A's fight hard, but can't avoid sweep
Team disappointed, but proud of 2006 accomplishments
DETROIT -- The moment Magglio Ordonez's two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth cleared the left-field wall Saturday night in Motown, one fine season moved to the next stage and one fine season ended.
Ordonez's no-doubt-about-it blast-off gave the Tigers a 6-3 victory in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, wrapping up a four-game sweep in front of a sellout crowd at Comerica Park, and sending Detroit to its first World Series since 1984.
A's closer Huston Street, who entered the game in the seventh and was undone by the two-out rally capped by Ordonez's second homer of the night in the ninth, was born in 1983, so perhaps he's an odd choice to put things in perspective.
But put them in perspective he did.
As Milton Bradley addressed the media with a towel on his head and red ringing his eyes, as Eric Chavez explained that Oakland had simply run into a "buzzsaw," and as Frank Thomas and Barry Zito fielded questions about their futures while the present remained so very raw, Street faced wave after wave of inquiries about his fateful pitch, but always returned to the same general point.
"Every guy in here gave everything they had," Street said. "Not just in this game, but all year. I know that's not easy to really focus on right now, but eventually it will be. And that's important."
Hard as it might have been to do at the time, a handful of A's echoed Street's sentiment and saluted the season as a whole rather than mourn the four consecutive losses that ended it.
"I think we proved a lot of people wrong," said Thomas, who called a pregame meeting to remind his teammates of such. "It hurts to get here and not put your best foot forward, but we put our best foot forward for a long time, and the guys should be proud of that."
Proud that they dealt with injuries to key players early, often and late, yet still managed to claim the AL West title. Proud that they surprised plenty of so-called "experts" in knocking off the favored Twins in the AL Division Series. And most of all, said first baseman Nick Swisher, proud that they embodied the ideals of "team" throughout.
"I think this season was nothing but a success for all of us -- every guy in here, no matter what kind of year they had as an individual," Swisher said. "Yeah, this is disappointing -- obviously. But when we had guys going down left and right during the season, nobody but the guys in here gave us a chance to get this far, and we did. We did because we were a team, and like they say, 'You win as a team, you lose as a team.'
"Well, guess what? We lost this series as a team, but we won a heck of a lot more than we lost this year."
The A's gave righty Dan Haren a 2-0 lead before he even threw a pitch, jumping on former A's farmhand Jeremy Bonderman in the top of the first inning. After Mark Kotsay drew a one-out walk, Bradley sliced an opposite-field RBI double to the base of the wall in left-center field, and Chavez followed with an RBI double of his own down the right-field line.
Shutdown innings were an issue for the A's in Game 2 of the series, with starter Esteban Loaiza twice coughing up leads immediately after he'd been handed them, but Haren shrugged off a walk to leadoff man Curtis Granderson in the bottom of the first inning with two strikeouts sandwiched around a groundout to keep momentum on Oakland's side.
"He was locked in," said catcher Jason Kendall. "His split was unbelievable."
Jay Payton, whose 11-game postseason hitting streak (dating to the 2000 NLCS) was snapped in Game 3 on Friday, gave Haren more breathing room with a one-out solo homer to left in the top of the fourth. And again, Haren responded by putting up a zero. But after Bonderman zipped through a perfect top of the fifth, the Tigers' offense finally came to life -- and the A's defense didn't give Haren much help.
Brandon Inge led off with a slow roller to third base that the official scorer ruled an infield single, but Inge ended up at second because Chavez's throw to first bounced past Swisher and into the seats. After moving to third on a groundout to the right side, Inge scored on a flare to right that Granderson turned into a double by sprinting from the time he left the batter's box, and Granderson scored when Payton's diving attempt to rob Monroe came up empty, the ball rolling to the left-field wall for another double.
Ordonez tied the game with a solo homer to left on Haren's first pitch in the bottom of the sixth, and A's manager Ken Macha handed the ball to lefty Joe Kennedy after Carlos Guillen ripped a single to right on Haren's second pitch of the frame.
Haren allowed three runs, all of them earned, on seven hits and two walks, while striking out seven.
"I don't think it was enough," Haren said. "I went out and had good stuff, but I made a few mistakes and they got right back into the game."
Lefty Jamie Walker took over for Bonderman with Kendall at first with two out in the seventh, and Kotsay just missed a home run, his hopeful body language spinning him well into the field of play as the bolt hooked foul down the right-field line.
"I thought that was it," Swisher said of Kotsay's long foul ball. "We've been waiting for that huge, huge hit that we got so many times all year, and I thought that was going to be it."
|"Every guy in here gave everything they had. Not just in this game, but all year. I know that's not easy to really focus on right now, but eventually it will be. And that's important."|
|-- Huston Street|
But Walker eventually struck out Kotsay, setting the tone for a taut battle of bullpens. Kennedy was pulled in favor of righty Kiko Calero after Kennedy walked Monroe and gave up a single to ALCS MVP Placido Polanco (9-for-17) with one out in the seventh, and when Calero walked Ordonez to load the bases, Macha turned to Street.
Only once since taking over the closer role in May 2005 had Street entered a game earlier, having started the seventh inning against the Angels on May 2 of this season after missing the previous two weeks with a pectoral strain.
"On the edge of a cliff, you might be pushed off at any moment," Macha had said before the game. "So in any situation, I'm going to have my best guy out there."
"You do what you can for the team," Street said. "I was just doing whatever I could for my teammates, and I think that's the attitude everyone had tonight. All year, really."
Street needed two pitches to escape the jam, getting Guillen to ground to Chavez, who stepped on the bag at third before firing across the diamond to Swisher to complete the double play.
Bradley (9-for-18 in the series) opened the eighth with his third hit of the night, a single off righty Jason Grilli, but he was erased when Frank Thomas (0-for-13) hit into a double play. It was the seventh time the A's had grounded into a double play in the series and No. 9 for the postseason, a franchise record.
Grilli then walked the bases loaded, but lefty Wilfredo Ledezma came on to get Scutaro on a foul pop near the A's dugout.
"When we look back at the series," Bradley said, "we'll be looking at a lot of missed opportunities."
Street was perfect in the bottom of the eighth, striking out two, and Ledezma shook off a one-out single by Kendall in the top of the ninth. Street made quick work of the first two Tigers in the bottom half, but singles by Monroe and Polanco set up Ordonez's heroics, which came at the business end of a 93 mph fastball.
"It was the pitch we wanted in the spot we wanted it," said Street, who had already viewed a replay. "I felt like it was a good pitch. I just got beat. There's nothing more to it. It had nothing to do with being tired. I just got beat."
And so ended the season, but there was no shame in anyone's eyes, words or body language as they dressed for the flight back to Oakland. All due credit to the Tigers, they said to a man, and good luck to the National League team that has to contend with them.
"I don't think anybody else in the league could beat us four straight like that," Bradley said. "That's a great baseball team over there."
And the Tigers returned the compliment.
"You have to take your hat off to a great, competitive Oakland A's team," said Inge. "This is just our time."
Perhaps the A's time will come next year, or the year after that. Regardless, they had a heck of a good time getting to the ALCS, and when the sting of the loss wears off, that's what they'll remember.
"We should all feel pretty good about what we accomplished," Chavez said.
"I told the players that they can't let this series diminish what they did this year. It was tremendous year," Macha agreed. "They played their tails off, and that's all you can ask."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.