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10/11/06 12:30 AM ET

Athletics Short Hops: Game 1

Ineffective Zito, lack of clutch hitting buries squad in opener

OAKLAND -- Fielding the A's Game 1 American League Championship Series loss to the Tigers on a short hop ...

In < 25 words ...
Barry Zito didn't look like an ace and his offense, which had plenty of opportunities, lacked clutch hitting.

Frozen moment
Two out, nobody on, third inning. Zito was cruising. Then Brandon Inge, the No. 9 hitter on the Tigers, poked a home run just inside the left-field foul pole. From there, nothing seemed to go right for Zito, who threw 38 pitches in the inning and was gone before the fourth inning was over.

Big number
Zero. That was how many hits the A's had in their 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position, tying a postseason record set by the 2000 St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

Game ball
The Oakland bullpen. After Zito's shoddy performance, this one could have gotten a lot worse. But the bullpen hung tough and shut down the Tigers over the final 5 1/3 innings.

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Sense of October
Down by a five-spot in the bottom of the fifth, the A's knew they wouldn't have many opportunities to get back into the game. But in this inning, they got a walk from Frank Thomas and a double by Jay Payton to set up runners at second and third with nobody out. Suddenly, the Tigers had action in their bullpen and the crowd was making some noise.

Eric Chavez struck out for out No. 1. Then, Nick Swisher, perhaps feeling the playoff pressure, swung at a high pitch that was well out of the strike zone for a big second out.

Marco Scutaro struck out to end the threat, and you could hear a collective groan from the fans who knew very well that a big chance had just gone by the boards. In October -- more than at any other time of the year -- missed opportunities are crushing.

Lines of the Game
Jay Payton
4 AB, 2 H, 2 2B, 1 RBI
Comment: Payton belted the ball hard all night, ripping two doubles and delivering Oakland's only RBI on a fielder's choice in the eighth.

3 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 0 K, 2 HR
Comment: This kind of performance was the last thing the A's could afford to get from their ace. This was probably the most favorable pitching matchup the A's had in the first four games.

"It's always frustrating when you don't get guys home, especially in the situations we had. But it's Game 1. Our backs have been against the wall all year long and we've made things happen at times when people didn't think we would. Hopefully [Wednesday] we'll come out and take care of business." -- A's designated hitter Frank Thomas

Next step
The A's simply have to forget about this one and salvage a home split on Wednesday. Going to Comerica Park down 0-2 -- where the fans will be electric -- could be a recipe for disaster. The A's would rather not find out. They need a big effort from Esteban Loaiza and a more timely offense if they're going to get the win they need in Game 2.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.