Detroit shouldn’t celebrate yet; still work to do in Oakland

Don Kelly was the unsung hero for the Tigers on Sunday. (Rick Osentoski/US Presswire)

The regular-season excitement is over.

Yes, it’s been since 1934 and 1935 that Detroit has made consecutive playoff appearances. Yes, Miguel Cabrera is the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. And yes, he will most likely take home the AL MVP, which will be the second time in team history that they have had two separate players on the same team win back-to-back MVPs (Mickey Cochran 1934; Hank Greenberg 1935). But the celebration of seasonal achievements is over everyone — it’s October baseball in Motown.

After Sunday’s come-from-behind win, Detroit is two games up on Oakland. Game one was Verlander’s. He picked up his fourth career postseason win, going seven innings and striking out 11 — also a team postseason record. Thanks to Alex Avila, who homered in the fifth, the Tigers walked away with a 3-1 victory.

Game two on Sunday was a nail-biter. Detroit’s starter Doug Fister was solid. He gave up two runs in the seven innings he pitched, while Oakland’s Tommy Milone gave up one in the six innings he pitched. In the third, Oakland took the early lead when Yoenis Cespedes hit a shallow single to left that brought in Chad Pennington. Their lead wouldn’t last, though, as Detroit tied it up in the bottom of the third. Like fighters trading punches, both teams scored in the seventh and the eighth to tie the game up at four. What seemed like a game destined for extra innings ended quickly, when Omar Infante poked a hit to right field with one out. Cabrera followed up with a single and Prince Fielder was intentionally walked to put Don Kelly, a late-season reassignment, in the hero position. This was a scenario only seen in movies. Bases were loaded with one out. The 32-year-old knocked a beautiful sac fly that brought in Infante for the game-winning run, and gave his team a two-game lead over Oakland.

Leyland made claim after game one that it was “unfair” to rely on Miggy and Fielder every single day. He said the players who aren’t in the spotlight everyday will need to step up. He also commented on how important it was for Detroit to win that first game. He focused his remarks on the mental advantage it gives his team. If the A’s had won against Verlander, the momentum and mental advantage would have surely shifted to Oakland’s side.

Even though they’re up in the series, the worst thing Detroit can do is to take Oakland easy at this point. Remember, this is an A’s team that trailed Texas by 13 games on June 30, and even remained five games back with nine days left in the regular season before they rallied to win the west (94-68).

Game three will be played in Oakland, where Detroit will have a chance to take the series with one more win. Anibal Sanchez (9-13) will be on the hill for Detroit versus Oakland’s Brett Anderson (4-2).

Sunday’s battle was no fluke; expect Oakland to come out strong in front of their home crowd. Sanchez will need to get ahead on his pitch counts early, and if he can go deep into later innings like Verlander and Fister have, then they have a good chance to complete the sweep. Sanchez didn’t fare too well the last time he faced Oakland. He gave up six runs, but managed to strike out eight in the 12-4 loss on September 20.

Last year, Detroit won the ALDS against New York 3-2, but eventually met its demise against Texas in a 4-2 ALCS loss. Detroit is rolling right now. If the unsung heroes can continue to perform well on a daily basis, and if the starters stay solid, we might see something special in Motown. Until then, they still have a lot of work to do.

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