Tigers beat A’s again

Published 4:56 pm Thursday, October 12, 2006

Alexis Gomez thought it was a joke when Jim Leyland told him at a morning workout in the hotel that he would start in Game 2 of the American League championship series.

When it comes to baseball, the Detroit Tigers manager isn’t kidding around.

In another great call this postseason, Leyland went with the little-used Gomez as Detroit’s designated hitter. The result: Tigers are heading home to Motown with a 2-0 advantage.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Gomez hit a go-ahead, two-run single and later added a two-run homer to lead Detroit past the Oakland Athletics 8-5 on Wednesday, a somber night following the death of former A’s pitcher Cory Lidle in a plane crash earlier in the day.

“There’s no surprise in me. I know why I came to the big leagues,” Gomez said. “When I went to Toledo this year, I didn’t put my head down. I worked hard every day.”

A career minor leaguer, Gomez had just one home run in the majors and contributed only six RBIs 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 also beat out an infield hit with two outs in the ninth inning to load the bases, but closer Todd Jones retired Frank Thomas on a harmless fly for his second save in these playoffs.

“What a challenge,” Jones said. “It was a lot of fun. We’re up 2-0 and we’re going back to Detroit.”

Game 3 is Friday at Detroit’s Comerica Park, featuring Rich Harden for Oakland against former A’s pitcher Kenny Rogers.

Harden, who returned to make three late-season starts after missing more than three months with an elbow injury, did not pitch during the division series sweep of the Minnesota Twins. Rogers pitched shutout ball against the New York Yankees in Game 3.

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 Triple-A Toledo.

Leyland already had to reshuffle his lineup to replace Sean Casey after the first baseman injured his calf in Tuesday’s opener. The moves paid off and the Tigers won their fifth straight postseason game.

“When Jim puts out the lineup it’s the right nine,” Jones said. “He’s the only one who has to know the decision. If I walk in there on Friday and see my name as the cleanup hitter, I’d expect to get a hit.”

Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski received 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.”

A moment of silence was held before the national anthem for Lidle, who most recently pitched for the Yankees on Saturday in Detroit and spent the 2001 and ’02 seasons in Oakland. His picture was shown on the main scoreboard.

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, drove in four runs and managed not to spill coffee on starter Esteban Loaiza this time.

Eric Chavez also homered for the A’s, who didn’t know until arriving at the ballpark that Lidle had been in the small plane. Lidle’s old Oakland jersey hung near the dugout.

Hard-throwing Tigers rookie Justin Verlander struck out six and got plenty of support from the bats, and Jones.

Verlander enjoyed watching the offensive show by Gomez, designated for assignment by Detroit twice this season.

“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.”

This was the biggest performance yet for the 28-year-old Dominican, who 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 Triple-A.

Curtis Granderson hit a solo home run off Huston Street leading off the ninth, Craig Monroe had two RBIs 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. They looked like the better team. It’s tough. They just keep coming at you.”

Back-to-back singles by Placido Polanco and Magglio Ordonez started the Tigers’ fourth-inning rally. Monroe hit an RBI single and Gomez followed with a two-run single off Chavez’s glove at third base, then Inge added a sacrifice fly a night after his three-hit, two-RBI performance.

The Tigers quieted the sellout crowd of 36,168 for a second straight night. Detroit has won five straight since dropping Game 1 of the division series to the Yankees — the club’s first time with five straight victories since a seven-game winning streak from June 23-30.

Gomez followed Monroe’s two-out single in the sixth with a home run over the right-field wall.

Verlander, a 17-game winner in his first major league season, reached 100 mph in the first inning. He allowed seven hits and four runs in 5 1-3 innings.

Notes: Thomas had five hits in the first round — including two homers in Game 1 of the ALDS — but went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and is hitless so far in the ALCS. … A’s reliever Justin Duchscherer (neck spasm) and Detroit’s Joel Zumaya (forearm tightness) weren’t available.