A's haunted by missed opportunities
Oakland 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position in Game 1
OAKLAND -- Among their goals for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, you can be sure that one thing the A's did not set out to do was to tie a record for postseason futility.
But that's what occurred for Oakland in a thoroughly frustrating 5-1 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday night at McAfee Coliseum.
Thirteen was truly an unlucky number for the A's on Tuesday night. That was how many times they stepped to the plate with runners in scoring position, and that represented the amount of times they did not come through.
The 0-for-13 in the RISP department tied a postseason record set by the 2000 St. Louis Cardinals, who pulled off their ignominious feat in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Mets.
"But you have the other side of the coin," said A's manager Ken Macha. "We got a lot of guys on; we swung the bats OK; just couldn't get the big hit. We've gone through some periods like that this year. Let's just keep getting the baserunners with that. I'm OK with that. We'll wind up getting a big hit sooner or later."
It just didn't occur in this contest -- the first LCS game played by the A's since 1992.
Even though Barry Zito and Oakland fell into a 5-0 hole, the A's had numerous chances to climb their way out. But whether it was Tigers starter Nate Robertson making his pitch or the A's missing theirs, all the results were sour for the home team. Another dubious stat produced by the Oakland offense resulted in four double-play balls.
One theory was that the A's, who completed their Division Series sweep over the Twins four days earlier, were affected by the layoff.
"We had three days off; guys were a little overanxious at the plate to make something happen," said A's DH Frank Thomas. "We came out of the zone, that's all. We thought we'd get certain pitches in certain zones in different counts, and we didn't get them."
Oakland's best chance to get Robertson came in the bottom of the fourth. Thomas led off with a walk and Jay Payton followed with a double, putting runners on second and third with two outs.
The first man to go down was Eric Chavez, who struck out swinging on a nasty hook.
"I know the curveball that he struck me out on was probably his best pitch of the day," said Chavez. "I felt like I was going to put the ball in play, and then he came up with a good pitch. Sometimes, you just tip your hat to the other guy."
There probably wasn't much hat-tipping done by Nick Swisher, who went considerably out of the strike zone and swung at a pitch that seemed to be somewhere around eye-level.
"Swish was looking for [Robertson] to throw him a fastball," said Macha. "So he winds up [in a 2-2 count], and then he chased one out of the strike zone."
And the final dagger was when Marco Scutaro struck out looking.
One very big opportunity went by the boards.
"I felt like he pitched himself out of that inning more than we gave it away," Chavez said. "We probably swung at a couple of bad pitches."
Robertson pitched five shutout innings before handing off to the bullpen.
What did Robertson have going for him?
"Smoke and mirrors? I don't know," said Milton Bradley, clearly not a member of the tipping-hat club.
It was Bradley who was robbed of a hit on a brilliant diving catch by Craig Monroe to end the fifth. That inning started with runners on first and second, only to have Mark Kotsay hit into a DP right before Bradley's liner got snared.
"I hit it hard. He made a good play," said Bradley. "What can you do? I know, for myself, I swung at his pitch. I should have just waited. Things happen."
It's just that nearly nothing went right for the A's in Game 1 -- particularly when they had runners hoping to find what turned out to be a most elusive home plate.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.