“It’s deja vu all over again.”
The timeless Yogi Berra quote may be the best way to describe the A’s game five ALDS loss to Justin Verlander and the Tigers Thursday night in Oakland, one day shy of the anniversary of the near carbon copy 2012 game five that also ended the A’s season a year ago.
The Oakland batters continued to be overwhelmed by the righty, striking out 10 times and managing just two hits over eight innings that the former MVP and Cy Young award winner dominated in an eventual 3-0 loss.
In his four starts in the Division Series against the A’s over the past two playoffs, Verlander has accrued a 3-0 record with a 0.29 ERA and 43 strikeouts, including 17 scoreless innings in back-to-back game five starts in Oakland. The lone run given up came on a Coco Crisp home run to the lead-off hitter to start the contest in game one last season in Detroit.
For the second consecutive postseason series-deciding home game at the Coliseum, the hopeful Oakland crowd had slightly more than nothing to cheer for.
“Our fans [were] just waiting for a reason to get into a frenzy, two balls in a row and you could hear them plenty,” said Bob Melvin.
The largest ovation of the night came in the seventh inning when a Yoenis Cespedes ground ball found its way into center field that broke up Verlander’s no-hit bit.
In true form to another famous Berra quote: “It ain’t over ’til it’s over,” the rambunctious A’s fans stuck around to the end to cheer on the best scoring chance of the night for their home town team in the bottom of the ninth.
After Verlander gave way to Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit, the massive crowd got loud with Seth Smith in the batter’s box as the prospective tying run after a two-out Jed Lowrie double, and Cespedes hit-by-pitch put two runners aboard for the first time in the game.
Unfortunately for the A’s fans looking to will their team to a walk-off victory, Smith popped out to right field to end the game, and the 2013 campaign.
“We just weren’t able to get any consistency going, except the last inning where if we ran into one, we could potentially tie the game,” said Melvin.
The best chance the A’s had at winning the series was in game four in Detroit, as Oakland blew a three-run lead, and later a 4-3 lead in an eventual 6-8 loss.
In a controversial decision, the A’s management chose to roll with the hot hand of rookie Sonny Gray to start the game instead of veteran Bartolo Colon. Over the course of the last 10 postseason games, Gray’s start would mark the seventh time a rookie started for the A’s, and while he couldn’t match his game two dominance of the Detroit lineup, the righty pitched with grit and confidence over five innings.
The one big mistake that Gray made was an inside fastball that last year’s triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera launched over the left field wall for a two-run shot that proved to be the only runs that the Tigers would need to advance in the playoffs.
A humongous reason that the A’s failed to put base runners aboard was the LDS record-setting 57 strike outs during the series. Blazing the trail against the majority of right-handed pitchers from the Tigers was slumping slugger Brandon Moss, who K’d an A’s postseason series-record 13 times during the five contests.
Perhaps the most disappointing statistic for the Oakland fan base is that the A’s have only won one postseason series since 1990. The lone victory came in the 2006 ALDS versus Minnesota, and this season’s playoff exit is the third consecutive series loss at the paws of the Tigers.
With 94 and 96-win seasons the last two years with a majority of rookies leading the way, the A’s are undoubtedly a strong contender in the AL west for the upcoming 2014 season as they mature. However, after losing back-to-back elimination games in the first-round of the playoffs at home, the A’s ever-escalating expectations will be tested after two years of disappointment.
“Our guys are frustrated with the way the game went and some of the at-bats, but we still have a lot to be proud of,” said Melvin. “We expected to go a little farther than this, this year, but at the end of the day, we did have a great season. A little more disappointing this year certainly than it was last year.”