DETROIT — Al Alburquerque may have kissed off the Oakland Athletics’ chances in the American League Division Series.
But it was another unsung Detroit Tiger who delivered the kiss of death.
Don Kelly’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly gave the Tigers a walk-off win in a game that had more twists and more turns, more bobbles and more bloops, more good pitches and more wild pitches, just more stuff than any 5-4 game deserves.
Now, the Tigers head west to Oakland with a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series. Yes, the A’s still have a pulse. Yes, they have a chance. Both are very faint.
Miguel Cabrera, the Triple Crown winner, and his heavyweight running mate in the batting order, Prince Fielder, have no RBIs in the first two games of this series. And the A’s still headed home down 0-2.
This is the first season a team with a better record during the regular season, the team with the supposed home-field advantage, has had to open on the road. Oakland won the AL West with a 94-68 record while Detroit won the Central at 88-74.
But with the addition of single wild-card games in both leagues, baseball did away with a travel day and instead of a best-of-five division series set up as a 2-2-1 affair, it’s two on the road and three at home for the higher-seeded team.
Being down 0-2 isn’t much of a home-field advantage.
But the Tigers will certainly take the break after showing once again that they are more than merely two big hitters and an ace pitcher.
In the eighth inning, manager Jim Leyland nearly emptied his bench, using two pinch-runners and two pinch-hitters. Kelly got into the game as one of the former and scored the tying run on a wild pitch by Oakland’s Ryan Cook.
Knotted at 4-4, Leyland called on lefty Phil Coke to work the top of the ninth and Danny Worth, who also got into the game in the eighth as a pinch-runner, made a slick play deep in the hole at short to get a force out at second. Coco Crisp beat the relay throw at first, Stephen Drew followed with a single that sent Crisp to third and Leyland summoned righty Alburquerque for a two-on, two-out showdown with Oakland’s toughest right-handed hitter, Yoenis Cespedes.
He slapped the first pitch on one hard hop back to the mound and Alburquerque fielded the ball cleanly and gave it a smooch before throwing to first for the out.
“I didn’t see him kiss the ball,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, “But, obviously, if he gives up a hit right there it’s a different ballgame.”
He didn’t, and it wasn’t. In the ninth, after Omar Infante and Cabrera both singled with one out, A’s closer Grant Balfour intentionally walked Fielder to load the bases.
“I was thinking about the situations that could happen before the inning started,” Kelly said. “That was the main one. If guys got on, I would walk Miggy and Prince to face me as well. That's the right move. To sit there and think about it and know that could be what happens, you're more prepared for it when you get into that situation.”
Kelly took a slider, then got a fastball and powered it far enough into right field that Infante could enjoy a leisurely trot home with the winning run.
“We battled the whole game,” said Tigers starter Doug Fister, who went seven innings without a decision. “From the starters to the relievers to the guys who came off the bench, we played together. We’ve got guys like Don Kelly. When one guy doesn’t get it done the next guy does.”
Now the A’s are nearly done thanks to players like Kelly, Worth, and the kissin’ bandit, Alburquerque, who made one pitch, got one out, and earned the victory.
A year ago, Kelly was in the starting lineup for the decisive fifth game of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium and hit a solo home run in the first inning to give the Tigers a lead they never relinquished.
A new Mr. October?
“I don't know about that,” Kelly said, laughing. “I didn't even get a hit this time. My teammates put me in that position. You're not going to come through every single time. [But] you play the game for situations like that, to be in that position.”
To apply the kiss of death.