The A's did everything they needed to do to win this game. Tommy Milone allowed just one run in six inning and put the A's in a position to win the game. Oakland got creative in scoring runs and held the lead late. But one thing no one expected happened: the A's bullpen struggled, and the Tigers escaped with a 5-4 walkoff win to go up 2-0 in their ALDS series.
Quite frankly, Milone was fantastic. He allowed just the one run on five hits over his six innings of work, striking out six Detroit hitters while walking only one. That one run he allowed came in the third inning, when after a double by Miguel Cabrera and a single by Prince Fielder, Cabrera scored on a groundout by Delmon Young. Escaping a mess like that with only one run on the board was huge for Milone. Milone struggled early one, allowing two doubles to Cabrera and working himself into a mess in the second inning by loading the bases after getting two outs before getting out of the jam. But in his final three innings, Milone only allowed one baserunner as he mowed down the Tigers lineup.
Simillarly, Detroit starter Doug Fister had his mojo working early on as well. Fister put himself into sticky situations in both the second and third innings, but allowed just one run despite putting six runners on base. A key outfield assist by rookie right fielder Avisail Garcia turned a potential huge third inning from the A's into just a one run situation. Fister escaped trouble until the seventh, when the A's manufactured a run after Seth Smith walked, was bunted to second by George Kottaras, and scored on a single by Cliff Pennington to give the A's a 2-1 lead.
But in the bottom of the inning, Oakland's bullpen that was so excellent during the last week of the regular season faltered. Sean Doolittle got the first two outs in the seventh befoer allowing a pair of singles to Austin Jackson and Omar Infante to bring up Cabrera. Cabrera hit a blooper into shallow center that Coco Crisp flat-out mishandled, letting both Jackson and Infante to score and turning the game into a 3-2 affair.
The bullpen mishaps then flipped onto the Tigers, with Joaquin Benoit struggling in the eighth. Yoenis Cespedes started the inning with a single, and then proceeded to steal both second and third base during Josh Reddick's at bat before scoring the game-tying run on a wild pitch by Benoit. On his very next pitch, Reddick smashed a solo homer to put the A's back ahead 4-3.
Then, the pendulum went the other direction. Ryan Cook pitched the eighth for the A's, and allowed Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta to both single to start the inning. They moved up a base on an Andy Dirks sacrifice, and then Quintin Berry struck out for the second out of the frame. Needing just one more out, Cook's first pitch to pinch hitter Alex Avila was wild, and pinch runner Don Kelly scored to tie the game. Cook would eventually strike Avila out, but the Tigers scoring a run with the bottom of their lineup recording just two singles is something that is absolutely unacceptable.
Oakland would threaten in the ninth, putting men on the corners with two outs for Cespedes, but Al Albuquerque got him to bounce back to the mound to end the threat. In the bottom of the ninth, A's manager Bob Melvin went with closer Grant Balfour, and his rage couldn't get him through the inning. After Jackson struck out, Infante and Cabrera singled before Melvin ordered an intentional walk of Fielder to load the bases. Kelly followed the walk up with a sac fly to win the game, dealing a crushing blow to the A's.
Unlike in game one of this series, the A's had every chance to win this game. Milone did exactly what he needed to do, the A's offense put enough runs on the board to win…and Oakland's bullpen threw the game away. The error by Crisp didn't do the team any favors, but in fairness, it was a tough play, and the A's shouldn't have even been in the position where Cabrera was up after Doolittle got the first two batters in the inning.
The main difference between the dominance of Oakland's bullpen in the season's last week and today was the amount of pitches they threw. Doolittle threw 24 pitches today, just the second time he's gone over 20 in his last 13 outings. Cook's 23 pitches isn't totally out of the ordinary considering that he threw 27 a week ago against the Mariners, but it's more than he threw in any of his appearances against the Rangers. Finally, there's Balfour, who threw 18 pitches today, his most in an outing where he got less than three outs since a 22 pitch appearance nearly a month ago against the Angels.
Game three of the series will be on Tuesday, and it's win or go home time for Oakland. The game will start at 9:07 PM, and will pit Brett Anderson against Anibal Sanchez.