Bay Area Baseball

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October 5, 2013
Vogt: 'Uber-aggressive' Tigers exploited Colon in first inning

OAKLAND -- Among the post-game comments in the A's clubhouse Friday night, this one from Coco Crisp rang among the truest: "Hopefully tomorrow we don't have to come from behind, because we've got a nice challenge ahead of us."

The A's trailed by three runs in their 3-2 Game 1 loss Friday before they even saw one of Max Scherzer's mid-90s fastballs. Even for an A's team that has made a habit of dramatic finishes, that's a tough situation to play under. When a pitcher is throwing like Scherzer did Friday night, it can feel even more daunting.

How unlikely was that first inning? In 54 previous starts with the A's, Bartolo Colon had allowed three first-inning runs all of once. He had given up six earned runs total in his six starts since coming off the disabled list in late August. Or you can sum it up like this -- Colon hit the second batter he faced, Torii Hunter, with an inside fastball. He hadn't hit a batter all year in 190 1/3 regular-season innings.

"He got out of sync," manager Bob Melvin said. "You saw balls up in the zone, which you normally don't see from him, hits a batter. So it took him an inning to get back into his rhythm."

Catcher Stephen Vogt agreed that Colon was missing high in the first inning and said the Tigers capitalized on an aggressive game plan. It's no secret that Colon relies on fastballs primarily -- often they have enough different types of movement that Colon can get away with it by freezing hitters or inducing weak contact -- and Vogt said the Tigers seemed to key on the fastball in that first inning.

"They were uber-aggressive against him and came out swinging," Vogt said.

Austin Jackson started it with a double on a 1-1 pitch that Colon acknowledged was up. Other than that, though, Colon said the "only pitch I felt really bad about" was the one that hit Hunter on the left arm.

"After that I believe the rest of the pitches were good," he said.

After Miguel Cabrera's RBI single, Colon got Prince Fielder to ground into a double play that scored a run. He allowed a Victor Martinez double but looked like he might get out of the inning with only two runs in when Alex Avila hit a ground ball to the right of first baseman Daric Barton.

But Barton, starting at first base because of his defensive abilities, saw the ball roll under his glove and into right field for a single, scoring Martinez.

"I give credit to Avila on that pitch," Colon said. "The ball was in and I tried to go out. Barton tried to catch the ball and it didn't happen."

Melvin said of the play: "(Barton) usually does get to balls. Whenever he doesn't get to one you're in between on -- he doesn't do that often. He's a good defender."

Colon got Omar Infante to hit into a fielder's choice to end the inning and did not allow another run, despite giving up 10 hits for the first time all year. After going through the Detroit lineup once, Colon appeared to start mixing in more off-speed pitches and kept the Tigers a little more off-balance. Vogt said after the first, Colon appeared to be "the same Bartolo he's been for the last few weeks."

That first inning, though, was costly. And to Crisp's point, the A's will not want to fall behind again in Game 2 against Justin Verlander, despite Verlander's not being quite the dominant force this season that he has the past couple years. Verlander still had strikeout stuff during the regular season -- he finished with 217 in 218 1/3 innings -- and the A's showed Friday they're still prone to swinging and missing in bunches.

* What little offense the A's did muster Friday night came mostly courtesy of Yoenis Cespedes, who had two of their three hits with his second-inning triple and seventh-inning home run. He joined Rickey Henderson as the only Athletics players ever to hit a triple and homer in a postseason game.

"The last month for me was one of the best this year," Cespedes said after the game. "And I still feel good."

Cespedes also played the entire game in left field but was not really required to test his sore right shoulder with any hard throws. He did have a defensive miscue in the eighth inning, allowing Victor Martinez's catchable line drive get past him for a double.

"The ball got into the lights," Cespedes said.

While Cespedes basically was the A's offense on Friday, he said he's confident that won't be a theme in the series.

"Not everything depends on me," he said through interpreter Ariel Prieto. "Today I was good. Tomorrow the rest of the team's going to be good."

* Crisp drew a one-out walk in the eighth and was running on the pitch when Josh Donaldson popped out to end the inning. Afterward, he appeared to walk back to the dugout gingerly and was met by a trainer before coming out for the ninth on defense.

Crisp said it's nothing to worry about -- just a cramp. "Too much excitement, not enough fluids," he said. "In the (batter's) box I was cramping. That's all it was."

The A's leadoff hitter drew all three of their walks but was stranded all three times.

* For whatever reason, teams still try to run on Josh Reddick. When Reddick threw out Martinez at the plate for the second out of the sixth inning, it was his fifth outfield assist in his last eight games. He also has the Gold Glove from last year as what you'd expect would be a deterrent.

That's especially the case with a slower runner like Martinez. Had Martinez been held up, the Tigers would have had the bases loaded with one out and put Melvin in a tough spot -- whether to keep Colon in the game to face left-hander Andy Dirks. As it was, the sixth turned out to be Colon's final inning.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland was asked about the decision to send Martinez and said, "I think I have a good answer for that one.

"To me, that's one of those where you send him and if he doesn't make it, you wish you held him, but if you hold him and the next guy pops up and you don't get the run, you wish you would have sent him.

"I thought it was a good shot. Reddick is a great thrower. We know that going into the series, and he made a great throw."

* One thing overshadowed by the loss -- after Colon left the game, Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle combined to throw three scoreless innings, with Otero retiring all four hitters he faced and Doolittle striking out three of the six he faced.

Otero retired Cabrera on a groundout in the eighth and was lifted for Doolittle, who got Fielder to fly out to Reddick in right. Otero was particularly efficient -- he recorded his four outs on 15 pitches and has now not allowed a run in 19 of his last 21 outings going back to Aug. 6.

"He has that ninth-inning dynamic," Melvin said. "And we'll use him in close games like we did tonight."

* As Crisp said, the A's have a challenge ahead of them in Game 2. They'll face the past Cy Young winner and MVP in Verlander while sending rookie Sonny Gray to the mound in what will be Gray's 11th major-league start.

Gray displayed his brand of quiet confidence in the week leading up to undoubtedly the biggest start of his life -- one that appears even bigger now that the A's are in a 1-0 series hole. Their home-field advantage is ostensibly gone -- they'll now have to win at least once in Detroit to win the series -- and they obviously don't want to leave Oakland one game from elimination.

"It is what it is," Crisp said of losing Game 1. "We almost pulled it off. We battled. Let this one go and start worrying about Mr. Verlander."

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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