Much at stake for both clubs in Game 2
Tigers given chance to take control; A's try to gain momentum
OAKLAND -- If, as Tigers manager Jim Leyland always says, momentum is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher, then the Detroit Tigers' current momentum is as good as Justin Verlander. That seems like pretty good momentum.
You know what Leyland is saying and you know that what he is saying is a baseball truth. But the Tigers are on a bit of a postseason roll, having won their last three Division Series games and then the opener of the American League Championship Series, 5-1, over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.
Game 2 of the ALCS on Wednesday night at McAfee Coliseum will offer the Tigers a chance to gain a clear upper hand, and it will offer the A's a chance to get even.
Game 2 will also feature a pitching matchup that could be one of those postseason mini-classics -- the solid, crafty veteran who has been around the block against the kid flame-thrower.
Esteban Loaiza, 34, was 7-3 with a 3.71 ERA when pitching at home during the regular season. He came back from a left shoulder injury to produce a strong second half for Oakland.
"He wants to compete," said A's manager Ken Macha. "He's a competitor, and he's shown that by the performance that he had in the last two months of the season."
On the Detroit side, Verlander, 23, had a remarkable rookie season, going 17-6 with a 3.63 ERA. There has been considerable talk about Verlander's poise, but Leyland puts a little different context around that.
"My reaction has always been the same," Leyland says. "When you throw at 97 [mph] with a curveball off the table and a good changeup, it's pretty easy to be poised. It's that simple."
In fact, Verlander's fastball has reached three digits on the radar gun. When throwing with this much velocity, the idea of checking the scoreboard radar gun reading is "pretty enticing," Verlander acknowledged. "I want to turn around and look at it," he said with a small smile. "I try not to get involved with that too much."
Verlander's capable performance in Game 2 of the ALDS helped to turn that series in the Tigers' favor. Now, he gets another Game 2 assignment, this one to keep a series moving in Detroit's direction.
The Tigers have been playing well in all facets over the last four games. "We've been in pretty good sync," Leyland said. "We've had that combination going of some good pitching, good bullpen work and some timely hitting. That usually means that you have an opportunity to win a ballgame."
But the Athletics are far from forlorn at this juncture. Four relievers who did not work in Oakland's sweep of the Twins in the ALDS not only worked in Game 1, they also gave up no runs over the last 5 1/3 innings of the game.
"If you're going to take some plusses out of a loss in a seven-game series ... not only did the guys that didn't pitch in the Division Series get to pitch, but they pitched effectively," Macha said.
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And although the A's scored only one run on Tuesday night, it was not as though their offense was completely shut down.
"We had 14 baserunners," Macha said. "We got a lot of guys on; we swung the bats OK, [we] just couldn't get the big hit. We've gone through some periods like that this year.
"Let's just keep getting the baserunners. I'm OK with that. We'll wind up getting a big hit sooner or later."
Down one game to none at home, sooner would be the preferred alternative there. The Athletics' situation is far from desperate, momentum or not, but if the Tigers and Verlander maintain some form of momentum in Game 2, they will be up 2-0 and headed home -- a very promising combination of postseason situations.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.