Leyland defends decision despite double play
In fifth, he orders hit-and-run, but Jackson whiffs, Iglesias caught stealing
OAKLAND -- That three-run opening inning off Bartolo Colon seems like a long time ago. The Tigers have been held scoreless for 17 consecutive innings since then in this American League Division Series, eight of them against A's rookie Sonny Gray on Saturday night in his postseason debut.
Perhaps it was fitting, then, that Tigers manager Jim Leyland tried to avoid a double-play ground ball with a runner on third, his leadoff hitter at the plate and his speedy ninth hitter on base, and ended up with a double play that might have turned the game in the A's 1-0 series-tying Game 2 victory.
"That is a huge play in the game," A's manager Bob Melvin said of the strikeout-throwout double play that stranded Omar Infante on third base to end the fifth inning. "Now it gets forgot about a little bit based on the fact that the game went so long and there were zeros. But at the time, that's as big of a play as ultimately the [game-winning] hit."
It was an aggressive play for a team that isn't usually aggressive on the basepaths. But it spoke to Leyland's sentiments about his offense and its struggles to plate runs.
The leadoff walk to Infante broke up a dominant string for Gray, but it also sent the Tigers into a mode to try to manufacture offense at the bottom of the order. Leyland put on a hit-and-run with Infante for Don Kelly, whose ground ball to the right side moved him to second.
Another ground ball, this one from Jose Iglesias, moved Infante to third. Iglesias' speed, however, allowed him to beat the throw to first, giving Detroit runners at the corners.
Up came Austin Jackson, whose double to open the series was the catalyst for the Tigers' only runs in Game 1. Gray missed with three consecutive pitches, putting Jackson a ball away from loading the bases for Torii Hunter.
"I had him swinging 3-0," Leyland said, "because you figure you're going to get a fastball and he saw a lot of fastballs in that at-bat."
Jackson fouled off the 3-0 fastball, just as he did the 3-1 pitch that followed. With a full count, Leyland decided to get aggressive.
"We hoped if he hit it on the ground, we could stay out of a double play," Leyland said. "And it was a 3-2 pitch, probably a ball, but that was easier said than done."
Jackson, despite his speed, grounded into 12 double plays in the regular season, though just one came with a runner on third.
Stay out of the double play, and Infante brings in a run. The way Justin Verlander was pitching, there was a reasonable hope one would be enough.
"I thought it was going to be close, and one run might do it," Verlander said.
Moreover, there was a reasonable expectation that Gray's delivery would give them a chance.
"Sonny is usually pretty quick to the plate," Melvin said, "but that particular pitch, he needed to make a pitch and was probably as slow to the plate as he was all game."
Jackson swung and missed at the fastball off the plate. The key, however, was catcher Stephen Vogt's throw.
"Unbelievable throw," Melvin said.
Iglesias didn't have a chance at second. The way Gray pitched from there, they only put one more runner on the rest of the night.
"We had one shot," Leyland summed up.