Joe and Kate: Working deep counts pays off for A's
DETROIT – The path to victory Monday was a familiar one, and great things could be in store for the Oakland A’s if they keep following it.
Their 6-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers in Game 3 of the American League Division Series showcased so much of what’s made them special this year.
They hit home runs. They got outstanding bullpen work. They showed their fighting spirit -- literally.
Hot-tempered closer Grant Balfour got into a face-to-face yelling match with Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez that cleared both benches, although neither man could provide a decent explanation of why it even started.
It made for fine drama, nonetheless, and now the A’s are on the verge of really giving their fans a treat.
They lead this best-of-five series 2-1, and a victory Tuesday at Comerica Park would advance them to their first AL Championship Series since 2006.
The formula they won with Monday makes you believe they can do damage if and when they get there.
“Obviously this is a big win, to be able to come in here on the road and take the series lead,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “But we know there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played in this series.”
There may not be that much if the A’s keep taking care of business. After being held to just three runs and 11 hits over the first two games of this series, the A’s got back to their style of offense.
They worked up the pitch count of Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez and then started taking aim at the outfield seats. The A’s, who led the majors with 88 home runs after the All-Star break, went deep three times off Sanchez, a pitcher who had allowed just four homers at home all season.
The first one from Josh Reddick gave the A’s a 2-0 lead. The other two – a solo homer from Brandon Moss and a two-run shot from Seth Smith – fueled a three-run rally that took the wind out of Detroit’s sails after the Tigers scored three times in the fourth to tie it 3-3.
“That’s our logic with our team,” Reddick said. “We’re going to strike out and we’re going to get the long ball. Once we get those (homers) going, it’s going to be a good day. Against a guy like Sanchez, who hasn’t given up many home runs all year, or many earned runs, it does a lot for your confidence.”
With the wind blowing out toward left field, the left-handed hitting Smith got hold of a 3-1 pitch from Sanchez and drove an opposite-field homer to left-center in the fifth that made it a 6-3 game and chased Sanchez, the AL’s ERA champ this season.
The A’s showed the ability to string hits together in prolonged rallies during the regular season, but manager Bob Melvin talks often about how deflating it can be to an opponent to watch a ball sail over the fence.
“You need to score runs in whatever fashion you can,” Smith said. “For me, homers are the best way to do it. You don’t have to manufacture. Any time you can score multiple runs with one swing of the bat, it’s a good thing.”
It’s also a great sign for the A’s that their bullpen seems to be functioning on all cylinders. Starter Jarrod Parker was decent, allowing three runs over five innings, but he left plenty of work for his relievers.
Dan Otero, Doolittle and Balfour allowed just two hits over four scoreless innings. Looking for an unsung hero on this team? Otero’s your man.
The right-hander hasn’t allowed a run over his last nine outings, and he’s gained the trust of Melvin, giving the manager another late-inning option from the right side if Ryan Cook’s command deserts him.
The A’s have held Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Co. scoreless in 25 of 27 innings so far in this series.
“We’ve obviously been pitching really well,” Melvin said. “The bullpen came in and shut it down, so we’re fortunate enough to be able to keep an offensive club, to this point, kind of at bay.”
Can the A’s finish it off?
This is their seventh ALDS since 2000, and they are just 1-10 in potential clinch games.
The A’s lost in five games to Detroit last season, but they fell behind 0-2 and couldn’t claw their way all the way back. For the first time in the past two years, they’re leading a playoff series.
“We’re a better team than we were last year,” Reddick said, “and we have the potential to do something great here. We all know that.”