10/12/06 2:11 AM ET
Gomez, bottom of lineup come up big
Tigers' 2-0 ALCS lead comes largely from Nos. 7-9 hitters
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
The only problem has been that Gomez most often shows it to his skipper during the team's batting practice sessions.
So when Leyland made the decision to use Gomez as his designated hitter in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the A's, he delivered one message to the 27-year-old before his playoff debut.
"I told him, 'It's a 5 o'clock game and that's when you hit your most home runs normally, so I'm going to play you tonight,'" Leyland said. "And he came through pretty big."
They say that October is the time that players can truly make a name for themselves. And if that's the case, Gomez certainly did that in the Tigers' 8-5 win on Wednesday night at McAfee Coliseum. He went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in his first career playoff appearance.
It's been a long trying road for Gomez to get to this point in his career, with some of the struggles even coming earlier this season. The outfielder was twice sent to the Minors this year by the Tigers and it seemed like his chance may never come to prove that he could indeed produce.
Yet Leyland seemed to always have faith in Gomez, and it was that type of confidence that gave Gomez hope that he may get to prove what he could do on the big stage.
"This year, Jim Leyland give me the chance of my life, of my career," Gomez said after Wednesday night's win. "The situation this year where I [went] down and [came] up was tough, but I never put my head down. All the times I got sent down, I [told] myself, 'I'm going to be ready for you when you need me.'"
Leyland decided that the time the Tigers needed Gomez was on Wednesday afternoon in a big situation for Detroit as it faced the opportunity to go up 2-0 in the best-for-seven series by taking two straight games on the road.
There were plenty of quizzical looks before the game when Leyland announced that he would start Gomez instead of Marcus Thames at the designated hitter slot. Leyland hadn't used Gomez at all during the AL Division Series, so it seemed a bit odd to throw such a player into such a critical situation.
"I just thought it might be a decent matchup," Leyland said.
It certainly appeared to work out for the best as Gomez began his strong night with a two-run single in the fourth inning. After Craig Monroe singled in a run to pull the Tigers within one run of the A's -- and loaded the bases with one out in the inning -- Gomez hit a hard grounder that just snuck by A's third baseman Eric Chavez and gave the Tigers their first lead of the night.
Detroit would never relinquish the lead after the single and Gomez helped build on it in the sixth when he belted a two-run home run over the right-center-field wall to make it a 7-3 game. It was just the second Major League home run of Gomez's career.
Gomez's performance appears to be part of a recurring theme for the club during its current five-game winning streak -- a different hero every day.
It was No. 9 hitter Brandon Inge that stepped up big for the club in Game 1. Inge went 3-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs, falling a triple shy of hitting for what would have been the first cycle in postseason history.
While both Inge and Gomez have gotten the spotlight with their individual performances in the past two games, it's been the entire bottom of the Tigers order that has made all the difference in the club's recent wins. The Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters have gone 7-for-21 against the A's with five runs scored and nine RBIs.
And right now, there doesn't seem to be a thought by the hitters in the bottom of the lineup that it will change anytime soon.
"We've been having that all year," Monroe said of the production. "Me, Brandon and Marcus, we tend to make jokes about it. The top of the lineup is what everybody is worried about, so when you get down to the bottom you think you can kind of mess around with these guys. But with us three guys and now putting [Gomez] in there, we showed that there is no break in our lineup -- top to bottom."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.