Just when Oakland pitcher Barry Zito was about to breeze through the Detroit Tigers lineup, there was a little surprise waiting for him in the No. 9 spot
Brandon Inge isn’t your typical American League 9th hitter, a spot usually reserved for the weakest offensive player.
However, the Tigers lineup top to bottom features home run hitters and Inge is no exception with his 27 home runs and 83 RBI, both career highs, this season.
Tuesday night in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Inge rebounded from a 2 for 15 American League Division Series in grand fashion.
Inge, who came in 3 for 24 lifetime against Zito, smashed a two-out home run to left in the third inning. Zito had retired eight in a row to start the game. With one swing of the bat, Inge’s solo home run broke a scoreless game and jumpstarted the Tigers offense which put up five runs in the third and fourth inning chasing Zito and drawing first blood in the series with a 5-1 victory.
Inge went 3 for 3 with walk. His RBI double in the second scoring Marcus Thames. Inge came across on Placido Polanco’s single for a 5-0 Detroit lead.
Oakland led the majors grounding into 173 double plays this season, a trend that definitely continued against the Tigers.
The A’s grounded into an LCS-record four double plays against the Tigers, three of which came in the first five innings.
Oakland’s offense is known for its lack of speed on the bases, a liability exposed Tuesday night. The A’s also matched an LCS record by going 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position.
Defensively, the absence of second baseman Mark Ellis was greatly missed especially in the fourth inning. On a potential double play ball, second baseman D’Angelo Jimenez threw wide of first allowing Marcus Thames to advance to second. Thames later scored, one of three runs in the inning.
Gum time, jam time, it’s all the same for Nate Robertson
Robertson pitched five effective innings for the Tigers; although he allowed baserunners in every inning. Still, Robertson used the double play ball to his advantage. Then there was the fourth inning that described the whole night in a nutshell. Frank Thomas walks, moves to third on Jay Payton’s double. Robertson shut the A’s down striking out the side, Eric Chavez on a slider, Nick Swisher on a fastball outside the strike zone, and caught Marco Scutaro looking at an inside fastball.
Robertson, who lost to New York in Game 1 of the ALDS, didn’t allow a run and received great defense throughout the night. Robertson’s night ended when Craig Monroe made a diving catch in left off a Milton Bradley’s liner that would’ve scored D’Angelo Jimenez.
Analysis: Inge’s home run turned Zito into a different pitcher and the Tigers into a different club in the third and fourth innings. They hit the low pitch quite well off of Zito. The third inning also showed a trait the Tigers aren’t known for-drawing walks. Polanco and Sean Casey drew passes to load the bases setting up Magglio Ordonez’ infield single scoring Curtis Granderson. As a road team, Detroit did the best thing by staking out a 5-run lead making the crowd a non-factor. The Tigers received contributions from practically the entire lineup, one of their strengths, as every starter in the lineup reached base.
To get a strong effort from Robertson has to relax the rest of the staff. Going into Game 1, the Robertson-Zito matchup was an even one. With Robertson’s win, the Tigers have dangerous trio of Verlander-Rogers-Bonderman in the next three starts.