Don't consign that American League Championship Series trophy to the Tigers just yet. Yes, they won the first two games at Oakland, and no team has ever lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home and come back to win a league championship series (0-for-8). But a couple of trouble spots loom for the Tigers.
They return to a Comerica Park that is going to be absolutely frigid Friday, just a few degrees above freezing. The person that could most affect is the most important from Detroit's standpoint -- left-hander Kenny Rogers, a "feel" pitcher who will have to fight the cold to keep his pitches hot.
Manager Jim Leyland will also have to keep filling that hole in his lineup caused by the absence of first baseman Sean Casey, who probably won't play again in at least this series because of a slight left calf muscle tear.
Leyland rejected the notion of putting catcher Ivan Rodriguez at first and inserting Vance Wilson behind the plate. He has no third catcher at this time and needs to have one ready at all times. The 12th inning of a playoff game is no time to be putting an emergency catcher behind the plate.
That leaves only shortstop Carlos Guillen to play first, with Rodriguez available in a pinch. "What happens is you just improvise when you get in situations like this," Leyland said. "We'll do what we have to do. Is it an ideal situation? No, it's not. But I remind everybody that the Oakland A's just lost their double-play combination, so we're certainly not looking for any sympathy."
It gives Leyland's lineup almost a National League look because he has one non-hitter unless he plays Omar Infante at short. If Neifi Perez or Ramon Santiago plays short, Leyland can pinch-hit for them late in games as necessary. Leyland will mix and match his DHs, too, with Alexis Gomez earning some platoon time with Marcus Thames because of his four-RBI game Wednesday.
REPLAY: DH Alexis Gomez, only getting a chance to play because of an injury to first baseman Sean Casey, drove in four runs Wednesday night with a single and a two-run home run to lead the Detroit Tigers to an 8-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics and a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven AL Championship Series.
Right-hander Justin Verlander worked his way through 5 1/3 innings and was relieved one out after Eric Chavez's home run leading off the sixth drew Oakland to within 7-4. Left-hander Wilfredo Ledezma pitched 1 1/3 innings and came out after giving up a solo home run to Milton Bradley in the seventh.
Right-hander Jason Grilli struck out DH Frank Thomas to end the seventh, right-hander Fernando Rodney struck out the three batters he faced in the eighth and closer Todd Jones survived giving up three two-out singles in the ninth to earn his save by getting Thomas on a flyball to center.
Mark Kotsay doubled twice off Verlander and scored each time on hits by Bradley, a single and his first of two home runs in the game. Manager Jim Leyland settled on Gomez as his DH as a substitute for the missing left-handed bat of Casey, who likely will miss the rest of the series, and possibly the rest of the postseason, because of a slight tear in his left calf muscle suffered in the sixth inning Tuesday night.
Detroit loaded the bases in the fourth and cut a 3-1 deficit by a run on a line single to center by Craig Monroe. Gomez followed with a sharp single to third that just kicked off the glove of Chavez and gave Detroit a 4-3 lead, a margin that became 5-3 when Brandon Inge followed with a sacrifice fly.
Gomez followed a Monroe double with a home run two innings later, and Curtis Granderson gave the Tigers an extra run in the top of the ninth with his third home run of the postseason.
--DH Alexis Gomez took full advantage of his opportunity to play.
Manager Jim Leyland chose the left-handed-hitting Gomez to fill the void left by the injury to 1B Sean Casey (left calf muscle tear) and the extra outfielder got a two-run single and a two-run home run Wednesday night to provide Detroit with its margin of victory in an 8-5 win over Oakland.
Gomez, who had just six RBIs in slightly more than 100 at-bats during the regular season, would have been relegated to sparse pinch-hitting opportunities had not Casey gotten hurt. Now he will split DH time with OF Marcus Thames.
--RHP Justin Verlander pitched well enough to give Detroit a chance to win Wednesday night in his second start of the postseason. Much like his start against New York, Verlander flashed a fastball that reached as much as 101 on radar guns during a 5 1/3-inning stint. His curve didn't come into play until the second inning, but he ended up getting four of his six strikeouts on the breaking ball.
Verlander gave up seven hits, two each to CF Mark Kotsay and RF Milton Bradley. He has thrown harder in his two postseason starts that he did for most of his regular-season outings, possibly a result of extra rest before each start. Verlander would not have extra rest if Detroit played a sixth game in the series on Tuesday in Oakland.
--LHP Wilfredo Ledezma gave up a solo home run to RF Milton Bradley but accomplished what his manager wanted by bringing Detroit four outs closer to a victory Wednesday night.
Ledezma got the last two outs of the sixth and first two of the seventh before giving up the home run, which left the Tigers with a 7-4 lead.
His fastball was in the mid-90s and his curve was sharp and effective. Bradley hit a fastball that got up just a little in the strike zone.
--SS Carlos Guillen was manager Jim Leyland's choice to replace the injured Sean Casey at first base.
Guillen, normally Detroit's starting shortstop, will likely get the bulk of the playing time there since Leyland prefers to have C Ivan Rodriguez calling pitches and C Vance Wilson available in case of an emergency. Detroit does not have a third catcher at this time.
