Alexis Gomez impressed his teammates time and again by routinely hitting long home runs. In batting practice. Still, Jim Leyland trusted...
OAKLAND, Calif. — Alexis Gomez impressed his teammates time and again by routinely hitting long home runs. In batting practice.
Still, Jim Leyland trusted his gut and went with the little-used Gomez as Detroit’s designated hitter for Game 2 of the American League Championship Series — yet another spot-on call by the Tigers manager this postseason.
The result: a 2-0 series advantage heading home to Motown.
Gomez hit a go-ahead, two-run single Wednesday, and later added a two-run homer to lead the Tigers to an 8-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics.
A career minor-leaguer, Gomez had just one home run in the majors and contributed only six RBI in 103 at-bats this season.
“He does have big-time power,” Leyland said. “Unfortunately, he showed most of it in batting practice.”
Milton Bradley homered twice for the A’s, and beat out an infield hit with two outs in the ninth inning that loaded the bases. But Tigers closer Todd Jones retired Frank Thomas on a harmless fly for the save.
22 years in the making?
The Tigers can get to the World Series for the first time since 1984 (and keep the ALCS from returning to Oakland) with two wins in three games at Comerica Park.
“What a challenge,” Jones said.
Leyland, who turned around the Tigers in his first season as their manager, benched righty Marcus Thames and his 26 regular-season home runs in favor of Gomez, who hadn’t been on the field in nearly two weeks and spent much of the year at Class AAA Toledo.
“We just took a shot that maybe, by chance, a lefty may have a shot,” Leyland said beforehand.
Leyland gave Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski a courtesy heads-up about the switch at DH.
“I won’t question who he plays,” Dombrowski said. “I never have. That’s his responsibility. He does it well.”
Jones echoed that.
“When Jim puts out the lineup it’s the right nine. He’s the only one who has to know the decision,” the reliever said. “If I walk in there on Friday and see my name as the cleanup hitter, I’d expect to get a hit.”
A moment of silence was held before the national anthem for Cory Lidle, the former A’s pitcher who died Wednesday when his airplane crashed into a New York high-rise.
Both teams did their best to focus on baseball and put their grief aside for a few hours.
The switch-hitting Bradley homered from both sides of the plate and had four RBI.
Eric Chavez also homered for the A’s, who didn’t know until arriving at the ballpark that Lidle had been in the plane. Lidle’s old Oakland jersey hung near the dugout.
Hard-throwing Tigers rookie Justin Verlander struck out six. He got plenty of support from the bats, and Jones. “He made it a little bit exciting, but he got it done,” Verlander said.
Perhaps more fun for Verlander was watching Gomez’s offensive show. Gomez was designated for assignment by Detroit twice this season.
This was the biggest performance yet for the 28-year-old Dominican, who did hit four home runs on Aug. 7 against the Columbus Clippers to tie an International League record and had a 12-game hitting streak in Class AAA.
“Everyone had seen him in BP hit balls 500 feet,” Verlander said. “He can crush the ball. We were sitting there hoping for one of those BP swings, and he got one.”
Curtis Granderson hit a solo home run off Huston Street leading off the ninth, Craig Monroe had two RBI and Brandon Inge had a sacrifice fly for the wild-card Tigers.
Detroit left the Bay Area with the comfort of knowing that all eight road teams to take a 2-0 lead in LCS history have gone on to reach the World Series.
The A’s took an early lead by getting a hit in their first opportunity with a runner in scoring position — in Game 1, they tied a postseason record by going hitless in 13 at-bats in those situations.
“Yesterday was more frustrating,” Chavez said. “They flat-out beat us today.”
Both teams brought their infields in with a runner on third and one out in the first two innings, apparently anticipating a low-scoring pitcher’s duel.
Instead, the Tigers’ bats came up big in the fourth.
Back-to-back singles by Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez started the rally.
Carlos Guillen struck out and Esteban Loaiza walked Ivan Rodriguez before Monroe’s RBI single brought a mound visit from A’s pitching coach Curt Young. Gomez followed with a two-run single off Chavez’s glove at third base, and Inge added a sacrifice fly a night after his three-hit, two-RBI performance.