Seth Smith got the start at designated hitter for the Oakland Athletics versus the Detroit Tigers on Monday. But for the purposes of Game 3 of the ALDS, Smith was the designated Anibal Sanchez hitter.
Smith had a .353 batting average (7-for-19) with a 1.323 OPS, three home runs and four RBI against Sanchez going into the game. He was already swinging well, having gone 2-for-4 in Saturday's 1-0 victory over Detroit. That made putting Smith into Monday's lineup a no-brainer decision for A's manager Bob Melvin.
But Smith still made his skipper look smart with his Game 3 performance. The DH knocked two hits off Sanchez in three at-bats, breaking the game open with an opposite-field, two-run homer in the fifth inning. That gave the A's a 6-3 lead, which held up through the rest of the game. With the win, Oakland takes a 2-1 lead in the ALDS with a chance to close the series out on Tuesday at Comerica Park.
Smith wasn't the only A's hitter to take Sanchez deep, however. He wasn't even the only one to hit a homer in the fifth inning. Two batters before Smith's two-run blast, Brandon Moss gave Oakland a 4-3 lead with a solo shot into the right field seats. Prior to that home run, Moss was 1-for-8 in the series with seven strikeouts. The other homer for the A's off Sanchez came from Josh Reddick, who led off the fourth inning with his long ball.
Oakland's three-run fifth inning had to be particularly deflating for the Tigers, who had gone 20 innings — since the first inning of Game 1 — without scoring a run. Detroit finally broke the drought by putting three runs on the board in the fourth with a RBI double by Victor Martinez and a two-run single from Jhonny Peralta. Peralta was making his first start of the series — and fourth career appearance — in left field, as manager Jim Leyland tried to get more offense into his lineup. It certainly looked like the right decision in that fourth inning.
Unfortunately, Peralta also looked like someone who had played only three previous games in left field with a weak throw to home earlier in the fourth inning. Knowing Peralta had little experience out there and likely wouldn't make a good throw, Oakland third-base coach sent Stephen Vogt around third to challenge the Tigers' fledgling left fielder. Vogt scored easily, giving the A's a 3-0 lead, as Peralta bounced the throw several feet before it reached home plate.
Detroit's fourth-inning outburst tied the score at 3-3. But the Tigers needed to maintain whatever momentum they might have had with a shutdown inning in the fifth. Sanchez couldn't oblige, giving up three hits two of them home runs to the first four batters he faced in the inning. He was pulled from the game after Smith's two-run bomb. Overall, Sanchez lasted 4.1 innings, allowing six runs (five earned), eight hits and two walks.
The A's bullpen clamped down on the Tigers lineup for the rest of the game, due in large part to their outstanding bullpen. Dan Otero didn't allow a run in two innings of relief, with Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour each followed up with a scoreless frame of their own.
Balfour was involved in some drama during the ninth inning when he and Martinez got into a shouting match (the many profanities of which were audible on the MLB Network broadcast, thanks to the home plate umpire wearing a live microphone). It appeared as if Balfour said something to Martinez that the Tigers DH didn't like after fouling off a fastball with a one-ball, two-strikes count. The A's closer stepped off the mound, Martinez walked toward him and each team's dugout and bullpen emptied on to the field. No punches were thrown, nor was their any sort of physical altercation in the scrum.
Oakland can eliminate the Tigers and advance to the ALCS with a win in Game 4 on Tuesday at Comerica Park. Dan Straily takes the mound for the A's, while Doug Fister gets the call for Detroit. The two pitchers opposed each other once earlier this season. On Aug. 28 in Detroit, Straily allowed one run and eight hits over six innings while Fister gave up seven runs and 13 hits in his five innings. The game is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. ET and will be televised on TBS.