Unlikey hero gives Detroit 2-0 ALDS leadWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Two months ago Don Kelly was not even on Detroit’s 40-man roster.
The fourth-year utility man struggled to stay above the Mendoza line for most of the season before the he was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo in early August. He rejoined the Tigers Sept. 1, fairing little better than before.
Detroit and their fans are undoubtedly willing to overlook his disappointing regular season after his late-game heroics Sunday, though.
Kelly hit a walk-off sacrifice fly, giving the Tigers a 5-4 win and a commanding 2-0 lead over Oakland in the American League Division Series.
Second baseman Omar Infante singled to right with one out in the ninth to bring up third baseman Miguel Cabrera. The MVP candidate (3-5, 1 R) blooped a single of his own to shallow center, moving Infante to third before eventual losing pitcher Grant Balfour (.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER and 1 SO) intentionally walked Prince Fielder (1-4, 1 BB) to set up the double play.
Kelly had other plans though.
Two pitches later he lifted a 0-1 fastball to left-center, bringing Infante home for the winning run.
“Those are things we need,” said Tigers starter Doug Fister. “When one guy doesn’t get it done, the next guy does. We’re backing everybody up and we have confidence in every one of us.”
Fister gave up one run in seven innings, scattering six singles, walking two batters and striking out eight.
For the second-straight game the A’s sent a rookie starter to the mound. 25-year-old Tommy Milone surrendered five hits and a run over six frames, striking out six batters and walking one in his first postseason start.
“I thought he did really well for us,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “He was a little bit out of sync early on but he recovered as the game went along. I thought he pitched better and better for a younger guy in his first playoff game.”
After the A’s touched up Fister for a run on a sac fly in the top of the seventh, Sean Doolitle relieved Milone in the bottom of the inning.
The Oakland bullpen entered the game having held opponents scoreless the past 26 innings, a streak Detroit snapped in the seventh frame of Game 2.
Doolitle recorded two quick outs before giving up consecutive singles to Austin Jackson and Infante to bring up Cabrera with runners on the corners.
Coco Crisp had to move in from deep center field to catch up to a shallow floater off the bat of Cabrera. He appeared to do so, however, when he tried to make a basket catch, the ball hit off the heel of his glove. Both men on base to scored, giving the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
“Well, he breaks back and then has to recover and covered a lot of ground to get back there,” Melvin recalled. “Obviously [it’s difficult to understand the situation] until you’ve tried to make that play and the ball’s bouncing a little bit, as far as your eyes go. He ended up making a basket catch that just popped out of his glove.”
The back end of Detroit’s bullpen has been a source of anxiety for Tigers fans all season and that issue reared its head upon Fister’s departure.
Setup man Joaquin Benoit gave up a leadoff single to Yoenis Cespedes (2-5, 1 RBI) before popping up first baseman Brandon Moss for the first out of the eighth.
Cespedes stole second and third base to put himself in position to tie the game. Benoit aided the Oakland cause with right fielder Josh Reddick (1-4, 1 RBI) at the plate, skipping a ball in the dirt past catcher Gerald Laird, allowing Cespedes to take home.
Reddick, who has struck out six times in the series, added insult to injury a pitch later, driving the ball over the right field wall to give the A’s a 4-3 advantage heading into the bottom of the frame.
Ryan Cook, who relieved Doolittle (1 IP, 2 H and 2 runs) following his inning of work, allowed a single to left fielder Delmond Young to start his outing.
Young (1-4, 1 RBI) was replaced on the base path by Kelly, who advanced to second on a single by shortstop Jhonny Peralta (2-4) before left fielder Andy Dirks bunted to move Kelly to third. Kelly knotted the game at four when Cook (1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 SO) threw a wild pitch by pinch hitter Alex Avila.
Benoit gave way to lefty Phil Coke (.2 IP, 1H, 1 BB and 1 SO), who rung up two batters in the ninth, but exasperated the bullpen’s woes by putting runners on first and third.
Righty Al Alburquerque ended the threat the next at bat when Cespedes grounded the ball back to the mound.
Alburquerque pressed the ball to his lips before tossing it to first for the crucial out. Several A’s expressed their anger about the winning pitcher’s actions, which no doubt violated the unwritten rules of America’s pastime.
With tensions heightened the clubs head to Oakland for a decisive Game 3 on Oct. 9 at 9 p.m ET.
“Tuesday is a new day and anything can happen,” Fister said. “But it’s a matter of feeling good about ourselves. We’ve taken care of business here.
“We’re going to enjoy the flight there, have a good workout tomorrow, and be ready for Tuesday.”
Oakland is declining to announce its starter until Monday but Brett Anderson (2.57 ERA in regular season) is expected to get the ball, three weeks removed from a strained right oblique injury.
Midseason acquisition Anibal Sanchez (3.86 ERA in regular season) is scheduled to start Game 3 for Detroit.