Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tigers devour yet another ace

OAKLAND, Ca. - When Barry Zito is on - as one of baseball's toughest lefthanders often is - his games can be works of art.

So when Zito trotted out a familiar blue print in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, he seemed his same old, unflappable, unbeatable self.

Five weak grounders, a foul-out and two harmless fly balls to the outfield from the first eight batters tend to make you look that good.

It was enough to impress most everyone in sold-out McAfee Coliseum.

Everyone but the Detoit Tigers, that is.

The team that is making a habit of pulling upsets and surprises this post-season, struck before boisterous crowd of 35,655 could really settle into their seats. Unleashing their fury of an offense on Zito, the Tigers drove the lefthander back to the ranks of mere mortals with a convincing 5-1 win.

A fine pitching performance did mark the first game of the best-of-seven series. It just wasn't turned in by Zito, but rather Nate Robertson, a 29-year-old lefty who stymied Oakland with five innings of shutout ball.

The primary news last night, though, was Zito and what was done to him by the upstart, underestimated Tigers lineup. For the AL wild-card winning Tigers once again had impressed upon another big-time pitcher that they were hard to, well, impress.

The Yankees' Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, after all, had been mowed down by Jim Leyland's purportedly too-young, too-free-swinging hitters during Detroit's Division Series triumph.

Now what looks to be a pretty disciplined offense has added Zito to its collection. And it was convincing as Detroit handed him his shortest outing since April 3, when he was knocked from Oakland's season opener by seven Yankees runs in just 1 1/3 innings.

"I got away from my gameplan, trying to focus on every pitch, I was just trying to be too fine," said Zito.

"To tell you the truth, I think playing the Yankees, it really helped us with our offensive approach," said Leyland, because we mentioned something about how patient the Yankees were and how they made the pitcher work and everything."

"Some changeups got hit pretty well tonight because the fastball didn't keep them honest," said Zito. "I just need better fastball command. When I put the fastball where I want, it makes the off-speed pitch thaht much more effective. "

Hitting Zito a shock to Inge

OAKLAND, Ca. _ Brandon Inge, supposedly the Detroit Tiger with the least teeth, had a breakthrough against Barry Zito last night.

And he did not even know it.

Inge, the Tigers' No. 9 batter, started off a 5-1 victory with a two-out home run off the A's ace in the top of the third inning. Before that at-bat, Inge was just 3-for-24 lifetime against Zito.

"I didn't realize I was 3-for-24," Inge said. "I'm glad I didn know that stat before I faced him!

"I know he's a great pitcher. He's got unbelievable control. and you honestly need to get him in the zone or else you're going to swing at some bad pitches."

Philly ump's record grows

Oakland, Ca. - Thirty-year veteran umpire and native Philadelphian Jerry Crawford extended his record to 12 league championship series assignments after being named crew chief in this series.

Crawford has also worked four division series and five World Series.

Crawford will be joined by crewmates Mike Reilly, Derryl Cousins, Chuck Meriwether, Gary Cederstrom and Hunter Wendlestedt.

Leyland, Torre and God

Oakland, Ca. - Tigers manager Jim Leyland didn't thank Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for doing what he had hoped by not firing embattled manager Joe Torre yesterday.

"I'm thankful to God he's going to be back in the league," Leyland said, instead, about the end of speculation that Detroit's stunning AL Division Series victory over the Yankees could cost his friend his job.

"My heartfelt opinion is, I don't think the Yankees had any intention of firing Joe Torre," Leyland added. "I think that was some speculation that got started and got running wild a bit."

Tuned up and ready to go

OAKLAND, Ca. - The Oakland A's, satisfied that Rich Harden is healthy and focused again, will start the righthander in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series in Detroit Friday night.

The decision was made after Harden (4-0, 4.24 ERA this season) passed muster during a tuneup in the Arizona Fall League Monday.

"They felt good about how the ball was coming out of his hand," A's manager Ken Macha said before the best-of-seven ALCS began yesterday.

Macha felt good just being able to get the pitcher who was limited to just nine regular-season starts by injuries back in the mix.

Harden's most recent injury - a sprained ligament in his right elbow - idled him from June 5 to Sept. 20. Harden then did not impress in three September starts upon his return.

So once the post-season began, Macha dropped Harden to fourth in the rotation.

Harden never got to start, because the A's swept the Minnesota Twins in three games in the AL Division Series, behind the pitching of Barry Zito, Esteban Loaiza and Dan Haren.

Harden now moves ahead of Haren (14-13, 4.12 ERA in the regular-season). Because of what the A's saw Monday from the pitcher who was 14-5 with a 2.99 ERA in over the last two seasons.

"We specifically limited the number of pitches he threw yesterday for that purpose [of starting him Friday]," said Macha, reminding all of the bottom line:

"We are, I think, 9-0 in his starts this season."