Jarrod Parker was good. Justin Verlander was better. And the Oakland A’s are going home.
The Detroit Tigers’ ace lived up to his billing as the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young award winner, dominating the A’s in a complete-game, four-hit shutout masterpiece. Verlander struck-out 11, walked only one and allowed only two base-runners to get as far as second base.
Parker had good stuff, but was burned by the bottom of the order. Ninth-place hitter Omar Infante reached base all three times he faced Parker and he scored twice. Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson doubled home Infante in the third inning to plate the game’s first run and then later scored on a wild pitch. Those were all the runs Verlander would need, although Jackson later collected another RBI in the Tigers’ four-run seventh inning that put the game away.
During the pre-game press conference, Detroit manager Jim Leyland hinted that Verlander would be his own closer in the game.
“I’m pretty sure this game will be decided by him,” Leyland said.
“I’m not taking him out, I can assure you of that because I don’t have anyone better to bring in.”
Leyland proved prophetic, as Verlander cruised through the A’s line-up. After the game, Verlander pointed to his change-up as the key pitch in his arsenal against the A’s left-handed heavy line-up.
”My change up was working well for me tonight, I could tell from the first batter, from Coco, that it was going to be an effective pitch for me,” Verlander said.
”It's just one of those things as a pitcher you go out and see what you've got and what's going to work for you that night. I was hoping my change up was going to be good with as many lefties as they had. If it was on, I knew it would make it tough on them, and thankfully it was.”
The A’s had plenty of late game magic during the season, but the magic ran out in the seventh inning when Detroit batted around and scored four times with several of those hits blooping in or glancing off of gloves. That inning took a close 2-0 game and made it 6-0.
Parker was charged with four runs in 6.1 innings, but he pitched better than that line would indicate. He struck-out six, walked only one and induced six groundball outs.
The sellout crowd of 36,393 was on its feet and loud early, but the A’s gave them little to get excited about. Yoenis Cespedes lined a sharp double to left-center in the first inning with two-outs, but the scoring threat was quickly erased when Seth Smith hit a check-swing comebacker to Verlander. That would be the A’s only runner to reach second base until the A’s got two on with two outs in the eighth. In the third, Brandon Moss drew a two-out walk, but he was erased on the first pitch to Derek Norris when Moss tried to advance to second on a ball that bounced in the dirt. That would be the A’s last base-runner until Moss singled in the fifth.
Pitch count is rarely an issue for Verlander, who regularly has been allowed to exceed 120 pitches, especially in the post-season, but he was able to keep his number reasonable. He didn’t reach 90 pitches until the seventh inning and rarely had to make a pitch under duress. He finished with 122 pitches.
It was a disappointing ending to the A’s memorable 2012 campaign, which was extended one more night on Wednesday when Oakland mounted a three-run, ninth-inning rally to defeat the Tigers, 4-3. After the game, the capacity crowd at the Coliseum gave the team a raucous standing ovation and many of the players lingered in front of the A’s dugout, hugging each other and waving to the crowd. Chants of “Let’s Go Oakland” continued several minutes after the game had ended.
The A’s expressed their appreciation for the support of their home crowd throughout the divisional series.
"I hope to see crowds like that every game next year. You saw how we play when they come out like that. We do some special things," A’s closer Grant Balfour said.
Despite losing key players to injury and suspension late in the season, Oakland erased a five-game deficit in the AL West over the season’s final nine games to earn the franchise’s 15th AL West title.
The A’s are hopeful that this season is the foundation for an extended period of success. Most of the A’s current roster is set to return to the team in 2013. Oakland will have to decide whether to pursue free-agents-to-be Brandon McCarthy and Jonny Gomes. They are expected to decline shortstop Stephen Drew’s $10 million option for 2013, but could try to sign him for a lower amount. The A’s also have a team-option worth $4.5 million on reliever Grant Balfour that they are likely to pick up.
Pitching should still be a strength for Oakland in 2013. The A’s will have the benefit of returning a rotation that could include Parker, Brett Anderson, Tom Milone, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily, even if they don’t re-sign McCarthy. Prospects Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray could also factor for Oakland next season. In the bullpen, Balfour (team option), Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Jerry Blevins, Evan Scribner, Jim Miller, Travis Blackley, Pedro Figueroa and Pat Neshek are all under team control.
Oakland should be fairly stable on the position-player side of the roster, as well. Gomes is the only free agent amongst the team’s regulars. The A’s outfield will be pretty much set going into the off-season, with starters Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith all under team control.
In the infield, Brandon Moss, Chris Carter, Cliff Pennington and Josh Donaldson are also under team control. A’s 2011 third baseman Scott Sizemore will be back after missing all of the 2012 season with a torn ACL. Sizemore figures to battle with Donaldson, Pennington, Jemile Weeks and possibly Grant Green for playing time at second and third. Chris Carter is likely to continue to share time at first with Moss, unless one of them establishes himself as the obvious choice to be the everyday player.
Behind the plate, Derek Norris and George Kottaras are also both under team control.
"Hopefully we can keep the team together," Balfour said. " I believe it's a team with great chemistry."
Notes: With Evan Scribner’s appearance in the 8th, the A’s set a record for the most number of rookie pitchers to appear in a post-season series…With the Orioles and Nationals winning both of their Game 4s on Thursday, it marked the first time since the divisional series format was introduced that all four series reached the final fifth game…Jonny Gomes made his first appearance of the series in a pinch-hitting appearance for Derek Norris in the bottom of the eighth inning. He received a standing ovation and flew out to left.