The Tigers and Athletics played what could very well end up being the best game of the entire post-season tonight as starters Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray took the hill in opposition. The two right-handers traded zeroes through seven innings, each allowing just four hits, each walking two or fewer, each striking out at least nine. As Katie Sharp noted on Twitter, tonight was the first game in post-season history in which both pitchers shut out their opponents and struck out at least nine.
Gray was able to pitch through the eighth inning, escaping a sticky situation with the speedy Don Kelly on second base with one out. The 23-year-old relied on his curve to strike out Austin Jackson for the fourth time in as many at-bats, then got Torii Hunter to pop out. From there, it was a battle of the bullpens.
Verlander made it through seven, throwing 117 pitches in total, striking out 11 while walking just one. He was able to ramp it up to 98 MPH in his final inning, adding some extra velocity when he needed it most. On any other night, he would have walked away with a W, but Gray was his equal.
After Drew Smyly and Al Alburquerque teamed up for a scoreless eighth, Tigers manager Jim Leyland left Alburquerque in for the bottom of the ninth. Yoenis Cespedes led off with a single to left field, past a rangeless Miguel Cabrera. Seth Smith followed up with a single to right field, allowing Cespedes to advance to third base with no outs. Leyland called for Josh Reddick to be intentionally walked, setting up a force at every base, then replaced Alburquerque with Rick Porcello — a move that will likely be second-guessed as closer Joaquin Benoit, ostensibly the team’s best reliever, remained in the bullpen waiting for a save situation. Catcher Stephen Vogt, 0-for-3 with three strikeouts to that point, laced a 93 MPH fastball from Porcello into left field, scoring Cespedes for a walk-off single.
With the 1-0 victory, the Athletics tie the ALDS at 1-1 and will now head to Detroit for two games. Athletics starter Jarrod Parker will oppose Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez on Monday.
1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Indians early last month. The 34-year-old had spent the last seven and a half seasons with the Blue Jays, but his future elsewhere appeared to be written on the wall when the Jays signed Kendrys Morales in November to essentially occupy Encarnacion’s role.
Encarnacion spoke about testing free agency for the first time in his career and the situation that led to him leaving Toronto for Cleveland. Via Jorge L. Ortiz of USA TODAY:
“Toronto was always my first option, but I had never been a free agent, and anybody who gets to free agency wants to find out what’s out there,’’ he said. “I think they got too hasty in making their decision, but now I’m with Cleveland and I’m happy to be here.’’
Encarnacion last season hit .263/.357/.529 with 42 home runs and an AL-best 127 RBI. He’s now on the team that defeated his Blue Jays in the ALCS to advance to the World Series. Encarnacion effectively replaces Mike Napoli, who returned to the Rangers.
I’m on record saying that Sammy Sosa has been rather hosed by baseball history.
The guy did amazing things. Unheard-of things. He was truly astounding at this peak and was incredibly important to both his franchise and Major League Baseball as a whole. His repayment: he’s a pariah. His club won’t claim him and his greatness, by any measure, has not just been overlooked but denied by most who even bother to consider him.
Yes, he had PED associations, but they were extraordinarily vague ones. He’s in the same boat as David Ortiz as far as documented PED evidence against him, but Ortiz will be a first ballot Hall of Famer while Sosa barely clings to the ballot. He hit homers at the same cartoonish rate as Mark McGwire, but while Big Mac has been embraced by baseball and has coached for years, Sosa can’t get into Wrigley Field unless he buys a ticket and even then the Cubs might try to hustle him out of sight. The man has been treated poorly by any measure.
Yet, it’s still possible to overstate the case. Like Sosa did in this interview with Chuck Wasserstrom:
It’s like Jesus Christ when he came to Jerusalem,” Sosa told chuckbloggerstrom.com. “Everybody thought Jesus Christ was a witch (laughing) — and he was our savior. So if they talk (bleep) about Jesus Christ, what about me? Are you kidding me?”
At least he was basically joking about it. Still, it’s a totally unfair and almost offensive comparison.
I mean, anyone who watched Sosa’s career knows that he had trouble laying off breaking stuff low and away. In contrast . . .