender Inciarte and Mallex Smith among them — and given the A’s great need at that position, it stands to reason at least one of those players would surface in talks between the clubs. Whether the Braves would part with either is another question.

Tierney rose to the challenge after comments in Sharks-Blues series

Tierney rose to the challenge after comments in Sharks-Blues series

Prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference Final last May, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked to respond to Sharks coach Pete DeBoer’s decision to keep Patrick Marleau on the second line wing, rather than skate him as the third line center.

“We don't like that match. [Marleau] should stay on the second line,” Hitchcock said on May 17, eliciting laughter from the media. “I'm not telling Pete how to coach. … Just telling him we don't like that match.”

Whether Hitchcock was being truthful or not is up for interpretation, but the comment could have been viewed as an insult to Chris Tierney, who was in just his second NHL season. Tierney, mind you, was the guy that was centering the third line rather than Marleau, and in a series in which the pundits said the Blues were the deeper team up front, there was a lot riding on Tierney’s ability to handle the role.

On the latest Sharks Insider Podcast, Tierney recalled those public comments from the Blues’ legendary coach.

“You see it on Twitter, [in] media clippings, and whatnot. I think when something like that is said…the way I see it is, you want to prove them wrong. Not stick it to them, but show that, ‘OK, I’m going to show you’ kind of thing. 

“I think it just fuels the opposing players when something like that gets said, so I just take it as I just want to prove I can play. I knew I could play against those guys, and I think Pete trusted me enough that I could play against those guys.”

Over the final five games of the series, Tierney posted two goals, one assist and a plus-three rating, while a few of St. Louis’ most dangerous scorers went cold. As it turned out, the Sharks were the deeper – and better – team.

The playoff run gave Tierney, who had 5 goals and 4 assists in 24 games, a big boost in confidence.

“I thought I was going to be a little more nervous going into the playoffs than I was, but once you get playing it kind of feels like you’re just playing another game. … I think I just got more confident every series that I could go up against [Anze] Kopitar, or [Ryan] Johansen, or [Alex] Steen, [Jori] Lehtera or [Vladimir] Tarasenko.”

Tierney gets into several other topics in the podcast, including that he didn't think there was any way he would end up in San Jose after his draft interview.

“I had a meeting with the Sharks. ... I didn’t think it went very well," he said. "They were pretty hard on a lot of guys, though. I don’t know if that’s the way they interviewed back then, but I didn’t think it was going very well. I kind of crossed them off the list.”