Guillen played first base for Team Venezuela this spring in the World Baseball Classic, his first experience at the position. He started at first four times during the regular season, finished up at first in four other games and finished Tuesday night's game at the position after Casey went out.
INF Neifi Perez filled in at shortstop and hit second. His hitting second raised some eyebrows, but Leyland wanted 2B Placido Polanco to fill Casey's slot as the No. 3 hitter, and batting Perez second gave him a batter who could bunt in case CF Curtis Granderson got on. Perez did in fact sacrifice once Wednesday night.
--2B Placido Polanco entered the ALCS with great numbers against Oakland, and after two games they're even greater.
Polanco entered the series batting .493 in 67 career at-bats against Oakland, including .516 this season in 31 at-bats.
He went 1-for-4 in the first game and 3-for-4 Wednesday night in the second, all the hits being singles.
Polanco hit a grounder to left, a groundball up the middle and a line drive to right for his three singles Wednesday as he continues to get his bat on the ball and hit it where it's pitched.
--LF Craig Monroe is starting to heat up at the right time for Detroit.
Monroe is bearing down with men on base and giving the Tigers solid at-bats. He had good swings in the only out he made, a strikeout, and pulled the pitch before he fanned into the seats barely in foul territory in left.
Monroe had a sacrifice fly that scored Detroit's first run, a flyball to center in the second, then singled in a run in the fourth and doubled and scored in the sixth, hitting the ball hard each time.
He had not hit well in September.
--RHP Jason Grilli is reviving his major league career with a revived fastball. Grilli faced just one batter Wednesday night, striking out DH Frank Thomas to end the seventh, but his fastball was in the 96-97 mph range for his brief appearance.
He was in the low 90s two years ago when Detroit signed him for its Toledo farm club.
--RHP Todd Jones had a close call Wednesday night but managed to get his save. Jones struck out the first two batters of the ninth at Oakland and looked like he was cruising, but three straight singles loaded the bases.
Jones preserved Detroit's 8-5 lead, though, by getting DH Frank Thomas to lift a fly to shallow center to close out the game. It wasn't a good pitch, a 94 mph fastball about belt high, but Thomas got under it just a tad too much.
--1B Sean Casey will probably miss the rest of the American League Championship Series with a second-degree left calf muscle tear, and manager Jim Leyland said he also is unlikely to be able to play in the World Series should the Tigers make it that far.
Casey suffered the injury on a swing in the sixth inning Tuesday, which resulted in a groundout, and had to come out of the game. Casey underwent an MRI Wednesday that disclosed the extent of the injury. It's possible Casey, acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline in July, would be able to pinch-hit if there is a sixth or seventh game of Detroit's playoff series against Oakland.
BY THE NUMBERS: 19 -- Years since the Tigers last played in the American League Championship Series. They lost to Minnesota, four games to one, in 1987.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He does have big-time power. Unfortunately, he showed most of it in batting practice." -- Manager Jim Leyland on Alexis Gomez, who homered and had four RBIs in Game 2.
ANALYZING THE LINEUP: 1. CF Curtis Granderson
2. SS Neifi Perez
3. 2B Placido Polanco
4. RF Magglio Ordonez
5. SS Carlos Guillen
6. C Ivan Rodriguez
7. LF Craig Monroe
8. DH Marcus Thames/Alexis Gomez
9. 3B Brandon Inge
Leave it to Jim Leyland to turn the loss of Sean Casey into a positive in Game 2 of the ALCS. Leyland surprised some by batting the light-hitting Perez second, but he was in the spot mainly to bunt, which he did once. Polanco moved to No. 3 and got three hits. And Gomez, who wasn't expected to play at all except to maybe pinch-hit once or twice, was moved into a platoon with Thames and had four RBIs.
ANALYZING THE ROTATION:
1. LHP Nate Robertson
2. RHP Justin Verlander
3. LHP Kenny Rogers
4. RHP Jeremy Bonderman
It's the same rotation the Tigers used in the Division Series, and why not? All four pitched well last week. Robertson wriggled out of jam after jam Tuesday night to pitch five scoreless innings, and then Verlander had plenty of good moments in his Game 2 victory.
ANALYZING THE BULLPEN:
The relievers continued their postseason excellence with four innings of nearly spotless relief in Game 1 of the ALCS. Oakland's only run scored on a double and two groundouts as the Tigers were merely trying to get outs and conceded the run. The trend continued in Game 2 as four relievers finished up for Verlander and gave up only one run, on a homer by Milton Bradley off LHP Wilfredo Ledezma.
1B Sean Casey had to leave Game 1 of the ALCS because of a calf injury and is expected to miss the rest of the ALCS -- and most likely the World Series if the Tigers make it that far. RF Magglio Ordonez left the Sept. 26 game because of back spasms. He returned to the lineup Sept. 27.
2B Placido Polanco went on the disabled list Aug. 16 with a left shoulder separation. He took batting practice on Sept. 15, then said Sept. 17 that he was out for the season. He recanted that statement on Sept. 18, took batting practice, and was activated from the disabled list Sept. 22. He was back in the starting lineup Sept. 23. RHP Roman Colon went on the disabled list Aug. 21 with neck soreness. He will miss the rest of the season.
RHP Craig Dingman spent the entire season on the disabled list following heart bypass surgery in March.