Two Days in Detroit: Craziness at Comerica

It was an eventful weekend in Detroit. The Tigers won the first two games of their ALDS match-up with the Oakland A’s, and the manner in which they did so was pure theater. A lot happened at Comerica Park between six p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Some of it was predictable — Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander showed why they’re leading candidates to capture the MVP and Cy Young — but much of it was downright remarkable. Here are looks at five of the notable storylines.

THE KISS

“It was just emotion. I was happy. When you do something good, you feel happy.” — Al Alburquerque

By now, everyone knows that 26-year-old Tigers’ reliever Al Alburquerque planted a kiss on the baseball before under-handing it to first base to end the top half of a pressure-packed ninth inning. It was a key play in a wild-and-wacky Game Two and opinions are mixed on whether his actions were a case of innocent, youthful exuberance or just as under-handed as his toss.

Not surprisingly, reactions followed party lines. Asked about it after the game, Gerald Laird said “He’s just young and was excited. He didn’t mean anything by it.” Phil Coke’s response was, “I don’t think it’s something that should be viewed as somebody getting showed up. I didn’t think that at all.” Another teammate, Max Scherzer, said, “He’s on a different planet sometimes. I think that’s evident, with him kissing a ball during a game, during the playoffs. It’s just his personality.”

The opposition saw it differently. In a subdued Oakland clubhouse, outfielder Josh Reddick said, “I didn’t think it was very professional. It was something that should be kept off the field and not in between the lines. I don’t think it should happen.” Other A’s players mostly shied away from the question, although it was obvious they weren‘t amused. Catcher George Kottaras said he didn’t see it happen, and that his teammates were mostly focused on going out to the field for the bottom of the inning.

Almost lost in the hullabaloo is the fact that Alburquerque make a good pitch to a dangerous hitter — Yoenis Cespedes — and also make the play. According to Coke, it wasn’t a given.

“I’ve played catch with Albuquerque a number of times, and sometimes he’ll mis-catch the ball,” explained Coke. “I was really excited to see him catch it. In that situation, if he catches it and kisses it, and throws it to first base, I’m all for it. Emotion is part of the game.”

GEHRIG JOHN NESHEK

“Please pray for my family. Tonight my wife & I lost our first & only son 23 hours after he was born with no explanation.” — Pat Neshek, Twitter post, October 4.

The emotions Alburquerque felt were nothing compared to what Pat Neshek experienced on Saturday night. Just days after tragically losing his newborn son, the A’s right-hander took the mound in the seventh inning. He retired both batters he faced and upon returning to the dugout was hugged by teammates. It was as brave and emotionally-charged as any relief outing in baseball history.

“I can’t even image what he was feeling and the emotions going through him,” said teammate Brandon Moss. “I would never want to know, nor wish that on anybody. The way that he came out and pitched, and kept his emotions in check, speaks a lot about what kind of man he is. It was pretty impressive. I don’t really have any words for it.”

The A’s took the field this weekend wearing a patch with the initials “GJN” in honor of Gehrig John Neshek.

CABRERA AND ELECTRICTY

“The World Series — every game I played in — is like the first day you were in the big leagues. You can’t really feel your feet. That whole [1984] Series was very exciting.” — former Tiger Larry Herndon

Befitting postseason baseball, Comerica Park was both cold and electric on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The temperature hovered around 50 degrees, but most fans were too revved up to care. The seats were a whirl of white towels every time the Tigers threatened, and Miguel Cabrera at bats were greeted with chants of “MVP, MVP.”

The American League MVP award was a hot topic among the contingent of reporters covering the series. Cabrera seems to be the consensus pick. Everyone I talked to showed great respect for Mike Trout’s season, although there was an occasional misguided comment. One reporter [from outside the Detroit market] told me that anyone who doesn’t vote for the Triple-Crown-winning Cabrera deserves to have their voting privileges revoked.

The atmosphere at Comerica Park — and it promises to be the same in Oakland — was as heated as the MVP debate. Players from both teams were commenting on it, with Tigers speedster Quintin Berry providing the best quote.

“There’s so much energy and electricity here with these fans,” Berry said after Game One. “It’s packed out. It’s cold for everybody, so to see them out here, riding it out with you, is pretty special. Usually I get a little energy drink, but today I was not going to do it. I had plenty of energy, man, plenty of energy.”

VERLANDER DOMINANCE

“I’m definitely not a fan of him right now. I mean, I respect him for sure, but when you’re facing a guy like that, you’re definitely not a fan. He’s out there trying to dominate you.” — Brandon Moss

The reigning Cy Young Award winner pitched like one on Friday night. After allowing a lead-off home run to Coco Crisp, he proceeded to blow away Oakland hitters for seven innings. It was classic Verlander, and a performance that was presciently predicted by a Detroit scribe. Shortly before game time, he suggested that Verlander will give up his usual first-inning home run and then dominate.

Moss struck out three times against Verlander, and according to the A’s clean-up hitter, the right-hander was dealing.

“You have to tip your hat,” said Moss. “I got maybe one pitch from him over the middle of the plate. He painted the outside corner with every pitch he had, all night. No one in here is going to do well against him if he’s doing that. Obviously, the only guy who did do well against him was Coco. If a guy goes out and pitches like that, that’s going to be the score of the game. You have to be ready for 100 all the time, and then he’s got that 88-mph dive-ball that he throws. He is who he is.”

BULLPEN ANGST

“If it was going to go over the fence it was going to go over the fence. I was just hoping it wouldn’t.” — Joaquin Benoit

Verlander is Verlander and the Tigers bullpen is… a big problem. The demonstrative Jose Valverde — are his antics not more objectionable than Alburquerque’s smooch? — has been effective closing out games. The set-up role has been a different story.

