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Published: 10/12/2006

Ex-Mud Hen gives Tigers some added punch

OAKLAND - Alexis Gomez had a lot of bumpy rides up and down I-75 this season.

He bounced back and forth between Triple-A Toledo and Detroit three different times.

Gomez was cut so often, he needed stitches.

But the 6-2, 180-pound left-handed hitter didn't give up. He socked 11 home runs in 58 games with the Hens. It was the second-highest total of his 10-year career, which has been spent mostly in the minors.

Four of Gomez's homers - three solo shots and a two-run blast - came in the same game Aug. 7 against the Columbus Clippers.

Three weeks later, the journeyman outfielder/DH rejoined the Tigers.

Gomez, who has exhibited little pop in his bat in either the minors or majors, didn't get much playing time down the stretch in Detroit.

He entered Game 2 of the AL championship series last night with just one major league homer and 11 RBIs in 158 career at-bats with the Tigers and Kansas City Royals.

Yet Gomez wasted little time in becoming the latest version of Mr. October in his playoff debut.

He went 2-for-4 and drove in four runs against the Oakland A's, after collecting just seven RBIs in his 71 previous games with Detroit.

Gomez was the big reason why the Tigers captured their franchise-record fifth consecutive playoff victory, holding on to beat the A's 8-5 at McAfee Coliseum.

The Motown mashers have pounded out 16 doubles and 10 homers in six playoff games.

"This feels great," said Gomez, a 28-year-old Dominican. "I have never felt better."

After flying out in his first at-bat, Gomez experienced a sudden power surge with his bat.

He knocked in two runs with a single off Esteban Loaiza in the fourth inning when the ball trickled off the glove of A's third baseman Eric Chavez.

Gomez's hit gave the Tigers the lead for good at 4-3.

In the sixth, he struck again, belting a two-run homer to right center to stretch the Tigers advantage to 7-3.

He reached on an error in the eighth.

"Gomez had a great game for us," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Until last night, the last four teams to win Game 1 of an ALCS went on to lose the best-of-seven series.

The Tigers didn't pay attention to that nonsense.

Instead, they rallied to grab a commanding 2-0 lead against Oakland, which had not dropped the first two games of a postseason series since the 1990 World Series.

Now the Tigers return home to Detroit needing just two more wins to return to the World Series for the first time in 22 years.

Detroit pitchers had given up just three runs in their last 27 innings of work. Justin Verlander, the 23-year-old rookie right-hander, surrendered that many alone in the first 22/3 innings.

Oakland's Milton Bradley, batting left-handed, had a virtual monopoly against Verlander, driving in three runs on an RBI single in the first and two-run homer in the third, giving the A's a 3-1 lead.

Bradley then turned around to the right side of the plate and cracked a solo homer against Tigers southpaw Wil Ledezma.

Verlander, who picked up his first playoff win, was the starting pitcher when the Tigers began their current postseason winning streak.

He pitched on an extra day's rest in Game 2, which was a good thing.

He battled arm fatigue late in the season.

On this night, Verlander struggled to maintain his double-digit velocity.

But Gomez was great. Give this former Mud Hens player a lot of credit.

With two mighty swings, he dealt a critical blow to Oakland's World Series hopes.



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