Joaquin Benoit coughed up an eighth-inning lead on Sunday — a wild pitch tied the game and Josh Reddick’s home run put the A’s in front — and he nearly blew Saturday‘s game. What would have been a game-tying blast by Moss was caught by Andy Dirks in front of the right-centerfield wall.

“It’s a big yard,” said Moss. “I knew it had a chance, but I also knew he was going to have a chance to rob it. I saw him about to climb the wall. He didn’t have to. It just stayed in the park.

“He’s got a good changeup and I was a little out in front of it,” continued Moss. “I recognized it when he threw it, but still didn’t quite stay back far enough. It just got to the end of the bat. You try to take the best swing you can, and it stinks that it didn’t go out.”

Tigers fans are aware that a stinky bullpen could be their downfall. I ventured out to the left-field bleachers for the seventh inning of Friday night’s game, and the hot topic was Verlander’s pitch count and how no one could be counted on to protect the lead. If the Tigers are to go far in the postseason, they need to fix that problem. Not doing so could be the kiss of death to their World Series aspirations.



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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Nathan
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Nathan
3 years 10 months ago

It’s funny to me because when I look at the Tigs and the As, they have similar weaknesses that make you think, these teams don’t belong in the playoffs. Then you see the performances both clubs got out of their starters in the first two games, and you realize that is the great equalizer. You can survive with Delmon freakin’ Young as your #5 hitter when you can count on Verlander, Fister, and Scherzer.

Brandon
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Brandon
3 years 10 months ago

Benoit’s performance on Sunday was particularly blameworthy. When Cespedes stole 2nd, it was a close play, and Laird seemed to look at the dugout with some judgment for seemingly failing to alert him of the steal attempt. That all is fine. When he stole third, however, Cespedes got such a good jump that Laird, with a left-handed batter, didn’t even have a chance to gey a throw off! That’s Benoit’s fault, and that mistake in that situation, with one-out, is inexcusable. Add to that the wild pitch and giving up a home run on (I think) a 1-2 count with no one on base, and you have one of the worst relief performances in the postseason so far. Just an all-around disgusting outing.

Brandon
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Brandon
3 years 10 months ago

I’d like to add to the above post that, when the tigers entered the 8th inning they had a 74.7% WE, and by the time Reddick homered, they had a 27.6% WE, a 47.1% shift. More specifically, Cespedes stealing third was a 6.9% shift, the wild pitch was a 8.5% shift, and the Reddick home run on the terrible, unnecessary inside pitch was a 27.1% shift. On two pitches not touched by a bat, the WE shifted by 15.4%! Add to that the home run pitch, and three terrible pitches (lumping the lack of holding the runner on into a pitch) shifted WE by 42.5%. Like I said, one of the absolute worst postseason performances.

David Wiers
Member
Member
3 years 10 months ago

Sigh.

Zach
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Zach
3 years 10 months ago

I was one of those people in the left field bleachers, trying to explain that Leyland is not an idiot for taking Verlander out after 130 pitches. How do you try and explain what’s going on with Benoit? He’s fallen behind more hitters than usual and grooved a lot of fastballs, but his home run rate is through the roof.

Dave Wagner
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Dave Wagner
3 years 10 months ago

Great synopsis. Thanks for this.

Dan
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Dan
3 years 10 months ago

I had some mixed feelings about the Albuquerque thing. At first I was kind of embarrassed, as a Tigers fan watching in a bar near my home in Oakland, but I think I’m just sort of primed for that by Valverde, whose antics are an absolute abomination, to say nothing of the absurd amount of time it takes him to pitch. I believe that he should be penalized for this. It’s circus nonsense, and it doesn’t belong in baseball, particularly when we’re talking about a pitcher who is not even that good.

Anyway, he bugs me, and the Albuquerque thing bugged me, too. I thought, “Quit fooling around, you idiot. Our pitchers made 5 errors in the 2006 Series, so let’s just play it by the book, shall we?”

But then I realized that this is the sort of thing I’d think was cute and had personality if I read about Dizzy Dean or Luis Tiant doing it, so to heck with it. No big deal. I can see how Reddick would be annoyed though.

BX
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BX
3 years 10 months ago

The Sequel:

Three Days in Oakland: It Ain’t Over Yet

rory
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rory
3 years 10 months ago

Verlander was basically given an extra foot outside to pitch in. He’s a great pitcher, but he wouldn’t have to be with that much lenience from the home plate umpire.

Nathan
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Nathan
3 years 10 months ago

This sounds like sour grapes to me. I thought the umpires have been excellent in all three games thus far. I noticed the strike zone seemed a little shifted, but it wasn’t just when Verlander was on the mound, so hard to be too upset.

Bottom line, as game three has shown us yet again, both of these teams are wholly mediocre, but are riding that great equalizer of starting pitching that is on fire.

Dan
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Dan
3 years 10 months ago

How exactly are the A’s mediocre? They barely allowed 600 runs, and they’ve got a 100-run differential (for a Pythagorean record of 92-70), and that’s playing in a division with the Angels and the Rangers. I wouldn’t call that mediocre, let alone “wholly mediocre”, whatever that means.

The Tigers are mediocre. They have a Pythag. record of 87-75, and a third of their schedule was the Indians, the Royals, and the Twins. Their big rival was the White Sox, who would have finished 4th if you added them to the AL West.

The A’s are legitimately good, and the Tigers are “meh”. I know because I am a Tigers fan. This team has no business beating a real contender.

rory
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rory
3 years 10 months ago

That sounds like confirmation bias.

Seriously, go over to brooks-baseball and check it out.

Verlander was getting calls a full twelve inches off the plate, and the Parker wasn’t.

By the end of the game they were trying to protect out there, and swinging and missing a lot. It was complete bullshit.

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